A University of Wisconsin film school grad with a knack for crafts and sculpting, Caroline Kastelic was a good fit for the role of puppet supervisor on Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s adult stop-motion film, Anomalisa. Though Kastelic found out about the project from Starbuns Industries’ Johnson and Dino Stamatopoulos, with whom she had worked on season two of Adult Swim’s Frankenhole, her work at the animation production company is intermittent. “Stop-motion people bounce around like gypsies, following the productions,” she says.
The animation style is nothing if not a labor of love. Workdays for Kastelic often began at 8:30 AM and lasted 10 hours or more, and were filled with “frantic walkie-talkie calls about puppets breaking,” she says. Her responsibilities as puppet supervisor included figuring out, in meticulous fashion, the puppet needs of the project—scene by scene—assembling the final puppets (hair, wardrobe), and negotiating with all the various departments to meet the day’s goals. The crew consisted of 10 to 20 people depending on the stage of production. “At one point we had about 20 stages running at once,” Kastelic says. There was an extensive, ongoing process of tests and research and the design of the puppets was refined as the process went along, beginning as wired armatures and eventually becoming ball-and-socket creations.
This evolution in technique and design came as a result of a desire on the directors’ part for some of the most humanesque, fluid movement possible in the art form. “That was the most challenging part,” Kastelic says, “because the puppets are also proportioned like humans, so they need to bend in the right places. When you have something that’s stylized you can get away with a lot more because nobody knows how a character like Coraline, who looks a little bit abstract, might move.”
An additional directors’ choice was to include the two-face plate—for the upper and lower parts of the face—in the shot, rather than editing them out in post. Kastelic approves of this choice. “That’s why I like stop motion. It’s handmade. It just gives it a life,” she says. Moreover, as a story about what it mean’s to be a human being there’s an artistic statement there about the way in which we, as humans, are our own creations.
While all film production is a laborious exercise, stop-motion is one of the most intensive crafts of all, and comes with its own unique set of problems. “With a lot things, materials just take time to dry,” says Kastelic. “There’s nothing you can do if something takes two hours to set, so a lot of times you stay late and get all the things you can done, and then get back here. It feels like you never left.” It’s also a craft where the tiniest change can have significant consequences.
Kastelic hopes that one of those consequences will be to give the American moviegoer a new respect for animation, and a different concept of what it can accomplish. “I’m excited because I think the film is leading to maybe a new view of animation in the United States, and taking it more seriously as an art form,” she says. “Adult animation is something that we don’t really explore here.”
To see a featurette on the making of Anomalisa, click play below:
And to see a trailer from the film, click play below: