When Laika first began nine years ago, its first two acquisitions were Coraline and Here Be Monsters!. However, because of the tremendous scope and free-flowing narrative of Alan Snow’s 550-page steampunk opus, it’s taken a lot longer for The Boxtrolls to come together. And while it’s received Laika’s most mixed reviews, it’s surely the riskiest and, arguably, the most brilliant of Laika’s trio of films, which I discuss with CEO/producer/lead artist Travis Knight (view exclusive video below).
Indeed, The Boxtrolls embraces a wacky British wit and a wild look that encompasses Victoriana and Impressionism, requiring Laika to up its 3D color printing for face replacement and devise more complex mechanics for its eponymous non-humans. Plus the imposing Mecha-Drill is the biggest character ever conceived at the studio. It was made at full scale and with the use of motion-control devices to capture it in camera and from a unified perspective.
But Knight is not a purist. He’s after a certain polish that doesn’t call undue attention to the artifice and take us into the uncanny valley of stop-motion. He wants us to connect with these characters emotionally and not think of them as dolls made of silicon and steel. As busy as he is running the company, though, Knight still tries to hone his craft nearly every day.
On Boxtrolls, Knight focused on two main scenes: When Winnie (Elle Fanning) meets Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) for the first time at night and they connect as kindred spirits, which established how all the main characters moved. And when Eggs is in the cage after being snatched by Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) and meets his long-forgotten father (Simon Pegg) for the first time.
“It’s not easy with retractable characters in boxes or an Impressionistic design style with imposing, theatrical colors up against each other. Or Eggs, your hero into the film, who has to be the most expressive character. We didn’t make him a bobble head like Coraline or ParaNorman. His head is the smallest and most naturalistic we’ve had to work with.”
That’s the Laika ethos.