Mary and Max: Elliot and Clayography
Mary and Max "was the natural and logical step" for Adam Elliot after winning the Oscar five years ago for his Harvie Krumpet short. He's always pushing boundaries and his feature bow was no different: an unlikely pen-pal friendship that lasts for nearly 20 years between a chubby and lonely Melbourne girl and a middle-aged New Yorker with his own physical and emotional challenges. Mary and Max, which has already won the Annecy Cristal, among others, vies for an Oscar nomination in what has turned out to be a rich year for stop-motion as well as a great one overall for animation
"After Harvie Krumpet, I wanted to tackle something longer and meatier," Elliot insists. "I wanted to push the boundaries of feature animation, provide audiences with something new, something with a balance of light and dark, something Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks wouldn't dare touch; what better than a 'love' story about an eight-year-old girl and a 44- year-old obese Atheistic Jew with Aspergers living in New York! I'm not interested in the usual animated fare and definitely never want talking animals or chipmunks in my films. All my films are deeply personal and based on the people around me. I try to make films with depth, substance; films that deeply engage, move and make the audience think. If you want something light and fluffy from then go to Disneyland."
And it didn't hurt having a biographical point of reference either. Max is based on Elliot's real life pen-pal relationship that lasted for more than 20 years. "I spent a year writing seven drafts of the script based on his letters," Elliot continues. "I call my films 'clayographies' -- a pretentious amalgam of clay and biographies. Although they are based on real people, as the saying goes, I never let the truth get in the way of a good story. After the script stage, I spent four to five months hand drawing the entire storyboard (1,300 panels). Only then did we move into the studio and start pre-production. We could only afford six animators so the pressure was on for each of them to produce an average of five seconds per day with very little time or money for take two's or three's. We had a fantastic DP, Gerald Thompson…He made my story so vivid, cinematic and potent. God knows how dreadful it would have looked without him.
"I quickly learnt the best way to tackle such a monster was to surround yourself with people far more experienced than myself…My animation TD, Darren Burgess, was one of the key crew who was not just a fantastic support, but someone whom had worked with such greats as Nick Park. He brought an immense wealth of knowledge to the project and had many, many fabulous little 'tricks' up his sleeve. "
As for Burgess, he helped create a bible for all the departments, including QuickTimes of the lead characters walking and moving per Elliot's instructions (the director even dressed as Mary and Max and was filmed performing some of their characteristics).
"Then we moved on to how the puppets were made; this was a huge process that involved the forensic breakdown of the storyboard so that we could make the puppets specifically to their performance requirements," Burgess adds.