At Comic-Con International in San Diego, CBR TV’s Jonah Weiland welcomed a trio of boxtrolls to the world famous CBR Yacht. That’s right, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi were joined by actor Isaac Hempstead-Wright, best known as Bran Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones to discuss their new animated feature The Boxtrolls from Laika Entertainment. They discuss how crazy you have to be to make a feature using stop-motion animation, why it offers its own unique benefits (and plenty of challenges) over CGI or traditional animation and just how much work it is to build and shoot everything that shows up in the movie. Hempstead-Wright also discusses the differences between working in live-action as opposed to voice work and how intimidating it was to work opposite Sir Ben Kingsley in what amounted to a small closet.
On how crazy you have to be a little nuts to choose to make a stop-motion animated feature:
“It’s a crazy process. I worked as a story artist on Coraline and Paranorman and I sort of presumed I knew what was going on on the stages out there, but on The Boxtrolls, being in the director role, I got to really find out how it all worked,” said Annable. “It is absolutely the craziest form of animation there is.”
“We like to say it combines all the worst attributes of other forms of animation, and live-action, with none of the benefits of either one,” said Stacchi as all three laughed. “You’re still making the film like animation, one frame at a time, but in other forms of animation you get to work on your animation a lot more. You work on drawings or you work on the computer. But in stop-motion animation it’s much more of a performance. You launch the animator and he has two opportunities to get the shot right.
“Every animated film is made one frame at a time, but not every film you have to make every single thing in the real world that appears in front of the camera,” Stacchi continued. “So there’s 20,00 objects that were created for The Boxtrolls. 200 puppets, 79 sets and 26 and stuff, so there’s an infinite amount of work. And for me, I’ve worked in different forms of animation — in stop-motion you have to make a lot of very big, important decisions very early in the process.”
“I never anticipated — we always talk about how much the movie and story — we boarded it out, we made an animatic reel, it seems like the movie’s done. Now we just do that with the puppets,” said Annable. “But everything really came down to those conversations with the animators when you launch them on the shot because, again, with 2D and CG animation you kind of get a more constant feedback loop with the director. You can kind of keep checking in, you can pull some drawings, you can keep honing and refining and honing and refining. Stop-motion you really only get a couple of cracks at that shot, and it really is a performance. We had to make sure we were on everyday in terms of performance to have those in-depth conversations to make sure that the animator and ourselves were completely in sync with what we both wanted to do before they walked out onto those stages and disappeared under the curtains for a couple of weeks.”
“Graham had the best description of it that I’ve ever heard, because you never know what’s gonna come up every day,” said Stacchi. “He said, ‘Every day was having to take a test that you didn’t study for.”
On the unique energy Ben Kingsley brought to the project:
We recorded in a tiny studio outside the town where Sir Ben lives. The recording studio has a box where they record, it’s as big as a closet, it’s a little glass room,” said Stacchi. “Sir Ben came with a really amazing conception of the character which included the fact that he wanted to record reclining in a chair so the voice could come from below his diaphragm. So he had an idea of who the character was. He had a chair in this tiny glass closet and Isaac steps in with him and one of the first things we recorded is the climactic confrontation with Sir Ben.”
“It was pretty terrifying to be in such close proximity to, for all intents and purposes, Archibald Snatcher screaming and shouting at you, threatening to come and destroy your home [Laughs], said Hempstead-Wright of working opposite the legendary actor. “What you noticed is that when you did finally do it with the other actors it suddenly came alive in a sense that it didn’t before.
On why stop-motion is still valid in an era where so much is possible with CG animation:
“There’s a real inherent feeling to stop-motion,” said Annable. “I think a lot of folks see Laika’s films and they may not know it’s stop-motion, they may, in their minds, just lump it into another animated feature, but there’s a different feeling to it, and there’s something innate about the miniaturization of it. Especially I think when you view it in 3-D, stop-motion really benefits from that sort of tactile — you can feel all the textures, the light — you just know everything physically is existing in front of you.”
“There’s a dream-like quality to the way [stop-motion sequences] are created because it is stop-motion.” said Stacchi. “You still have this, I think deep in everybody’s DNA they remember what it was like to play with a model train set, or dolls, or G.I. Joes. When they see that stuff and they see the way it’s moving, it reaches back in there and that’s the appeal of it. Maybe people can’t articulate exactly what it is, but there’s something about it that makes it extra special.
‘The Boxtrolls’ opens in theaters September 26.
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