There's something magical about animating an inanimate object. When it comes to stop-motion filmmaking, it's not only about bringing your puppets and sets to life, it's about doing the same for your story.
In this Academy Originals video, animator Daniel Alderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls) takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour of Laika Studios, detailing what a normal work day for him looks like from start to finish, from scheduling scenes to actually capturing them in-camera. Check it out below:
Stop-motion animation is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Even though technological advances in the design and production of stop-motion puppets, like 3D printing, has made making these films a little easier, the sheer amount of labor that goes into producing a film of any length or quality is incredible. But all of that fades into the background when considering the work that goes into trying to make a story resonate with an audience emotionally.
Alderson notes the importance of story:
It's hugely technical in terms of figuring out what you're going to do working with all of the departments, but for me, I think a good animator is somebody that just hits the emotion of what you're doing properly. That's the most important thing in terms of telling a story.
And the challenge for stop-motion animators, as well as artists in every other department, is trying to breathe life into these lifeless puppets through meticulous adjustments to their movements and facial expressions. A minuscule change to their gate could be the difference between an unrealistic performance and a completely unique and heartwarming one.
Really, the best animators help give puppets their personality, allowing them to be relatable to and loved by the audience. And Laika must be doing something right considering how much their original animation puppets have sold for at auction. The Evil Other Mother from Coraline went for over $50K, while Norman from ParaNorman went for over $28K.
As a UO Cinema Studies alum, I was able to get my hands on a few originals my senior year, and even though I had no idea that I was handling almost $80K worth of craftsmanship, I was certainly startstruck.
Being from Oregon, there is quite a substantial stop-motion filmmaking culture that is a little difficult not to be influenced by. Laika Studios, which is owned by Nike's Phil Knight (Uncle Phil) and run by his son Travis (who started out as an animator), is based right in the heart of Silicon Forest in Hillsboro, a suburb outside of Portland.
A huge piece of that culture centers on accepting and appreciating the fact that filmmaking is about storytelling, which requires patience, imaginativeness, and a ton of that goopy, messy, childlike wonder. It's clear that Alderson, as well as Laika Studios as a whole, has all of that down.