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Immersed in Movies: How They Puppeteered ‘Anomalisa’

Immersed in Movies: How They Puppeteered 'Anomalisa'

With Oscar-contending Anomalisa from Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, stop-motion studio Starburns Industries blurs the line between animation and live-action. Caroline Kastelic, the puppet supervisor, tells us how they did it, 3D-printing 1,261 faces to go along with more than 150 puppets. Meanwhile, the Museum of the Moving Image is currently presenting “The World of Anomalisa,” an installation of two sets and puppets through March 27, 2016.

Bill Desowitz: Talk about the use of the 3D printer for the faces.
Caroline Kastelic: We used it for a very specific purpose with the realism that they wanted in the faces, and the textures and the differences in color would not have been possible by hand-painting. And they decided early on not to sand the faces and that’s a difference. And that’s why they have that nice texture on them and I find that aesthetically brilliant and it also saved us a lot of time. 
BD: What about the bodies?
CK: The initial bodies were hand-sculpted and then photos were taken of them and they brought them into Zbrush and made sculpts of them and those were 3D-printed. So we sanded those and made molds of them and they’re cast in silicone, all hand-seamed and then painted after that.
BD: What software is used for the faces?
CK: They’re done mostly in Zbrush and then Magic we use for the inside geometry of the sculpt. 
BD: How many puppets?
CK: Over 150, I would say.
BD: How many for Michael and Lisa?
CK: We had about 20 Michaels at any one time and 10 Lisas or so. But we had a lot of different bodies: Michael in his suit, Michael in his blazer, with his blazer coat off. Lisa in different costumes. And nude bodies. We made tons of bodies, though, because they break and you have to replace them all the time. Tons of arms, tons of eyes.
BD: What did you do special with the eyes to get that twinkle?
CK: The eyes were quite a process. They were hand-painted by an artist throughout production, but for about two solid weeks, he could do two pairs a day. We got 3D-printed resin cores, and then we cast the white part out of round, squishy Urethane and the hard core would be put into that. There were hundreds of eyes because they could get scratched when the animators used a pokey tool and hit the iris or the pupil by mistake. There’s an enamel over it to create the right finishing to the bubble and have a nice shine on there. And we actually had to use a brulee torch kind of thing to heat it to bring all the bubbles up to the surface.
BD: Have you ever done anything like that before?
CK: No, but we tested a lot of different processes and tried to figure out what gives the best look. And they would get dirty, too, and it would be a combination of me and lighting to make sure that they were reflecting right. And animators had different preferences for how tight they would like the eyes. That’s actually one of my favorite parts — I think we nailed the eyes. It gives them so much expression.
BD: What was it like doing the sex scene?
CK: It was the most challenging and they were so worried about it the whole time. But you can’t go back. We spent months of R&D on how to make puppets bend like that, hold their different positions but still do the right things. During it, we all hated it. But seeing it and seeing the reviews, you feel good about it.
BD: What did you do to get the movement of the puppets?
CK: We had to buy specific armatures for that and planned in-house and that contacted a very well-known armature manufacturer, Merrick Cheney, and got him to build these armatures for us in San Francisco and worked very closely with him to make sure they fit in the molds, to make sure they did the things we needed them to do (you need a lot of strength for them to move joints and hold position). And then we cast them in full silicone first and that didn’t work.

Then we had to find a kind of foam that we could put in the mold first and build a clay wall and cast the silicone over that so they were lighter and could compress in the middle. But throughout we had to do tons of fixes, things weren’t looking right, Lisa was kind of open on one side and we had to put things in her stomach. It was a lot of steps to tension the puppets as well, so different places had to be tigher, looser, to be able to get the motion that the animator needed. And animatable clothing that comes off completely took forever.

BD: And no cheating.
CK: No cheating, it was all practical, even the comforter. If you think about that process of just pulling down the comforter and it’s all animatable. It was quite a challenge: it was a combination of aesthetics and functionality. It had to look thin enough but the animator needed to be able to use it. That’s always your toss-up in stop-motion: you can make things look beautiful but they also have to be practical. And everyday I’d come in and look at that shot, first thing in the morning, and [groan]. It’s hard, it’s not just making a sculpture.

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