A Fantastic Opportunity with Mr. Fox
Working with Wes Anderson is always an adventure and perhaps never more so than on his first stop-motion feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox (opening today from Fox Searchlight). As one filmmaker puts it, "His fascination with the fine detail of clothing is fascinating -- the correct position of a button hole in an animated character's jacket, his interest in keeping the 'imperfections' of traditional stop-motion, his lack of interest in polished finish."
Indeed, for Roald Dahl's Fox, Anderson insisted on fur and shooting on 2s: two no-nos for stop-motion. But the unconventional director wasn't about to approach stop-motion in any conventional way, inspired by Le Roman De Renard (The Tale of the Fox) by Ladislas Starevich as well as the films of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen.
So what was it like for two other newcomers to the world of stop motion feature animation: Christian DeVita, the lead story artist, and Mark Gustafson, the animation director? DeVita (Chop Socky Chooks, Gordon the Garden Gnome, Space Jam) has his own company in London, One Hand Clapping, but was hold up with Anderson in Paris for more than a year while production took place at Three Mills in East London. Meanwhile, Gustafson (Ananda, The PJs) had to accommodate both an unorthodox working procedure and working remotely with Anderson.
"I was brought in the project early on," suggests DeVita. "After the first pass of sketches, Wes asked me to work with him closely in Paris. My responsibility was to produce the animatic with two members of the editorial team. Initially, we thought we'd be there for a month or so and that escalated to more than a year. There were several versions of the animatic: scenes got cut while others never made it into the movie. We were working right through the last week of animation and I was producing boards that potentially could be in the movie. The animatics were a great way for us to try so many different versions and just get it right.
"Wes was very much hands on in every aspect from design right on through the type of stitching on the clothing and texture on the wallpaper as well as how characters would move and act. He performed every character in front of a free camera and we'd put together [something] for all of the animators to follow. Even though he wasn't on set, it was like he was on every single set [remotely]."