Helmer brought unique acting method to animated film

In the animation world, all voice actors know the drill: They spend hours alone in a recording booth wearing headsets and delivering lines that are later stitched to their characters’ actions. “I thought it might be more fun if we went on location and had some adventures,” muses “Fantastic Mr. Fox” director Wes Anderson. “My background isn’t in animation, so I thought of how I would normally do it in live action.”

So Anderson and stars George Clooney, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman trundled off to a Connecticut farm and enacted scenes like the animals they were playing. “It was like doing rehearsals on location,” Anderson says. “We worked quickly and it was very spontaneous, sort of a ‘documentary recording.’ When people are standing in a wheat field together, you can hear sounds that tell you it’s the real thing.”

Anderson’s approach also influenced the animation. “There was a scene where the Fox family sees a wolf. I asked if somebody could play the wolf off-camera, and Bill said, ‘I can do that.’ He jogged up a distant hill, and we videotaped it with a camera phone and gave it to our animator, who based the wolf’s performance on what Bill did.”

Even subsequent voice recordings bucked convention. When Anderson needed Clooney to record additional dialogue, the actor was on another movie location. “George brought the sound crew from that movie to his hotel, and I dictated dialogue over the phone. He wrote it out on hotel stationery and recorded it in his room.”

Anderson even used handheld microphones for recording some pickup lines, to approximate the spontaneity he’d gotten outdoors. “In the end, I don’t know if it defines this movie, but it might!”

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