Fantastic Mr. Fox Goes to London
"It's an old style of stop-motion animation like on King Kong where you see the fur," remarked Andy Gent, puppet fabrication supervisor. "Fur is quite difficult to control. The fur process was difficult. It took 27 different sculpts just to find the shape that goes underneath Mr. Fox's head, so that when you put the fur on top it looks like a finished character. One of the things the animators did when he was really still was they just blew on the fur. So this went against the grain a little bit. We wanted to see that feel that had been crafted and touched, so we had to help the animators animate it… we used a lot of sprays and gels."
Anderson's unconventional approach included filming his actors on location to introduce improvisation and the happy accident. Clooney, Murray, Jason Schwartzman (who plays Ash, the son), Wally Wolodarsky (who plays Kylie) shot their scenes on a Connecticut farm, digging and getting in touch with their inner critter.
"First of all, we had just the best time there," Murray recalled. "We all had our own little room. We had great meals. And we drank and laughed and told stories all night long. And then we'd wake up in the morning and say, 'OK, now we have to record something. And we had this entire farm to work with, so we'd do a scene that takes place in a basement and we'd go find a basement. And if we had a scene that took place in a kind of barn, we'd find it. And usually when you make these animated films, you never see anyone. I still haven't seen Meryl Streep [who plays Mrs. Fox and couldn't make the press conference because of a flu bug] because she wasn't there at the farm. And it was just great hearing each other."
Anderson credits Murray with one of the best happy accidents: "We were at the edge of some woods and across up on a hilltop they're looking at a wolf [which doesn't speak]. So, Bill said, 'OK, I'll be the wolf. He went to the top of the hill, played the wolf, but he played it dramatically. And you could feel them really reacting to him. And there was a real elegance to the way Bill was playing, and we gave that to the animators and they animated it based on Bill doing this part. And it came out of something that happened live, and you can't do that in a studio."
However, Murray's original idea for Mr. Badger didn't come off as planned. "Well, it's an ugly footnote to the whole film," the actor joked. "I did what I thought was a beatific Wisconsin accent. It was an homage to Chris Farley, really. That's what I was thinking about. We did it and it was beautiful but no one really cared and I don't know if they even noticed. But it was good. That's about the most serious acting work I've done in a long time."
Would Anderson ever consider directing another stop-motion feature? "I would like to [continue] working with stop-motion, but I don't know if I want to do a whole movie anytime soon. At the same time, I'm tempted to. It took us a long time to figure out how we were going to do it. But we figured out a process that really suited me and I enjoyed it even though it's endless and it takes over your whole life. I feel it is something that I can use as part of my arsenal."
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.