In the past month I’ve seen two films that have caused me to fall helplessly in love with stop motion animation. The first was a Sundance opener by Adam Elliott called Mary and Max.
Mary and Max is a hilariously written story about “friendship, autism, taxidermy, psychiatry, alcoholism, where babies come from, obesity, kleptomania, trust, copulating dogs, sexual and religious differences, agoraphobia, and more” (according to the film-makers). Max is voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Mary by the Australian actress, Toni Collette.
The film was in production for 5 years. A crew of 50 people and 6 animators, were able to create about 2 1/2 minutes of animation a week. 133 sets and 475 miniature props (including a functional typewriter) were designed for the film. The team also constructed 212 clay puppets with 1026 mouths and 886 hands, to give the characters full expression. The list goes on and on and can be found in the “Behind the Scenes”->”Production Fakts” section on their site.
Mary and Max is a wonderful, insightful film and seems to me, a true accomplishment (although the quality of this trailer is pretty shoddy).
The second movie that tethered my heart to the craft of stop motion was Henry Selick’s 3-D film, Coraline, which is based on a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman (The Sandman).
There are very few moments in my adult life that I’ve been able to completely commit to my imagination. Coraline evoked feelings of wonder that I haven’t felt since watching Alice in Wonderland and The Never Ending Story, as a child.
Coraline employed around 450 crew members including 30 animators. A woman who specializes in knitting miniatures was hired to construct clothing for the tiny models. Each model had tiny flexible joints and interchangeable parts. Innumerable attachable parts were created, including 1000 different pairs of hands for the characters, as well as 38 hair pieces for Coraline alone.
The set was also made of interchangeable parts and spanned about 25 square feet. My favorite moments were spent in the other father’s garden, where the colors were highly saturated and everything moved with a life of its own. Nearly 1000 flower models were used to create the fantastic floral landscape. The night sky was fabricated by layering a dark blue backdrop in front of artificial lights to create an eerily realistic twinkling sky.
Coraline was filmed in both digital and 3-D. When interviewed, Selick credits digital for improving the process since shots could be viewed and deleted immediately if they weren’t quite right. He also admits to using CG, but only for a small number of the shots, including the mice circus and for some of the in-between face forms, to create more fluid expressions. Creating human-like expressions is one of the major challenges noted when constructing a stop motion film.
I found this cool clip that shows a small amount of the behind the scenes filming. Hopefully there’ll be a longer one when it comes out on DVD.