Two Years in the Making (Continued)
One testing method is to have someone of comparable real-life height and stature
to a character walk
around in an outfit so Cook's department could see how key planned costumes hang
and flow. "We try to get
the same movements out of the costumes as in life-sized, because it helps make
our characters believable,"
comments Cook. "We have to take into account whether it's an active character or
a sedate character, so we
also do tests with the puppets themselves.
"Usually, the puppets are still being built as we're making the costumes so
we'll get a dressing dummy to
work on. When we get the actual puppet, we can final tweaks and adjustments."
The production's painters worked on Cook's group's costumes as and where needed,
whether to "age" them
accordingly or provide detail on clothing. Even buttons on a costume are
sculpted by hand and then painted.
Everything done on-site is coordinated with the production's confirmed color
palettes and visual directives.
While the actors voicing the characters are not direct references for the
department, their photos might be
kept nearby as talismans.
Some of the core fabrics proved highly adaptable; the ghosts' appearances were
enhanced by tulle - not as a
material for their costumes, but as the substance that doubled on-screen for the
particles and vapor they
float around in and with. The versatile fabric also was deployed - and sometimes
painted - as smoke,
clouds, and what Lowry refers to as "a huge ectoplasmic yolk."
Perhaps most notably, as Cook and her team had found on Coraline, antique
Victorian gloves offered the best
and thinnest possible leather out of which to fabricate some of the puppets'
shoes - including Norman's well-worn
sneakers. "Leather always looks best," she offers. "We already know those gloves
are durable, and they
transfer nicely in scale on our puppets." The sneakers went to a bigger scale
for close-ups, for which larger-proportioned
versions were built and also fitted with leather.
As a footwear contrast, Norman's at-home "zombie" slippers were hand-made with
dyed fabrics and also
were made in different sizes.
As befits the lead character in an adventurous story, Norman has what Cook calls
"an iconic costume, which
was a pleasure to try and get on-screen. He's always wearing his favorite jeans
and hoodie, and is never
without his goodies-filled backpack which has badges on it. Then there's his key
fobs and his zipper tags. All
of this was made by us. His backpack is a regular piece of green fabric for
which we did our own stitching so
it was in scale with his clothing; the zipper tags were sculpted here, cast in
silver, hand-painted, and then
She further notes that Norman's favorite jeans "have little panels in them,
which brings in the design concept
of the movie; everything is slightly asymmetrical, as flat planes are mixed in
with the curves. On-screen they
will look like chunky denim; in our world, they are lightweight summery chambray
cotton shirt fabric.
"His T-shirt is made of an extremely fine nylon stocking that we've dyed to look
like denim. There is latex
sheeting underneath that and his hood so that they always fall back into shape.
Underneath his jacket is
some wiring that anchors into his armature and his hood - so the animators could
move it incrementally with
his body movements so that it looks like a real boy walking along." Further down
the Norman puppet for the
latter shots, several layers of aluminium foil were applied to get the creasing
just so where his sneakers and
the jeans bumped up against each other.
That jeans creasing had to be precisely positioned many times over; while there
was only one lead character,
there were 28 puppets of him. Cook reports, "To keep continuity, we had to
ensure that we could duplicate
things - and make more than 28, since they sometimes had to be changed out
because of getting worn out
during the shooting. Whatever we make has to be easily accessible and
maintainable - and we work with
other departments to make sure that they can access the armature or mechanisms
ParaNorman, we made a concerted effort to move forward in pushing the boundaries
of the engineering
that must go within the costume structures."
With LAIKA based in Oregon, Cook says that her department "tries to source
materials locally - we pillage
the local stores, really - but I'm looking out wherever I am; it's always in the
back of my mind. We've gotten
things from London, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We try to keep abreast of
developments in textile-making.
But on ParaNorman, there is not a single fabric that is a straight-away
store-bought fabric; we treat
and hand-dye every costume."
Cook's department is dotted with high-tech sewing machines and surrounded by
sketches. As with other
LAIKA departments, she and her staff looked to real people to inspire the
stop-motion characters they work
This was necessary for even the zombies since, as Hayns reveals, "the story
delves into how the zombies were
once human beings. There's a point in the movie where we see them in their
previous, human form. So,
costuming and hair styling from the early 18th-century was researched."
Seamstresses studied Smith's
drawings' textures under Cook's supervision and embroidered the fabrics with the
extra detail that one would
have found - and worn - in the early 18th century, and then distressed them to
reflect 300 years of
"I loved working on the zombies' Puritan-era costumes because they're so
textural," says Cook. "It was a
challenge getting into the historical aspect. Doing the research, I looked at
archaeological finds and clothing
that had been x-rayed, seeing how they were and then how they rotted."
Cook and her department also watched the 1996 movie version of The Crucible and
the 2002 miniseries
Salem Witch Trials, while Hayns took her own field trip to New England. She
laughs, "Chris Butler said, 'Well,
if you're going, take some pictures of gravestones!' So that was my busman's
holiday - visiting graveyards."
The Judge's cloak, of which six were made, "was hand-stitched and also
machine-stitched," comments Cook.
"We brought together different tensions of lighter cotton threads to create a
sense of a lush brocade. He'd
have been quite a smartly dressed man in his time. There was some copper wire
mesh on the bottom to
support the costume, especially during the sequences on and around the van. For
this garment, we had a
map detailing the distressing points, where we hand-dyed, the different threads,
and the wiring - which was
also in his cuffs and cravat."
While The Judge's garb may look elegant - centuries of mold notwithstanding -
but is surprisingly basic,
other costuming appears ordinary but is in fact rather elegant; Neil's shorts
were made of foam latex with a
silk overlay, and did not even require wire support.
Early in the design process, the lead, or "control," of Norman and every other
character has also been crafted
to scale as a maquette -a puppet-sized detailed clay figure (though not a
workable puppet) that can be found
on mounts at the LAIKA workspaces. The maquettes serve as artists' models,
reference points of both
character and look. "They are style and size guides," says Hayns. "They solve
problems for us in advance and
can give us a real feel for the puppet before it is actually made."
For the puppets' hair, the production experimented with various types of human
hair, animal hair, and even
tinsel. Hayns reports, "You find that human hair is too porous and does not
stick. On Coraline, we had hit
upon using synthetic hair - mohair, actually - which we laid thin wires into.
"When it came to our lead character this time, we felt that we had gotten quite
a performance from
Coraline's hair so we wanted to make Norman's hair even more illustrative. We
also had to adhere to what
was the highly cohesive ParaNorman design. [The work of the late painter] Lucian
Freud inspired us for skin
tones and hair. Norman's hair had a goat hair base, fused with glues, hair gels,
fabric, adhesives, thread, and
- like with Coraline - wire. Last came paint and some human hair dye. We kept
track of the elements
through a color key, and many of the hairs were made individually."
For many of the puppets, their hair was also doubled with wigs; as Hayns notes,
"We had to make different
stunt wigs for the action that they go through. We made five different Norman
wigs, trying strange things to
spark our enthusiasm - like trash bags - but eventually, we went with real hair
interspersed with the fibers
raffia and sisal. Neil's hair may look quite simple but his stunt wigs each had
20 different fibers in them."
Hayns reveals, "Our process for cleaning those wigs is a little drop of alcohol
and a gentle hand. Here's
another trade secret; an eyebrow trimmer works well for treating the puppets'
hair. We needed each of those
wigs; after a lot of handling, Norman looked like he had dandruff!
"Meanwhile, our silicone casters had to make sure there were no seam lines on
the puppets' surfaces. We
always have people on standby during shooting to repair a puppet whose silicone
tears. They use magnifying
glasses and get to work like a make-up artist."
Tools of the trade in the costume department range from Carmex lip balm to
dental scrapers to paint thinner.
Cook adds, "We also make good use of needles, pins, and surgical tools like
tweezers and syringes. The
cotton buds we use are miniature. We have brushes that we dip into latex so that
we can get tiny specks off
of the characters' costumes without pulling the fabric - you often can't put
your hands on there..."
The various departments' crafts were utilized across the 52 different stages at
LAIKA Studios; though
proportionally smaller than soundstages at a movie studio, over 40 were up and
running simultaneously at
the height of production.
Fell remembers, "Chris and I would meet in the morning and go through everything
from lighting cues to sets.
We would split up to deliver messages to the crew, and then meet up again later.
"All of the department heads are people who are tremendously passionate about
what they do."
Sets were built and dressed with props. The cinematographer then would light
them and shoot some footage
for the directors and the crew to look at, so that any adjustments and
improvements could be made. Once
everyone felt that everything is right and in place, the animator would step in
to ready the scene and the
puppets' performances. While a stage may have a host of characters assembled for
a scene, there is often
just one animator - the one responsible for the overall sequence - who is on the
set. The animator tends to
each character, one at a time; when all is ready - which may be days later -
only then can the shot(s) be
If a test set was on a smaller proportional scale, once it was approved by a
director the measurements were
locked and recorded so that the shooting set could be built to exact
specifications. Though some test sets will
never make it on camera, they are nonetheless retained and are often checked for
"On a busy morning - and there are many! - you might have 15-20 stages to shoot
on, and you learn to
prioritize," notes cinematographer Tristan Oliver. "There are four cameramen
that I am supervising, and I
have first and last looks at whatever frame they are shooting. I prepare them
for each shot. But lighting is a
big part of what cinematography is, and I love to do it, so I am a presence all
over the studio floor."
Oliver, having shot many previous stop-motion movies, was no stranger to the
process, but allows that "for
me, the big challenge on this was to go stereoscopic - to shoot in 3D for the
first time - while using a wider
screen aspect ratio [e.g., 2:35/1]. The exciting part - for myself, Sam and
Chris - was to try to make the
puppets naturalistic, as if we are capturing them on-screen in their
environment, in a live-action way. We
decided we weren't always going to see their faces.
"Zombie movies have their conventions - crash scenes, chiaroscuro lighting - and
we observe them. But the
zombie elements of our narrative are more subtle than the norm. To shoot our
movie's ghosts, I referenced
early Russian photographs taken on glass panes. I also looked to the work of
[feature film cinematographers]
Conrad Hall and Roger Deakins, and at movies that use light and dark in a
particular way to give a sculpted
look. I was very fond of Seamus McGarvey's work on Atonement, and it influenced
my work on a sequence in
ParaNorman which dramatizes one character's remembrance. The forest scenes were
martial arts movies, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero."
Overall, Oliver assesses that he "had a real dialogue going with Sam and Chris.
They know when they don't
like something, which was good. Working with a shallower depth of field and
shooting widescreen and using
long lenses, I got to try lots of things I'd always wanted to on previous movies
but hadn't been able to until
ParaNorman. LAIKA made the first stop-motion feature in 3D with Coraline, so
they invented a method for
that and we have reinvented it for ParaNorman. On Coraline, sets were built to
accommodate a certain
style of 3D but we have a different aspect ratio, a different look, and a
different story to tell.
"You need to have an on-screen environment that justifies going stereoscopic.
Wider lenses were used for
characters farther away from the camera, not in close-up. We establish Norman's
world in Blithe Hollow with
a nice wide frame that encourages people to go 'Oooh,' rather than feel sick;
we're careful to take into
account length and distance and atmosphere, rather than having stuff come out of
the screen. If you're
shooting in 3D, it's incumbent upon you to be making a good movie from a good
script - which we had. We
didn't ever want to take the audience out of the ParaNorman narrative."
In addition to working in 3D for the first time, the cinematographer had not
previously shot a stop-motion
animated movie before in the U.S., and embraced and abetted LAIKA's distinctive
brand of classic stage craft
and technology. He notes, "I believe that motion control has transformed
stop-motion, with the camera being
able to move so fluidly through the environment that is being created. About 80%
of ParaNorman is motion
control in some way - there are some handheld shots, referencing Sam Raimi's
[Evil Dead] movies."
Fell elaborates, "There was such great energy in the way Sam Raimi had the
camera stuck on a wheelbarrow
and just driven through the forest. That kind of thing can't be copied by
computer. So our making a zombie
movie in stop-motion felt absolutely right as an homage to the way filmmakers
like Sam got what they
needed back then in the 1980s, before the digital age."
Oliver remarks, "Since a stop-motion movie requires a lot of labor,
pre-visualization - especially for set pieces
- is important; I have to figure out the right lens sizes so that the art
department doesn't build more than
they absolutely have to. Because of the collapsed scale, you're constantly
trying to make lights look farther
away than they are - so we're often using the biggest lights possible! One thing
to learn is how to apply old-school
theatrical tricks - a layer of white netting which throws the background into a
further distance, or a
scrim behind a row of 'trees.' When lensing a stop-motion movie, you should be
able to achieve in-camera
most of what you need to do."
Knight concurs, noting, "We take a lot of our cues from the stage world,
especially in the way that we build
our sets and how we shape and frame things." As in the stage world, sets are
painted by hand and
unexpected shadings are used to deepen the overall palette.
The result, says Sutner, is "that sets were built which don't look like anything
previously ever seen, or
successfully visualized, in-camera."
In their full-service shop right near the stages, the art department keeps track
of such details. What look like
messes of clutter on-screen had to be carefully choreographed, catalogued, and
curated by Lowry and his
team. After the sets are built, they have to be dressed; accoutrements like
Norman's collectible zombie
ephemera are worked on by set dressers. Such elements can provide the
opportunity for flourishes and injokes,
but they must also be carefully sized and often crafted in consistent multiples.
Lowry notes, "It's always fun to watch stop-motion movies a second or third
time, because you can see things
you might have missed before. In ParaNorman, if you look deeper and deeper into
the background - like,
say, in Mr. Prenderghast's house - you'll see how we made and detailed
everything. That was in part because
someone on the crew would create something and say, 'I had this,' or 'I love
this;' and in part because I knew
we were going to be seeing environments from many angles and in 3D."
Without spoiling them, Butler points with pride to a number of affectionate
movie and moviemaker
references in the horror and thriller genres, noting that "one isn't an object
or a visual at all; it's a ringtone of
a classic theme, which I didn't even think we could obtain [the rights to,] but
we did. There's little things that
a lot of people aren't going to get, but I would often be telling our team,
'That sign has to stay, for this
particular director's fans out there!'"
Something else that few might notice the art department having provided
particularly impressed Oliver;
namely, how Blithe Hollow's nocturnal streets were dotted by shops that he was
able to customize. He
comments, "There were street lights set up, and then every shop had a different
colored light; sodium,
tungsten, ultraviolet...it's just like they are on real streets, based on our
having looked at photorealistic
paintings of nighttime New York.
"To have a huge visual effects department on ParaNorman was an extraordinary
luxury; you get instant
feedback on whether something that didn't quite work could be fixed, or whether
it needed reshooting.
Whatever you needed was at your fingertips."
Fell notes, "Although more effects end up being 'in camera' than you would
think, the visual effects staff was
involved from the storyboarding stage. It made things happen that much easier."
Visual effects supervisor Brian Van't Hul muses, "Every single shot in this
movie is 'an effects shot.' We work
side by side with all departments during the production process; as soon as a
frame of footage comes off of a
set, we are working on it.
"There's no waiting for a download; we are on the same internal network. We're
doing 'the post [-production]
work' even before the shoot is finished. That's a rare opportunity."
Oliver's opinion is that "post-production digital effects also hold an important
place, but what they should not
be doing is fixing what was failed to have been done earlier. They are there to
enhance the movie."
With inspiration encouraged from everyone and every artistic avenue, stop-motion
is an art form that
continues to thrive, and a craft that endures. While hewing to the
long-established tenets and aesthetics of
stop-motion animation - i.e., crafting and moving just about everything by hand
-LAIKA Studios is also
comfortably situated in the digital age.
"We harness the computer to serve the process," Knight points out. "It's a
paradox; you now cannot really do
a stop-motion feature without computers. At LAIKA, we have pioneered a lot of
advancements in the
technology. But it's still effectively unchanged from 100 years ago; an animator
is still on a set with a puppet,
coaxing a performance out of it a frame at a time.
"Character development is always something we work at, from how the puppet takes
a step to how it
breathes. Each has its own idiosyncrasies."
He notes, "You're always using everything that's been accrued up until that
point; the storyboards, the vocal
performances, the tests - it all helps the animator give greater vitality to
their characters and their scenes.
"To move the stop-motion medium forward, we are taking all the tools at our
disposal - from the most
cutting-edge technology to traditional hand-drawn techniques to the basic craft
of stop-motion itself - and
bringing them together in a unique fusion. Coraline was one of the first movies
to utilize 3D as an effective
storytelling tool. We do not do 3D as post-production [conversion] process after
the fact. It's not a
parenthetical glaze, it's baked in the filmmaking. We rigorously design every
single shot with 3D composition
in mind, shooting exhaustive tests and wedges to elicit the desired aesthetic
and precise emotional response
the narrative requires. That approach naturally lends itself to shooting in 3D."
In making ParaNorman in 3D with a digital camera, each completed and digitally
photographed frame was
stored on a computer - and the animators could refer to a monitor and review
their previous shots. After
checking the model, animators would move the puppet and/or other elements
infinitesimally for the next
Another key area where LAIKA has taken stop-motion into the 21st century is
facial animation. Building on
the replacement animation method originally developed by George Pal of
"Puppetoons" fame -whereby each
face is exchanged for another with a different sculpted expression in order to
create the illusion of talking -
ParaNorman marries traditional hand-made sculptures and drawings with CG
modeling and 3D printing to
create a level of facial expressiveness never seen before.
Knight notes, "For the replacement animation, we model in the computer based on
drawings created by a 2D
animator, and then print them out in Rapid Prototyping on 3D Printers - so you
get the actual tangible upper
or lower portion of the face. The result is beautiful and expressive facial
Creative supervisor of replacement animation & engineering Brian McLean oversees
Prototyping department, the part of the company that is most effectively
utilizing modern technology to
bolster what is created by hand. The process begins with not only the original
sculptures and finalized
maquettes but also 2D drawings - all director-approved for the Rapid Prototyping
(RP) department to use as
McLean explains, "The term 'Rapid Prototyping' comes from the original concept,
going from an early
computer design and high-resolution scan to a three-dimensional object. This
started being used at Fortune
500 companies. It's like ink-jet printing, but with something growing and
growing in the space - and, instead
of ink, a UV-sensitive resin is being used. There are super-glue and powder
elements as part of the process.
But the resin is liquid and it's sprayed by multiple heads in a given Printer
onto a water-soluble powder-based
support material, which is the foundation for the entire process. Though they
look like sugar cookies from the
oven when they emerge, there's no residue when the support material washes away.
Yet it's served as such a
solid support and encasement for the hard[er] piece which we then break off and
out. We've got detailed
workable parts that will fit and function together. An in-computer model becomes
a physical piece, one that
is cleaned, sanded, and hand-painted for the animators to manipulate by hand.
"With Coraline, LAIKA became the first company to do a feature-length movie
using RP, specifically for
replacement faces printed on a 3D Printer. It was beautifully articulated. But
LAIKA wanted to continue to
push the level of performance that a stop-motion puppet could give, and to
modernize the process. Now, with
ParaNorman, we have made the first stop-motion movie that uses a 3D Color
Printer. The technique is
similar, but what the 3D Color Printer affords you to do is to build color into
the model. So it's a big move
He clarifies, "Certain colors may not be in the range of the Printer. To get the
exact color that is called for by
the production, we will 'cross-hatch.' You may think something is impossible to
get, but it's not; and, each
year, we can do more and more. For example, the 'gin blossoms' on Norman's
grandmother's face look so
authentic; and the 'bacon' from our Printer really does have the texture of a
With full-color capability and larger machines now in the RP realm at LAIKA, the
silicone printing process has
become even more advanced in the 3.5 years since Coraline. "It looks very much
like skin, and you can paint
on it easily," notes McLean. While Coraline Jones had well over 200,000
potential facial expressions, Norman
Babcock has 1.5 million -allowing for a seemingly limitless variety of smiles,
frowns, winces, and screams.
On a proportionally smaller level, Norman's friend Neil has thousands of
freckles on his face - well beyond
Coraline's 10 or so.
"The replacement faces are in RP, and the material absorbs light and is
translucent," notes Hayns. "The Color
Printer enabled us to experiment more with silicone. So it's given the
characters' skin a natural glow - even
Alvin's fleshy-face-sliding-into-neck. [Director of photography] Tristan Oliver
has done an amazing job of
lighting them, and the similarly translucent sets."
"Given the medium, people think we're using very small lights," laughs Oliver.
"We do - but we used very big
Fell says, "There are bright colors in just about every scene. We wanted the
lighting to fall on the characters
in a very subtle and beautiful way, as if the scenes were just happening
effortlessly. So it meant getting the
right combination of color and light - and a skin texture that hadn't been
McLean observes, "The beautiful skin tone comes from the color being 'baked in'
by way of the Printers.
People's ears always have a little reflective glow, and in live action that has
to be blocked out. But here it was
something that we saw as a way to make our characters feel that much more alive.
When Courtney is
chewing and then blowing bubble gum and it pops on her face, the light comes
through our carefully thinned
'bubble gum shell' beautifully.
"The characters never are lacking a human touch; there are a tremendous amount
of nuances that go into
the characters' faces. Having thousands of replacement faces coming from the
Printers and in our library
helps our animators be able to give extra attention to the body movements. What
all this is in the service of is
that audiences connect with the characters and feel their emotions. LAIKA's
movies are highly character-driven,
and this range of expressions helps our characters come even more alive."
The advanced RP techniques were now also able to better support the mechanical
faces work. McLean is
particularly pleased at the highly "articulated non-circular eye, and eyelid,
animation that was able to be
achieved - as well characters' teeth being detachable, so they could be
hand-painted and adjusted. All
portions, whether mechanical or replacement, have an embossing system on the
back which allows us to
"We do internal mechanics as well; inside the heads of Norman puppets, there are
78 little pieces that won't
be seen on-screen but that we needed to make for the shoot."
He notes that "while RP was originally conceived at LAIKA to produce replacement
faces, it has grown in
scope. Our department can now help out with props - such as Mitch's van, which
ends up hosting several
characters at once - rigging elements, and puppet sculpts."
As ever, there remains no shortage of prop work to be done by hand - on many an
animated movie, the
blades of grass in Blithe Hollow would be computer-generated, but on ParaNorman
they are handmade and
refashioned from garbage-bag twist-ties.
Assistant art director and head of set dressing Robert DeSue notes, "These
everyday objects are subtly
fatigued, off-kilter, and sometimes dimensionally askew. The way they are made
is unique to LAIKA."
Whether hand-crafted or computer-created, images and/or sculpted models are
given to the RP with an eye
towards getting the tangible result. "While pre-visualizing from the data that's
been scanned in 3D and then
input, the RP computer physically breaks it down and then builds it up layer by
layer. When it's printed out,
we can see how it feels and test it," says McLean. This department's work, too,
must be approved before it is
earmarked for inclusion in the movie; and, as ever, hand-painting must be done
before any RP printout is
ready for its close-up.
If the development in the RP computer is deemed successful, it is logged into a
registration system that
ensures exact consistency with the printout each and every time, no matter how
many times the file is reaccessed.
"That is the most important part of the replacement cycle," states McLean.
Working from high-resolution scans and detailed resin castings of the
hand-crafted original sculpts, the RP
department's CG artists log thousands of replacement faces into the computer
using key expression
drawings as a guide - and being careful to retain every hand-sculpted detail and
imperfection that the
original sculpt possesses.
"Our CG artists can create a snarl mouth, a yell mouth, and all the movements
in-between - they're digital
sculptors creating a library of facial expressions," remarks McLean. "We do
tests to make sure that there's
cohesion, that the faces work well individually and together. Our specialists
match the movement to
syllables; "ooh, "aah," "see," "aych," and so on. For ParaNorman, maintaining
Courtney's range was a
particular challenge to achieve - because she's often chewing gum!"
The puppets' animators can then pick and choose from the computer; a face or a
portion of one - for
example, "Mitch Basic of Mouth #10" - can be printed on-site in an hour. In the
final stages, the computer-sculpted
faces are delivered as three-dimensional, printed objects. These objects are
then cleaned, sanded,
and painted by the hands of highly trained, detail-oriented artists. By
respecting the integrity of the original
sculpture, none of the characters lose the human touch that went into their
creation; fittingly for Courtney,
the lip gloss that she wouldn't be caught dead (or, with the dead) without was
painted on after the RP
"Once faces are printed, we test them again," reveals McLean. "We have to make
sure that - for example -
the printing process hasn't created a thin lip, or teeth that are breaking off.
Real-world physics can come into
play." Alternately, if an object comes out too perfectly, some "weathering"
might be subtly done, likely with
Hayns remarks, "It's a library on hand all the time for our animators - complete
with cataloguing and
pagination - and with the Printers staying on-site the process is even more
On ParaNorman, the advanced RP encouraged animators to add even more detail to
scenes. McLean is
particularly proud of a scene wherein Mr. Prenderghast falls on top of Norman
and their faces are pressed
together. He reveals, "The solution of purposefully printing the two characters'
faces together came to us
after a mistake from one of the Printers, where a bunch of faces were printed on
top of one another.
Whenever there's a mistake in the process, we look at it and wonder, 'Could we
utilize that?' In this case, it
made for a cool effect and we were able to do the scene."
Sutner notes, "Those happy accidents add to the momentum where artists become
convinced they can do
what it's said can't be done - maybe only because it hasn't been done before."
So it was that over two dozen replacement faces were created of Norman and Mr.
conjoined in an "extreme squash," conveying the full effect of the unwanted
proximity; as a bonus, notes
McLean, "we did a replaceable tongue for Mr. Prenderghast that the animator
could move around.
"Aside from 'extreme squash,' when the scene called for characters in motion, we
could do 'motion blur
faces;' for one frame [out of 24 frames per second], we had Norman's face
specially printed with his nose in
The crew enjoyed facing challenges with other characters' visages as well.
McLean remembers, "Another fun
bit we came up with was, during a scene where Neil is eating potato chips in
front of the TV, he has chips all
over his face that are falling off and a little chunk moving from side to side.
Then there were the crazy
character designs - like Alvin having, basically, no neck - that we couldn't
achieve before, but can now."
Van't Hul praises the RP unit's work in the bathroom stall sequence, pointing
out that "even the water drops
seeping out were RP creations. There was a mold made that was cast in clear;
those are not CG droplets that
you will see on-screen."
Like stop-motion and 3D, the RP process is "really blending two different
technologies," says McLean. "The
3D Printers are the connection between computers and stop-motion. Cutting-edge
it, and hand-made practicality - the signature of the stop-motion art form -
"Our RP department is 4 Color Printers and about 40 people, encompassing CG
experts as well as model
makers and painters. They take all of their training from their different
disciplines and come up with beautiful
combinations. RP is a tool that allows our artists to use and enhance their
creative process. For example, on
ParaNorman, [texture painter] Tori Bryant was able to make great use of the RP
technology - with her
pencils providing the color scheme we wanted."
Some of the replacement faces are "fused faces," where upper and lower parts are
unified in a specific
expression. More frequently, there is a bisecting horizontal line across faces'
upper and lower replacement
parts. For these "split faces," the dividing seam, fully visible during the
production, is digitally erased in postproduction
so that audiences will never see it. Other computer-generated erasures - just as
is done with live-action
movies - include any stray seams; protruding armatures; and securing masking
tape, "tie-downs," bug
pins, and equipment cranes.
The latter department also benefits from the RP breakthroughs. As creative
supervisor of animation rigging
Oliver Jones explains, his unit "can now test out shapes that RP delivers us. We
are responsible for supplying
and making everything in-house, from the hand-cranked apparatus that moves a
puppet around to
mechanical scaffolding to materials that look like one thing on-screen but are
actually something else."
"Something else" posed a challenge for the rigging department in designing and
building the "bathroom
tissue zombies," which the team met in making the ghouls of not bathroom tissue
but rather fabric
interfacing and tin foil. For earlier in the same sequence, Jones' unit designed
the supernatural ripplings
through the bathroom cubicle that Norman witnesses.
Jones offers, "One of our members says that our motto is 'Rig Hard' - and
ParaNorman far surpasses
anything I've worked on previously. That's in terms of the elements assembled
on-screen as well as our finer-pitched
machine work of screws and gears.
"The director will tell us exactly what they want, and we have to problem-solve
and brainstorm on our 6-
person team after further discussing things with the animator. Then there is
coordinating with other
departments. Once on the set doing the preliminary work, we invite the animator
to have a say in how things
will be rigged, trying to keep our handiwork under the set or out of frame. As
the final person that delivers the
puppet to the animator before the performance, you are helping the animator
control what they need to in
order to get the shot - and giving them the freedom to achieve that. In the
process, gravity is often defied."
To that end, Jones and his colleagues were tasked with what he praises as "an
extravagant chase sequence
that normally wouldn't be taken on by a stop-motion movie. We had to make
colossal rigs that would hold a
100-pound van full of puppets trying to escape zombies, and be able to achieve
the 'motion blur' with the van
that our directors wanted.
"Later on, the climactic sequence required us to rig human-sized gimbals. We
were able to get it all."
For the chase sequence with Mitch's van, some of the sets for the sequence were
built to 80 feet in length.
Suspension was built in to the main, or "control," van, which would be ferrying
the puppets in a cramped
group much like in real life; motion control was also deployed for shooting the
sequence. Fell quips, "I think
our van was probably more expensive than a working van would be in full-scale.
"But Chris and I wanted to shoot the lock off with this big chase scene. We had
The French Connection and
Bullitt in mind, to get that kind of kinetic action into a stop-motion animated
movie. The storyboard process
for this sequence took over a year; it went from 11 minutes to 5-and-one-half,
so it would really rock."
Editor Christopher Murrie remembers, "I held my breath the first day we started
editing the van chase. I knew
this was going to be a doozy; most live-action movies don't do chase scenes that
are this long. For me, the
template was the Raiders of the Lost Ark horse-chasing-truck sequence, which is
the perfect chase scene.
"It took a long time to get that right, but once we boiled it down to its
essence and felt it sing, it was
To make viable the most complex sets and props, the riggers' design had to
incorporate a system of sliders,
dials, motors, winches, levers, and needles with gauge marks. This allowed the
animators to know how far to
move the multiple elements for the necessary one-frame-at-a-time shooting.
"Tie-downs" were built into sets
and props so that the puppet(s) could be securely anchored with rods during the
On occasion, the animators could also work from underneath the sets, since some
sets were built and
situated on raised platforms. This also allowed riggers to send some props and
characters into "stunt"
sequences - just like on a live-action movie, albeit often tethered with piano
wire rather than a full-scale
harness or rig.
Whether a complex tableau with multiple puppets or a simple close-up of a
replacement face, once a desired
shot has been captured, the footage goes to the data wranglers, where it is
coded and marked by production
technology supervisor Martin Pelham and his team. This way, anyone at LAIKA can
call up footage on their
computers at work for reference.
The various departments also have access to binders itemizing each and every
shot. However, given the data-heavy
nature of the stop-motion process, LAIKA utilizes Shotgun Software to "manage
visual effects work and
now modernize some of the processes we were doing manually," notes the
department's Jeff Stringer. "With Shotgun, we can organize approved artwork and
relate it to the shots;
everyone can now be sure that they're looking at exactly the same piece of
Crew members can also access, on their computers, each catalogued frame that has
photographed as well as - for individual characters like Norman himself - specs
on which replacement faces
or parts were used for the shot. This is especially crucial for the animators
maintaining consistency, whether
from shot to shot or scene to scene. If an actor has recorded dialogue for a
character, the sound bite (or,
byte) can be called up as well.
Hayns remarks, "It's a wonderful program to have up on our computers. For my
department, being able to
see the shots that we're doing or the tests of the puppets that we're making is
frequently a revelation."
Whether on the computer screen or in hand, little is discarded; rather,
everything is made use of as a learning
tool and/or reference point.
Butler clarifies, "What we didn't want was the slickness of a lot of animation;
we left some of the bumps in
rather than ironing it out. It was important to have the everyday world of
ParaNorman feel real, and livable.
Often, stop-motion can feel whimsical. Blithe Hollow needed to be expansive, and
Much like LAIKA itself, where, as Knight notes, "There is no shortage of
interesting characters with wonderful
stories; everywhere you look, there is inspiration."
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