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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...
ParaNorman directors
Chris Butler and Sam Fell

This is what the directors believe takes stop-motion to a whole new sophisticated level. It's still puppetry with its warmth and tactility, yet it remains distinct from the virtual puppetry of CG animation. And when you combine the benefits of rapid prototyping for character animation with the use of set extensions and slight digital enhancements, you strip away some of the artifice for a more believable experience.

In fact, Fell admits that stop-motion has benefited from VFX advancements in live action and CG animation. "We have the VFX department at Laika and the facial animation was figured out with Maya, but, coming back to stop-motion, what I love about it is that you're using real photography and you're relying on real surfaces. And the way the light works on those faces, using subdivision surface scattering, we get for free in stop-motion. I think there's a sophistication to the photography that's just naturally available to you in stop-motion; it's so effortless. I have yet to see that in a CG animated movie that feels quite as tangible or warm. It's beautiful and the high-end is certainly fantastic, but it's not long before it goes a little synthetic again."

The directors would go so far as to say that what they've achieved with stop-motion in "ParaNorman" is what they're chasing in CG animation. "I wish people would understand that," Butler asserts. "Real light on real objects."

Indeed, it's like having the best of both worlds.

Our exclusive "ParaNorman" clip below:

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

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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.