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PARANORMAN

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 sewed on."

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 underneath. On 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 on.

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 zombiefied decay.

"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 taken.

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 reference during production.

"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 influenced by 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 frame.

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 animation."

Creative supervisor of replacement animation & engineering Brian McLean oversees LAIKA's Rapid 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 starting points.

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 forward."

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 strip."

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 ones too!"

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 achieved before."

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 track them.

"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 process.

"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 stencilling.

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 immediate."

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. Prenderghast's visages 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 triplicate."

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 computer-generated starts it, and hand-made practicality - the signature of the stop-motion art form - finishes it.

"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 tremendously satisfying."

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 animation process.

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 production technology 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 artwork."

Crew members can also access, on their computers, each catalogued frame that has been successfully 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 populated."

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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