Travel consideration provided.
During my Spring visit to tour The Boxtrolls set at LAIKA Studios, one of the things that struck me the most was the enormity of the task which stop motion animators have. There are few left who still specialize in this art, and LAIKA have been smart to merge the traditional craft of stop motion with new technologies in order to get the best of both worlds.
“Stop motion in digital is a cool marriage of old and new,” explained LAIKA president and CEO Travis Knight. As he stood chatting with us in the middle of the set for the film’s final scene, he discussed the process of creating a stop motion animation, starting with the fact that they rehearse all of the stop motion prior to shooting, even though they are filming on digital. One of my personal highlights during the visit was getting to “Rehearse” a shot of my own when I met Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff, who showed me how to move the puppet for Boxtroll Fish.
Brad directed me as to how to move Fish’s arm and took a test shot, so that I could see “My” animation of Fish moving his arm play back on the monitor. I moved Fish’s arm very, very gingerly, and Brad told me I could move it a lot harder than that. But I remained cautious as I had a nightmarish vision of snapping Fish’s arm off in the middle of filming. 😉 I can’t tell you how incredibly cool it was to be able to see and feel these puppets and watch them come to life from a few teensy moves on my part. It’s hard to comprehend the man hours needed to slowly move every tiny part of the character to make just one scene, never mind a full movie. Animators on The Boxtrolls would typically take 1 week to complete 3.7 seconds worth of footage, which is just under 90 individual frames.
I was wondering if I would get the puppet dirty by touching it, but Brad explained that the silicone which they are made from does not pick up finger prints. He also said that they do final checks to spot clean anything needed on the models and sets before shooting – as you can imagine, these high resolution cameras pick up such an intense level of detail that having the smallest amount of dirt on set could pose a real problem on screen; however, if dust gets into a shot and shows up, they can edit it out in post production.
Seeing all of the film sets in person was truly incredible. From the little villages to the tiny, dollhouse-sized props, it was like stepping into a little wonderland. One of the most breathtaking was Winnie’s ornate mansion, which had a level of attention to detail that is hard to imagine; they even went so far as to create intentional “Water damage” on sections of the walls to create a really authentic looking home.
Also phenomenal was the sewer set, where they had created the illusion of water reflecting by using lights illuminating a large piece of glass. The water effect is the first of its kind at LAIKA to be done as a “Practical” effect rather than added in post-production; they also used similar technologies to create a fire effect. The flames burning in the furnace of the Mecha-Drill were created with an iPad displaying a loop video inside the “mouth” of the device. Each effect happens in seconds, which is timed to frames. All of this labor goes into creating something that you’d miss in the blink of an eye, which is also what makes it feel “Real” and natural on screen.
There is no doubt in my mind after visiting the sets and seeing a quick peek at the preliminary footage that The Boxtrolls is going to be spectacular to watch. It comes out next month on September 26th – which is the day after my birthday, so seeing the finished product after months of anticipation will be my present!