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Siggraph: How 'The Boxtrolls' Took Stop-Motion Animation to a New Level

LAIKA, which brought viewers 'Paranorman,' continues to experiment with a "hybrid" approach to animation

The Box Trolls Still - H 2014
LAIKA Inc./Focus Features, LLC.

A trio from Portland, Ore.-based animation studio LAIKA showed on Wednesday how the studio continues to infuse the century-old art of stop-motion with new digital technology and techniques in its upcoming The Boxtrolls. The presentation was made during the CG confab Siggraph at the Vancouver Convention Center.

The company started to move toward this “hybrid” (stop-motion augmented with CG) approach to animation with its first two features, Oscar nominees Coraline and Paranorman. And, according to co-VFX supervisor Steve Emerson, “this is the one where we refined it.”

The Boxtrolls is scheduled to open Sept. 26 and is based on Alan Snow’s children’s book Here Be Monsters. During the Siggraph session, the audience was treated to a series of behind-the-scenes images and clips including the various stages of the making of the puppets and animation tests that were used to lovingly create the rich world and expressive characters.

Georgina Hayns, creative supervisor of puppet fabrication, noted that her team’s biggest challenge was creating Boxtroll puppets that could retract their arms and legs into their boxes. Gears to do this were built into certain puppets.

The faces came to life using replacement animation — that is, replacing the various parts of the faces, frame by frame, to create the movement and performance. “We wanted them to be realistic in their movement,” director of rapid prototyping Brian McLean said, noting that they worked closely on the facial muscles.

In fact, McLean reported that the studio created roughly 53,000 facial parts from a powder-based color 3D printer, which included 15,000 for the protagonist, Eggs, a boy who was raised by the Boxtrolls. “These really add to the story but would have been prohibitive a few years ago.”

To fully populate the world — with background characters or crowds — CG characters were created and added in postproduction.

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA