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Immersed in Movies: Talking More Stop-Motion with the 'ParaNorman' Directors

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 3, 2012 at 2:26PM

Laika's "ParaNorman" not only outpaced its two stop-motion rivals, "Frankenweenie" and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," at the box office with a respectable $55.8 million, but it also pushed the boundaries of a family movie with its theme of intolerance...
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'ParaNorman'
'ParaNorman'

Laika's "ParaNorman" not only outpaced its two stop-motion rivals, "Frankenweenie" and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," at the box office with a respectable $55.8 million, but it also pushed the boundaries of a family movie with its theme of intolerance. This, along with a naturalistic style unique to stop-motion, just might earn the zombie-comedy an Oscar nomination for best animated feature.

"I always knew in writing 'ParaNorman' that it might cause a little bit of a fuss because of the areas that it delved into, but that was intentional," Chris Butler proclaims. "We wanted to be bold in our storytelling. And I'm glad that people have seen that and have responded to it."

However, Butler's more experienced directing partner, Sam Fell, was keenly aware of the thematic risks. After a disappointing stint at DreamWorks on "Flushed Away," he was delighted to be in an environment that encouraged being different. "Animation people have told me how well made 'ParaNorman' is and how they were surprised by its story; how unexpected it was," Fell relates.

In terms of the new verisimilitude on display in "ParaNorman" (now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3-D), it's what Oregon-based Laika is all about. Travis Knight, Laika's lead animator and president/CEO, likens it to "luddites embracing the loom." Stop-motion may be an age-old medium with its tactile aesthetic, but Butler insists they're not bound by it.

"It's not some historical novelty that we're honoring from a distance," Butler adds. "We're trying to take it as far as it will go. We're willing to use whatever new technology provides us to do that. I think we still maintain what is fundamentally attractive about stop-motion while using every trick in the book. And I think the rapid prototype 3D color printer is a perfect example of that. We used the printer on 'Coraline,' but it was black and white. And the innovation here on 'ParaNorman' was a color one so that we had an incredibly complex painting technique on the characters' faces. Also even the way that the material was printed, the color was within the material -- the resin-- so the way that it refracted light gave it a look that we'd never seen before. It looked more lifelike. We had never seen that before in stop-motion."

This article is related to: ParaNorman, Animation, Immersed In Movies, Features


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.