Interview and story by Fred Godlash

ParaNorman Activities!


Los Angeles Review sat down with ParaNorman director Sam Fell and Writer /Director Chris Butler. We also had the chance to speak with Producer Arianne Sutner and Travis Knight. The first section of the story is with Sam and Chris.
The Old Meets The New
Fred- Many of my readers grew up watching the stop motion animation work of Willis O’Brien (King Kong) and Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argronauts), but today everything seems to be very influenced by Pixar. Can you explain what technique you used and why?
Chris- Yea we are both fans of Ray Harryhausen and of course what Tim Burton has done but in making ParaNorman we wanted to take this idea of stop motion into the future. So we combined a lot of new technologies. We have nothing to do with Pixar technically, they make computer-animated movies and we make movies using puppets and micro-sets but use the best of both worlds with computers. ParaNorman is a unique kind of alchemy using old and new technologies. The film has many “firsts” in it; it is the first time you see faces that expressive, that detailed with all the nuances and detail and color.

Fred- Is it a still puppet that you superimpose the faces using a computer?
Puppet paranormanSam-No, no, it is a computer generated 3 dimensional face that we put onto the puppet. There is a tendency with stop motion, because it is such an old art form, to categorize it in a tiny little box like a novelty. We don’t want to do that because we want to embrace the form because it is appealing, it is handmade and it reflects Willis O’brien and Ray Harryhausen. The tactility that is absolutely why we love this- it has its own look. But we don’t want to treat it like a museum piece.
Chris- Actually you can use technology to drag the form ,kicking and screaming, into the next century. The faces like Sam Said, is an element of that (new technology). You have a puppet, just like you would a hundred years ago but we are using the computer to create incredibly sophisticated facial animation and to print that out.. But still it goes back to the puppet, on a set, with the lights. Some people are purists that say it can only be one way but we say use any trick you can to make that image on the screen the most beautiful thing you can imagine.
Fred- connect with the audience.
Sam- There are no boundaries anymore, you can use a computer to further an art form and not lose what made it beautiful in the first place.


Homage to Horror

Fred- I noticed so many cool horror movie homages in your story Chris. Was everything in the script or were some of those ideas put together later?

Chris-  Yea, everything was in the script. We wanted a signature for this film that we haven’t seen before. Traditionally stop motion has lived in a creepy world, gothic horror, the Tim Burton motifs, his unique signature. We didn’t want to copy it- we wanted our own voice. It seemed like a cool thing to do, specifically the influences in the story, very much influenced by the 70’s and 80’s . Visually we could find a unique signature for this movie by looking at 70’s Italian horror and cheesy exploitation flicks. It also gave us direction with music, the color palette; just a fun nostalgic world to play in but the film is never about that- that is just the dressing. You don’t even have had to seen those movies to get ParaNorman.

Sam- It still plays incredibly well when you see a 5 year old watch it who does not know Michael Myers or any of that stuff (referencing a scene that pays homage to John Carpenter’s Halloween). They see the character wearing a hockey mask and laugh! We didn’t know how that would play for kids but when we screened it they roared with laughter just because the character Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) is so funny.


Santa’s Workshop

Fred-For those that missed it in the theaters this is a great movie. What are some of the extras that you will include on the DVD?


Chris-We have some commentary, and deleted scenes but there are some incredible “making of” features. The studio is kind of like Santa’s workshop- you have all of the sets and props. It is a glimpse into that magical world.

Sam- The process for stop motion is as entertaining as the end product. Our “making of” is not a room full of people sitting in front of a computer but carpenters, electricians, metal workers, people that are building a world with their hands. The sets are the size of this room (referencing a small hotel room) with lights and miniature live action. We are creating a world by hand and to see that is really Santa’s workshop. Seeing all these people at work is fascinating. We also have a bunch of short films; some of them have been out on-line. It is a great opportunity to get them all together in one place. They are fantastic little movies.

ParaNormanCreating in a Vacuum

Fred- It must be very difficult to direct when nothing is in front of you. Do you use dailies as a guide to direct?

Sam- We start with the performance from the voice overs. When we record them we are in a booth and we try to get them all together so they are working with each other so we have some spontaneity. We also try to trip them up, react, prompt them into a performance. Another thing we try to do is to set the mood. We do everthing possible to create the moment which is difficult when you are recording sound only.

Chris- a lot of actors actually say that they enjoy that process because it is the purist form of acting- they don’t have to rely on anything else but their voice.

Fred- A lot of people may have missed this film in the theaters and now you have a 2nd chance to introduce ParaNorman to the masses with the release of the DVD.

Chris-It is great that so many people will get a second bite at it on DVD. This film is not what you would expect. There is a lot more to it.

Sam- There are a lot of films that I have seen that made me want to direct/make films today- to do this for a living. That is what we set out to do. It is not just about the box office but 20 years down the line we want another generation to see this film and be wowed by it. We believe the film has legs and will inspire.