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Immersed in Movies: How They Made ‘Anomalisa’ the ‘Most Human Movie of the Year’

Immersed in Movies: How They Made 'Anomalisa' the 'Most Human Movie of the Year'

Animation supervisor Dan Driscoll of Robot Chicken fame discusses the challenges of making Anomalisa, one of the most lifelike, adult, stop-motion movies ever made. Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson and made at Starburns Industries, it’s a study in great performance, with spot-on attention to detail. Just the act of lighting a cigarette becomes a dramatic accomplishment. And then there’s the sex scene…

Bill Desowitz: Let’s start with 3D printing and the realism it brings to stop-motion.
Dan Driscoll: As a tool, 3D printing is amazing. It makes stop-motion more accessible. It used to be much more labored.
BD: For one thing, the resin makes skin look so much more life-like.
DD: To do stop-motion on this scale, this realistically, without 3D printing, it couldn’t have been made without it — easily.
BD: And not removing the lines is an interesting choice too. It makes it look like a mask and makes you wonder what’s underneath.
DD: Right, that was a conscious decision. This world that we’re living in for this movie is Michael Stone’s point of view. 
BD: It’s about sameness and conformity and the opportunity to individualize Michael and Lisa. Movement is very important for performance. How did you achieve that?
DD: Their acting, the choices we had to make, there was a very fine line. We did tests early on shooting video reference and acting to that. It didn’t look right. You run into the same Uncanny Valley with CG. So we had to ride that line between creating a human-like performance and not being too cartoony, really portraying the emotion that we’re trying to get across.
BD: You had terrific vocal performances from David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan, which must’ve been inspiring to the animators.
DD: We definitely play off them. Of course, depending on the angle, the lighting and other conditions, you had to play to the camera.
BD: Specifically, how did you handle eyes and mouth?
DD: They were beautiful models that we created and a lot of light in the eyes is owed to our DP, Joe Passarelli. He did the highlights in there. Their eyes are twinkling so when you move them the eyes pick up the light — it really helped create the life of these puppets. 
BD: What about hands?
DD: Hands are very important, and Michael’s hands were actually scaled up a little bit to get more action, more expressiveness out of them. There’s so much in getting a cigarette pose or with drinks…talking on the phone, going through the phone book, reading his speech.
BD: Talk about the sex scene, which took six months alone.
DD: It was technically a huge challenge. When you get on a bed or put your head on a bed, it reacts to that. These puppets will not do that themselves so each impression on the bed has to be created artificially. There was two months of pre-production in just getting the sheets to pull away and making them animatable and life-like. And taking off clothes naturally. We didn’t cheat anything. There was never a cutaway, so to actually get a puppet to remove its clothes was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever seen someone do. 
BD: You forgot you’re watching puppets. It’s awkward and voyeuristic but tender and funny, when she hits her head on the headboard, for instance.
DD: The animator for that, Kim Blanchette, is an amazing talent and he did everything to own those scenes. 
BD: It’s quite a step forward for stop-motion.
DD: Yeah, Charlie and Duke had a vision for this and it was an amazingly challenging job. And it really touches people. They find it warm and endearing. It’s something to see someone review it as the most human movie of the year. It’s an honor.

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