Travel consideration provided for the purposes of this set visit.
One of the most amazing parts of my recent tour of The Boxtrolls set was seeing all of the puppets and their world up close and personal. We toured the puppet and prop departments, meeting the ingenious individuals who create every single detail you can imagine – plus many more that you can’t imagine.
Our tour began by speaking with Georgina Hayns, the Creative Supervisor of Puppet Fabrication. She showed us the puppets used in the filming of The Boxtrolls and walked us through the process of how they are created. These Boxtrolls first came to life through sketches by character designer Mike Smith, which Georgina then used to develop maquettes, which are essentially a puppet prototype model.
Once the maquette is sculpted out of clay, it is then molded and cast in resin. The casts are then handed off to the art department, and go through another stage of sculpting, which the skeleton (AKA the armature) is built into. The puppet department consults with the film’s directors and head of animation to find out how they will need the puppet to move, behave, appear, and so on. Based on these needs, the puppet department creates skeletons which will be able to bend and move as they are animated – many of the puppets are poseable on their own, but depending on the size of the character they will also use rigs in order to hold it up during filming, which are removed in post-production.
LAIKA is dedicated to preserving the art and warmth of handmade characters while also embracing new technology, so their puppets are a fascinating mixture of handcrafted and 3D printed. LAIKA were the first company to use 3D printing for stop motion feature films, and this technology has enabled them to create very expressive character faces. Brian McLean, the Director of Rapid Prototype, gave us a tour of the 3D printing department and it was incredible to see it in action. In this department, you will find huge cabinets holding drawer after drawer of character faces created via 3D printing. The whole face is designed to come off, so that during animation, they can simply refer to their “Library of faces” and pick out the exact one they need. Each character has thousands of faces – think of it as a little like Mr. Potato Head, but on a much larger scale!
From there, the Director of Costume Design, Deborah Cook, spearheads the creation of all the characters’ clothing. We got to peek at her inspiration boards on the walls, where she pasted collages of photos that she used to draw ideas for the design and look of the characters, sourcing everything from Victorian era clothing to Mick Jagger’s costumes. The level of attention to detail is mind-blowing, since everything must be done on a tiny scale and be able to move along with the characters in a believable way, even going so far as to wire the puppet’s skirts so that they have fluid motion. In order to capture fine detail on the big screen, they created tiny little lace dresses on a sewing machine, made to scale. The smallest costume seen in The Boxtrolls was for the main character Eggs when he is shown as a baby. These miniature baby clothes included a sweater measuring 3.5″ across both arms and the chest, as well as socks measuring 5/8″ long. Incredible!!
Another area of mind-blowing minutia was the movie’s props. We got to see and even feel all of these tiny items in the flesh, from tiny loaves of bread to the landscapes. Over 20,000 props were made by hand for this film, with 25 different kinds of weeds alone. Seeing this translate on the sets – which looked like the world’s most elaborate dollhouses – was really breathtaking. The amount of painstaking details that have been labored over to fully immerse the viewer in the Boxtrolls’ world is amazing. And just think – all of this work is just to create the characters and their world; that’s not even getting into the actual animation, which I will be detailing in my next article in August!