BEVERLY HILLS — Laika's "The Boxtrolls" saw its world premiere over the weekend at the Venice Film Festival, the third in a line of movies from the Portland-based animation studio that have aimed to push the medium at every step. Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, the film is, like all Laika product, its own world, a dank, cockney yarn that, as ever, serves as a showcase for the company's craft prowess.
I recently sat down with Stacchi, Annable and Laika CEO Travis Knight to discuss adapting Alan Snow's mammoth book "Here Be Monsters!," the use of increasingly sophisticated computer tools to aid stop motion animation and the vision for the company going forward. You can read through the back and forth below, and don't forget to check out Catherine Bray's glowing review from the Lido.
"The Boxtrolls" opens in theaters Sept. 26.
HitFix: Anthony, we met briefly at the footage presentation a few weeks back. We talked about sound editing and whatnot.
Anthony Stacchi: That’s right. Yes, yeah.
Which ended up being a very crucial part of the movie.
Stacchi: Huge. Ren Klyce and Tom Myers, they were fantastic to work with. You know, Ren does all of David Fincher’s films and mostly does live action. He has a history in animation but hadn’t done a lot of animated films. So he loved it, you know, starting from scratch and early, early on we talked about, like the Boxtroll cavern having its own soundscape and the mega-drill being this stuff. And they were great. They went off and did a bunch of work and sent it to us early on so we could start cutting it in the reels and stuff. It was really great. My favorite part, though, is remember we sent the references for the cavern, you know "The Man in the White Suit," that old comedy, the sound of the machine [MAKES AWESOME SOUND]?
Stacchi: We sent that and we said we want, you know, there’s machines in the cavern that you don’t know what they’re doing but they have these funny little noises. We sent that reference from that film, and at Logan Airport at Boston they have these weird machines that make noises. They’re sculptures that come alive. They sort of swing and stuff but they’re always [MAKES ANOTHER AWESOME SOUND]. You walk into the airport and you get this strange sound and you can’t tell where it’s coming from. So we sent them a bunch of reference and they did a great job.
Is there a balance between, OK, we want it to feel real even though there’s obviously an extreme kind of depiction in the animation and obviously the story, and making something feel like a real environment? Like the balancing act between realism and fantasy boiled down to even something like the soundtrack.
Graham Annable: I mean, it’s a tonal question that we always try to balance very carefully through the visuals or through the sound work. And early on we knew with this movie we were gonna try for a bigger scale experience. And so the movie became a real hybrid visually of stop motion mixed with CG to really create something new, something that preserved the charm of stop motion animation but gave the sense of a big comedy adventure movie. And it was always a balance of like, you know, never doing anything that was gonna take you out of the film, whether it was a sound or whether it was a visual cue. Because stop motion can do a lot of things in camera where you have, like, cotton ball clouds and things and they’re charming and stuff but for our particular film it didn’t make sense to have anything that might stylistically kick you out of the experience. And so we wanted to make sure that you felt like things were really happening. It was a realistic kind of portrayal of fog and rain. And so the sounds had to accompany that as well.
Stacchi: And there’s always the temptation when you’re in there to go into, like, Carl Stalling/Warner Brothers sound effects.
Right. It’s so well established.
Stacchi: And I personally love them, but there does seem to be — people have a threshold of whereby [MAKES ANOTHER AWESOME SOUND THAT YOU'VE HEARD IN CARTOONS BY I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO ILLUSTRATE IT IN PRINT], that kind of stuff in the middle of a feature, it sort of throws them out of it. It’s not a seven minute short anymore. It’s sort of a little over the top, a little too cartoony. So there is a balance between those. And Ren and Tom would always go, "How about this," and then we’d hear it and then there would always be a little bit like, "Ah, that one’s a little too much." We said the vehicles were a great opportunity because all the grinding of gears and the squeaking — enough for it to have a personality, too, just like the boxtroll cavern and the mega-drill and stuff. So yeah, we gave them quite a bit of license to figure out those location specific sounds but don’t go too cartoony.
That old school stuff can be fun if it’s kind of dropped in. One of my favorite sound effects is in "Jurassic Park," when he slams the door and then he slides down the hill?
Right when he slips there's like a banana peel sound.
Stacchi: Yeah, that's funny.