At last night’s Awardsline screening of Focus Features’ The Boxtrolls, directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable brought their bag of tricks, err, stop-motion dolls, and revealed to the audience the process behind the Oscar-nominated animated feature.
“This project was percolating at Laika for 10 years in the background,” Annable told Deadline’s Dominic Patten about the adaptation of Alan Snow’s 500 page novel, Here Be Monsters!. In Boxtrolls, a young boy Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) defends the underground community of misfits that raised him from the evil outlaw Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley).
The production timeline for Boxtrolls was comprised of a two-year storyboarding process and an 18-month shoot with a 350 person crew. The co-directors mentioned how Laika’s HQ in Hillsboro, Oregon was akin to an old Hollywood lot during production, complete with wood and metal shops. Annable demonstrated with the Snatcher figure how each Boxtrolls figure wore a removeable face. One thousand individual faces were made for each nuanced expression on 200 puppets. As the filmmakers shot each pose-able move, they would also change the figure’s mug. A 3D printer was used to create each face.
“Stop motion animators only get one rehearsal with the puppets before we shoot it,” explained Stacchi.
Before any character movement was lensed, the animators drew inspiration from the actors who recorded their dialogue. “Ben had a strong conception of Snatcher; how he would talk with elongated vowels. He intentionally voiced the character while reclining in a chair, so that the voice was emanating from his chest,” added Stacchi.
“Nick Frost, who voiced the character of (Snatcher’s henchman) Trout, had this idea that the guy would have this broken nose. You never want to stop the actors from their creativity during the first recording session,” said Stacchi.
In addition to an Oscar nomination, The Boxtrolls is also up for a BAFTA animated feature award at this weekend’s ceremony. The film took home two Annie Awards last Saturday for best voice acting (Kingsley) and feature production design by Paul Lasaine, Tom McClure and August Hall. Like other Oscar-nominated animated Laika titles such as Coraline and ParaNorman, Boxtrolls possesses a mature sensibility. “We want to challenge the kids, they see there’s a lot of jeopardy with the characters” said Annable.
Added Stacchi, “Children get a window into the characters’ emotions that they don’t see in other kids’ films. But you don’t want to put the heroes in too much jeopardy.”
When asked by Patten about a sequel, particularly given how Snow has two additional Boxtrolls books (which were only released in French), the co-director explained how Laika differentiated itself from the sequel mindset of DreamWorks and Walt Disney.
Said Stacchi, “We only make one movie, and it is about the pivotal moment in a character’s life.”