'Schmucks' design team makes nice with mice

In “Dinner for Schmucks,” the mice steal the show.

Steve Carell plays a social misfit whose unintentionally hilarious hobby involves making incredibly detailed dioramas of famous paintings (“mouseterpieces,” like the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s Creation), historical events (Washington crossing the Delaware) and romantic scenes from his personal life, all starring mice.

The challenge of creating these scene-stealing dioramas — which had to be funny, while also illuminating Carell’s character — fell to the Chiodo Bros., the slightly twisted puppet experts behind the “Team America: World Police” ass-kicking marionettes.

“It’s actually quite poignant that this guy would invest so much effort in such a bizarre hobby,” says Ed Chiodo. “He would have to be a consummate artist in all fields, from taxidermy to background painting to miniature building.”

Even the lighting is meticulously arranged: A flashing LED simulates lightning in the Ben Franklin box, for example.

Working with a team of 30 artists, Stephen Chiodo sculpted more than 100 mice from scratch (“It’s hard to put a suit and tie on a mouse that doesn’t have a neck,” he says, so they adjusted the anatomy for maximum anthropomorphic effect). Brother Charlie selected their individual color schemes, while Ed worked to pose them in 20-plus different dioramas conceived by storyboard artist Joel Venti.

“At first, our idea was to make dioramas that were sort of clumsy and sad, but (director Jay Roach) wanted the joke to be the content of each diorama, not the execution,” explains Stephen.

Every scene had its own specific challenges, ranging from impossible poses (such as doing hula hoops or juggling) to flaming props (featuring real flames).

“They kept adding to the difficulty factor,” says Charlie — though the reward was ever-growing screen time for their creations, which ultimately took over the opening and closing credits of the film.

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