It must be simple to create a movie made for children, right?
Completely, totally wrong. The amount of work that went into the creation of ParaNorman is staggering -- though watching the heartwarming tale might give you the opposite impression. It all flows so seamlessly that it seems like it took very little effort to produce, but the reality is production company Laika (Coraline) has stop-motion animation down to a science. And that's no small feat.
Moviefone visited the Laika studios in Portland, Oregon, where ParaNorman was made. In what seemed like a nondescript industrial building, lots of movie magic was being created. From the characters to the costumes to the voices, Laika's employees (which include everything from chemists to philosophers) invested most of their time and all of their hearts into the project. Here are six things you need to know about ParaNorman.
Laika Is A Company Of Perfectionists
Everyone from the top (President and CEO Travis Knight, who's also an animator) down to the film creators (writer/directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell) and artists is 100 percent dedicated to the creation of top-quality content. It is a bold, ballsy company which employs 300+ artists, and as we saw with Coraline, it prides itself on technological innovation and originality. Following in Coraline's footsteps, ParaNorman is a different sort of beast; Laika's approach to stop-motion has grown and changed since 2009, delving deeper into incredible, painstaking detail. If you thought Coraline's animation was impressive, you won't believe ParaNorman.
The Devil's In The Details
Every single character in ParaNorman has a face composed of several parts, and each face is a template, exchangeable as the facial expressions adjust with mood. So every single eyebrow movement, lip twitch or scowl has to be manually placed. Shockingly, 24 movements make up one second of film. Think about that for a moment. There are 78 individual pieces in Norman's face alone.
Wanting to deviate from the typical shapes of stop-motion animation, inside every 3D-molded character figure is a mini Terminator-like skeleton, with full jointage, range and movement of a human body. Each strand of hair is poseable (Norman's is made of goat hair, and each strand was hand-dyed), and all the clothing worn by the figurines is made with real fabrics. All the fabric was specially hunted down in vintage clothing stores and cut-to-size using couture fashion techniques. Some of the most spectacular creations for ParaNorman are the toilet-paper zombies -- you'll know them when you see them in the movie. Incredible.
It's All In the Numbers
If you're still not convinced about Laika's growth and contribution to the science of stop-motion animation, consider this: Jack Skellington in A Nightmare Before Christmas had 800 different faces. In Coraline, the lead character had 200,000 facial expressions. And finally, now, Norman has 290,000, with roughly 32,000 faces created for the movie. Approximately 30 people touch each of the puppets, ranging from the painter to the sculptor to the animator, and ParaNorman took three years from conception to filming, with many perfectionist touch-ups being done just weeks before release. That's pretty heavy-duty!
Rich Characters Aplenty
ParaNorman is about young boy Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can see and communicate with the dead. In the movie, he comes face-to-face with a 300-year-old dead witch threatening to curse the town with a zombie plague. We're treated to a very rich cast of supporting characters, not limited to but including Norman's endearing friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), his snobby sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) and bossy bully Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Viewers also get a treat as John Goodman takes on the role of Mr. Prenderghast -- probably one of the most appealing and charismatic characters in the entire movie. But even the bit parts are amusing, and the group of Pilgrim-esque zombies is a feast for the eyes and ears.
It's All About 3D, Baby
In order to move its technology to the next level, Laika relies heavily on the use of 3D printers. They sound simple enough, but are actually ridiculously complex machines that can replicate and create objects in 3D form. Where Laika artists had to paint parts before, they can now use the printers to color them with absolute precision. The printing company expressed doubt that ParaNorman could even happen, and wished the directors/producers luck. Proved them wrong!
(Mini) Worlds Within Worlds
Walking around Laika, it was fascinating to pull back different long, black curtains and find yet another little set, miniaturized to perfection. We stumbled upon several scenes and sets, including the Blithe Hollow town square and Norman's school. To say the sets were detailed is an understatement; there were tiny little cracks in the pavement (created by the artists), meticulously fabricated trees, perfectly strewn leaves and purposefully off-kilter construction. As the directors wanted, ParaNorman has a sense of "structured asymmetry," where everything has a tiny, almost undetectable flaw, including Norman. Structural fatigue of the various buildings is deliberate -- the creators wanted a very accurate take on reality, so everything is a little askew.
<em>All Photos Courtesy of Alliance Films and LAIKA Inc.</em>