Laika's next stop-motion venture, The Boxtrolls, is bringing a lush world of crooked buildings, lavish costumes, cheese-fiending villains, and, of course, the Boxtrolls themselves with their elaborate mechanical inventions. We visited the set, and if you have any doubts about the movie's glorious puppets, props, and sets, take a behind-the-scenes look at The Boxtrolls.
Top image: Michael Hollenbeck works on one of the Red Hat puppets.
"Some stop-motion movies, you feel like you're trapped on a set, and you can feel the edge of the set all the way through the movie," said Anthony Stacchi, who co-directed The Boxtrolls with Graham Annable, when we visited the set with a few other members of the press. "But this movie, I feel like it opens up to a pretty big scale."
Rather than following the strict rules of purist stop-motion film, The Boxtrolls combines every tool and technology at Laika's disposal. There are, of course, the traditional stop-motion animators, the costume designers who carefully stitch together each hat and jacket, the sculptors and carpenters and metalworkers who build the movie's world brick by polymer brick. Some of the factoids are mind-boggling: The character Lord Portley-Rind (he's the fellow in the cream-colored getup on the staircase below) has a hat made of 14 different materials. The props team handcrafted 20,000 individual props. (The smallest was a needle and thread.) Fifty-five sculpts were made just for cheese. (Cheese is naturally very important to the city of Cheesebridge, where the film is set.)
Above: Florian Perinelle works with the Lord Portley-Rind puppet.
But the Laika team isn't hoping to just make a grand stop-motion film; they want to make a great film, period. And that means incorporating computers and even digital effects into their work where it's appropriate. With its second feature ParaNorman, the studio turned to 3D printing to capture a wide range of facial expressions and movement—something that will be used to hilariously grotesque effect with Ben Kingsley's character, the nefarious Snatcher. The paints on the face are designed digitally, and then printed directly onto the faces—although touch-ups are sometimes necessary. And some of the effects are pure CG.
Above: Matias Liebrecht works on Eggs.
"The look is the rule," explained Stacchi. "There's a certain line quality to the stuff that we like, so the clouds have that line quality. So we came up with ways of designing the clouds using actual fabric that has reds and that will look good. But we can generate the clouds CG once that look has been come up with. It doesn't matter. We're not purists. We're not sticking any in-camera rule. It's been done before and it's incredibly charming. In my opinion, occasionally in movies, that charm can throw you out of the loop, too—the reality loop."
Above: Director of Photography John Ashlee Prat adjusts a backlight reflection.
"It's something inherent in stop-motion," Stacchi continued. "You get this great—it's real lights striking real textures and real fabrics and stuff. The only thing that's taken away is that it's no longer a chemical process on film that's causing the light; it's digital. But if you have all that reality in the shooting of the puppets, then you shoot cotton for the smoke, or you use something like that to stay rigorously in-camera practical effects, then that throws you out of it. So we wanted fog that was cold and rain that was wet, and to my mind, it was kind of ironic that we had to go to digital effects to keep up the integrity and realism."
Above: Costume Designer Deborah Cook works on one of Egg's outfit.
But of course, this is still a mainly handworked endeavor, and these set photos show off many of the details we'll see in the Boxtrolls' world. We'll have more details about our set visit closer to the film, filling you in on the design and story work that went into the tale of the human Eggs and his Boxtroll family. For now, enjoy the loveliness of these behind-the-scenes images.
Above: David Pugh works on the extensive Market scene.
Above: Creative Supervisor of Puppet Fabrication Georgina Haynes explains the background on one of the puppets to voice talent Isaac Hempstead-Wright while Director of Rapid Prototype Brian McLean listens in.
Above: A painter puts the finishing touches on the head of Shoe.
Above: Caitlin Pashalek works on the floors in Lord Portley-Rind's house.
Above: A painter adds some green paint to carrot stocks.
Above: Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff works on one of the Boxtrolls while Director Graham Annable looks on.
Above: 11-year-old Eggs swings into trouble when he tries to rescue a Boxtroll friend.
Above: An animator's hands working on the delicate process of the puppet's movement
Full disclosure: The studio paid for all travel expenses.