On Thursday night, the Variety Screening Series kicked off in Hollywood with “The Boxtrolls,” the latest offering from stop-motion animation company Laika.
For the Portland, Ore. based animation studio, which also produced “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” the inspiration for the 3D film about underground trolls raising an orphan was the book “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow.
“The pace of stop-motion is ridiculous. It’s glacial,” said Laika CEO Travis Knight. A good day in the office for an animator would be to complete 48 frames, or two seconds of film, according to the Laika chief, who was on hand for a post-screening Q&A along with directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi.
Using puppets ranging from 9 inches to 5 feet tall, the film’s shoot was “like 18 months of opening nights,” Annable said, explaining that there was no rehearsal period.
“Essentially we make the film before we make the film,” Stacchi said. “We don’t shoot anything we don’t use. That’s why we storyboard the whole film beforehand.”
Focus Features’ “The Boxtrolls,” voiced by Ben Kingsley and Tracy Morgan, recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival and hits theaters Sept. 26.
While Laika remains one of the most prominent stop-motion suppliers in the film industry, they still use some CG effects. “When you can see into the distance,” Stacchi said, “that’s all CG added to that to open up the space so you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a model train set the whole time.”
The biggest difference between live-action and stop-motion? “You don’t get anything for free,” Knight said. “You have to create and develop an entire world. You have to make every single thing from the big city all the way down to the tiny flower.”
He often referred to the puppets as little vampires.
“They suck the life out of everyone that touches them,” he laughed. “Any bit of life you see on screen it’s got to come from somewhere. It has to feel like it’s alive.”
When asked by Variety moderator Andrew Barker if Laika could retain the same vision in Hollywood, their response was an emphatic “no.”
“There is something about Portland, it draws a certain kind of human, a very weird kind of human,” said Knight. “You throw a rock in Portland and you’re going to hit a guy who makes his own absinthe, rides a unicycle to work and grows ironic facial hair, so that group of people is perfect for the kind of people we want to work for us.”
Knight did agree that there are some challenges being removed from the central film hubs, but “being our own little kind of isolated island, it’s allowed us to develop a culture that’s unique and I think you see that in the kinds of films we make.”