I’ve been looking forward to ParaNorman ever since the incredible first trailer premiered nearly a year ago. The stop-motion animated pic comes from LAIKA, the studio behind Coraline, and centers on a young boy whose ability to communicate with the dead comes in handy when his town is overrun by ghosts, witches, zombies, etc.
Directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler, LAIKA head Travis Knight, and actors Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse took the stage at Hall H at Comic-Con 2012 to unveil some footage and answer questions. The 3D footage looks incredibly and you can read my recap of the lively panel discussion after the jump.
The panel kicked off with a screening of the long-form theatrical trailer, but this was the first time I’ve seen any ParaNorman footage in 3D. The stop-motion animation looked absolutely gorgeous in three dimensions, and the jokes in the trailer killed in Hall H. Moderator Dave Karger then introduced directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler, the head of LAIKA Travis Knight, actor Kodi Smit-McPhee (who voices Norman), Anna Kendrick (who voices Norman’s sister), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who voices the school bully).
- Butler said that it’s taken about 16 years for ParaNorman to come to fruition, working on and off, though they “started on it proper” three years ago.
- They were influenced by The Goonies and Ghostbusters, as well as a lot of horror movies that Butler says he “shouldn’t have watched” when he was a kid.
- The central concept of ParaNorman was John Carpenter meets John Hughes.
- Knight said they were partway through production on Coraline when Butler approached him about making a stop-motion zombie film. The film morphed into a gumbo of their collective influences as kids. He mentioned George Romero and “Ray Harryhausen on bath salts.”
- Though both directors are English, Fell said that when they were growing up in the 1980s they were flooded with great content from American filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and films like Stand By Me. He adds that the movie has a fair amount of dark humor.
- Smit-McPhee—who has hit a massive growth spurt since Let Me In—said he enjoyed putting on an American accent for the Norman character, but admits he’s lost the ability to feign the accent now that his voice has changed.
- Kendrick said she was really nervous because she’s always wanted to voice an animated character but she’s not great in ADR (recording dialogue for a live-action movie in post-production). She admitted that it was nice to not have to go into makeup and such when performing for ParaNorman.
- They recorded the actors recording their dialogue and used their movements and expressions when animating the characters.
- Mintz-Plasse said his character looks like the fat version of him.
Travis then introduced a featurette for the film. It delved into the making of the movie and the painstaking detail with which the artist created the characters. We saw a lot of the people that worked on the film and they talked about how they have all felt like outcasts and they loved putting their heart and soul into this film where the outcast is the hero. The artists were shown wearing really funny costumes and makeup, and we also saw the massive scope of this thing. There are chase sequences, tons of creatures, and lots of effects that they captured brilliantly in stop-motion animation.
- Fell said that the new technology of printing faces for stop-motion allowed them to create much more nuanced expressions.
- Butler said pretty much everything that you shouldn’t do in a stop-motion film, they did.
- McPhee said when he visited LAIKA studios he was most impressed by the patience of these animators, shooting 50 scenes at once.
- Kendrick went around and took a lot of pictures at LAIKA, and said she got to stomp around the set like Godzilla once they finished filming.
They then showed another clip, and Fell introduced it by saying that Norman is told that he has to read a book at a graveyard to stop the curse from happening. Mintz-Plasse’s character shows up and ruins Norman’s plan, thus making the curse happen. A bunch of fantastic creatures came up from the ground, and the scene looked expectedly great. There was a nice character moment between the two characters, and again the 3D was really well done.
- Butler said he started writing ParaNorman knowing what the ending of the film would be.
- Smit-McPhee said that when he recorded his dialogue he only had a little puppet to look at, but halfway through some of the first footage started coming in so he could see what the film looked like.
- Kendrick facetiously said that she always wore pink juicy couture when recording.
They showed another clip that was from the beginning of the big action sequence. All the characters are riding in a van running away from the creatures, while unbeknownst to them a zombie is riding on top of the van. This scene really highlighted the humor and rapport between the characters, and definitely had a solid Scooby-Doo vibe. It was really funny and—again—great to look at.
- Butler said Scooby-Doo was a main influence in that he wanted to put a bunch of characters together that make no sense together. He described his take as The Breakfast Club meets The Fog, to great laughter in Hall H.
- Knight talked about how they can model something in the computer and print it out, giving them the ability to be more nuanced and subtle with regards to the characters’ facial expressions.
- Karger asked the actors to talk about the one sound that they made that worked really well. Mintz-Plasse said that the directors really loved when he went high with his voice.
- Mintz-Plasse said that he sings “Season of the Witch” in the film, and when pressed to sing for the audience he started beat boxing while Smit-McPhee break danced on the stage, to great applause. Mintz-Plasse threw a “Slim Shady” into his beat for good measure.
- Smit-McPhee said the one sound that was the hardest to make was a shaking noise, and said that he eventually just shook himself in the chair to make the sound. Someone mentioned him possibly using a Shake Weight, which gave Kendrick a serious case of the giggles before pointing to Smit-McPhee and saying “He’s a minor!”
- Knight said they’ll be announcing LAIKA’s next project within the next couple months, and “it will be awesome.”
- A little girl came up to ask a question in a unicorn costume, and when she asked why the monsters were so scary Kendrick covered her mouth looking like she felt bad. Seriously, this girl was adorable.
- Kendrick said she assumed when she was cast the directors had thought of her when they saw her playing bratty characters in other movies, but the directors told her that they actually hadn’t seen Twilight and such and had only heard her in interviews. At this point Kendrick made an adorable pouty face.
- Mintz-Plasse was asked about Kick-Ass 2 and he said that “it’s looking really close that it’s going to happen” and revealed that they’re hopefully going to start shooting in September.
- Fell said that Norman is probably the most tricky to create because he drives the film, but Butler said writing him was a lot easier because he was based on Butler as a child. Butler said he really liked the challenge of writing the dialogue for Kendrick’s character.
- Knight revealed that Norman’s hair was made out of dyed goat hair. He said anyone can do this, adding that “all you need is a goat and a camera.” The crowd erupted into laughter at the innuendo, and Karger said that he’s just going to write an EW article made up of Knight’s quotes out of context.
I was incredibly excited to see ParaNorman before this Comic-Con panel, and I’m now even more excited to see the finished film. The 3D really compliments the stop-motion animation beautifully, and Fell and Butler’s 80s influences definitely come through in the funny and sweet character work. Make sure to catch up on all of our continuing Comic-Con coverage here.