The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: An Interview with Larry Bafia & Webster Colcord
LARRY: I had received an offer from Warner Bros. to work with Barry Purves on doing tests with foam latex puppets for Mars Attacks! When I arrived there, they only had one puppet built because the entire crew had come over from Manchester, England, and needed to build an entire stop-motion studio from scratch, including sets for the film. We also worked with a miniature company in L.A. called Brazil that built the flying saucers. I did spin tests on the saucers, designed a rig that would hold them up for motion-control shots, and continued doing tests with the Martian puppets. We actually spent lots of time developing personalities for some of the Martians, rather than just “shoot-’em-up” characters. At one point, Barry had the idea of having them use hand gestures while they made the “ack ack” sound that had been designed, as if they were pulling the sounds out of their mouths. One of my favorite tests that Barry and I animated together was of one Martian suiting up another Martian for battle. It was entirely improvised, so each of us had to keep an eye on what the other puppet was doing—it was a lot of fun. We had the advantage of being involved early enough in pre-production that we could experiment with how the characters would interact. I was also responsible for breaking down the script to determine how many stop-motion shots would be needed and how many animators we would need to build up a crew. Then, some producers from ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) came in. Since their effects for films like Jurassic Park and Jumanji had finally come of age, Mars Attacks! shifted there and became a CG project. I had talked with ILM about moving onto the project as well, but decided to take up another offer from PDI/DreamWorks directing CG commercials and animating on their feature film Antz.
LARRY: I always remember you talking about how tricky the shoulder rig was on that show since the stop-motion monkey was usually on Brendan Fraser’s shoulder and you had to mimic the live-action along with the character animation.
WEBSTER: The pre-composited shots on Monkeybone were really interesting. They actually built a Brendan Fraser motion-control robot, and match-moved the live-action movement of his body. On top of that, we animated the monkey, which was at a 1:1 scale. It was pretty awesome to see the monkey moving on this clunky robot that was rotoscoped to the live action. It was a unique technical challenge, and I don’t think anyone else has done it since.
KEN: Were there any challenges in adjusting from the animation style of television work to working on Henry Selick’s feature films?