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At the Los Angeles premiere of Boxtrolls, Laika Studios’ CEO Travis Knight stood up in front of the film’s cast and crew, as well as the audience that had all gathered in a Universal City Walk theater and gleefully announced: “This is a spectacularly stupid way to make a movie.”
Knight was referencing the stop-motion animation that was used to make Boxtrolls, as well Laika’s previous two releases, Coraline and ParaNorman. Before the screening, THR talked to Knight, who also served as the film’s producer, about the arduous animating process, which involves constructing a film frame-by-frame while incrementally moving puppets in order to simulate continuous motion.
Read more: ‘The Boxtrolls’ Review
“It is a long, winding road to do any one of these things,” said Knight. “The pace of stop-motion is glacial.” But Knight, as well as everyone who was involved with the 18 months of continuous production, seems to believe that the final result makes all those hours or work worthwhile.
The Boxtrolls is an adaptation of the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow, which follows a young boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who lives below the town of Cheesebridge with fanciful creatures called boxtrolls. When the boxtrolls’ very existence is threatened, Eggs must enter the human world and save his adoptive family, along with the help of Winnie, the curious daughter of Cheesebridge’s mayor.
“When you watch stop-motion, you know that it is made from hands because it looks and feels different,” said actress Elle Fanning, who voiced the character of Winnie.
For Fanning, stop-motion has become a family affair. Her older sister, Dakota, did the voice for the titular character in Laika’s first feature, Coraline. “I knew that once you are in it, you are in it,” said Fanning, who decided to work with Laika after watching her older sister do voiceover work for several years before Coraline came out.
“Stop-motion is such an old craft,” said Graham Annable, who had worked as a storyboard artist on Coraline and ParaNorman before stepping in to co-direct the studio’s third feature. “Especially in this day and age where everything is digital effects, our films stand out.”
Pixar, DreamWorks Annimation, Blue Sky Studios and Sony Pictures Animation are a few well-known animation studios that take a largely computer-generated approach to their animation, including recent films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Rio 2.
“We get nothing for free; everything that is in front of the camera has to be conceived of, designed and then built,” said co-director Anthony Stacchi, who has a background in both stop-motion and CG animation.
The two directors explained that Laika also has embraced new technologies. This includes rapid prototype faces that allow for a wider range of emotive gestures, as well as a state-of-the-art visual effects department, all of which helps them to better execute their animations.
“People still know, whether or not they are aware of the process,” said Graham. “It is a different look, and it is hard to give audiences something new to look at.”
Boxtrolls also stars Sir Ben Kingsley, Nick Frost and Jared Harris. The movie will hit theaters Sept. 26.
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