Courtney, Alvin, Mitch, Norman, and Neil in PARANORMAN, directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, the new stop-motion comedy thriller from LAIKA and Focus Features.
ParaNorman tells the story of a young man gifted (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the ability to talk to ghosts. The movie strikes an excellent cord between, comedy and horror, while instilling a sense of heart and morality.
I’m very lucky to have sat down with one of the directors, Sam Fell (The Tale of Despereaux, Flushed Away), to find out how this great story came to be.
Do you believe in the paranormal?
I believe there is more to us than flesh and bone. There’s obviously something in our consciousness that’s beyond what we see. I haven’t seen a ghost, but I’m happy to just know that there’s more. I’ll come back and haunt you to let you know that they do exist.
How would you react to having Norman’s ability to see and speak to ghosts?
I think it would be cool to see those ghosts that he sees because they’re friendly ghosts. I’d probably go look a few people up. I never got to meet one of my grandfathers, so I’d like to talk to him.
Can you briefly describe what differentiates the way you shot ParaNorman versus other stop-motion animated movies?
At its heart, it’s the same process. Build a miniature world, light it, build miniature puppets out of clay, and then it’s one frame at a time. You start in frame one and days or weeks later you’re finished that shot. One of our shots was about 1000 frames long and that took about ten weeks to shoot!
Tell me about it! It’s a living performance, captured very slowly. What made our process different is we used a 3D colour printer to create thousands of faces to switch for each frame. Amazingly innovative stuff!
I’ll let the pros show you how they did it:
Is this the future of animation?
I think there are multiple futures for animating a film. I’ll never forget that moment when I saw Toy Story on the big screen for the first time, when CG animation was new, exciting and novel. It blew me away! I don’t get that feeling very much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I really like a lot of animated films. It just feels like the genre has been dormant for a long time. It wasn’t until Coraline where we got to see this tactile world in stereoscopic 3D for the first time that I got a similar sensation again. Felt uncanny. I actually hope hand-drawn animation makes a comeback.
So far in your career, you’ve only directed animated films. Do you have any interest in taking on some living actors?
I would consider it. Actually, before this movie came along, I had been dabbling in writing and had some live action stuff in development. So I’ve touched on that world. In many ways, shooting ParaNorman has been sort of a live action film on a smaller scale. I think you should want to tell a story more than just entering a medium for the sake of it.
Are you very selective when it comes to the projects you take on?
I’m as selective as I can be, you know. It’s tricky, because on one side it’s a business and I’m a working director who wants to work. I want to make films. So I hold off as long as I can and read a ton of scripts. I actually develop my own work too. But somewhere along that road, you’re just itching to make another film and you grab the best one you’ve been presented with and you go with it. Directors aren’t built to sit around, you see.
For the voice work, did you do the traditional method of every actor doing solo recordings or did you manage to get them together to record?
We were lucky to get some of them together, actually. We got Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin, the Babcock parents together. They were great at ad libbing. We also got Casey Affleck and Anna Kendrick together, which was great since neither had done animation before, so they got to find their way together. And we got Kodi Smit-McPhee (Norman) and Tucker Albrizzi (Neil) together. They were so good together, that we didn’t even edit out their mistakes. It just made it more beautiful.
Were there any whacky mishaps that happened during production?
It’s weird, but there weren’t any big mishaps that happened on this movie. The only difficult aspect of this movie was the ambition of it. Crazy ambition! In the first year when we were planning and storyboarding it, we got carried away. We were so excited about doing car chases with multiple cameras and the big storm in the sky to connect to the zombies. On top of that, we wanted a mob! Halfway through, it all started to hit us just how much we wanted to push everything. That was the only moment when we gulped at the vastness and scale of the project.
Did the final product deviate from the original script in anyway?
No, actually. We just turned a great script into a great movie.
That you did, Sam! Check out ParaNorman in 3D in theatres everywhere on August 17, 2012.
Here’s another look at how they brought this movie to life: