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Screen Novelties Produces Stop Motion ‘Elf’ Holiday Special

Stop motion holiday special from Warner Bros. Animation combines the humor and spirit of both the beloved 2003 holiday film and the hit Broadway production.

Stop motion animation specialists Screen Novelties recently completed production on the upcoming one-hour NBC TV special, Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, for Warner Bros. Animation.

Marking the biggest project in the eleven-year history of Screen Novelties, the special -- an irreverent mashup of the beloved feature film Elf and the hit Broadway show Elf: The Musical -- will air on NBC on Tuesday, December 16, at 8 p.m.

Starring the voice talents of four-time Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) as Buddy, Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas combines the humor and spirit of both the beloved 2003 holiday film, which drew glowing reviews and earned $173 million at the domestic box office, along with the hit Broadway production.

The special is an all-new retelling of Buddy’s delightfully absurd, yet heartwarming story, and blends the look and feel of the classic stop-motion animated Christmas TV specials of yesteryear with the sharp sensibility of the modern-day classic holiday film. With a score by Matthew Sklar and Christopher Guardino, the voice cast also includes Mark Hamill, Ed Asner, Fred Armisen, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, Gilbert Gottfried, Kate Micucci, Rachael MacFarlane, Max Charles and Steve Higgins.

Located in Los Angeles’s Echo Park, Screen Novelties was founded in 2003. Company projects for such clients as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, Hallmark, Fox and Paramount have included the opening for the It’s a SpongeBob Christmas special, end titles for Sony’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Flintstones: On the Rocks, the sock-puppet Flight parody created for the 2013 Oscars, and a special restoration of Ray Harryhausen’s legendary short animated film, The Tortoise and the Hare.

To produce Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, Screen Novelties co-founders Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh and Chris Finnegan designed and crafted the characters, sets and props for the fantastical world of Elf, leading a talented design team that included character designer Craig Kellman, visual development artist Dan Krall, 3D environment artist Kyle Arneson, and character fabricators Rob Ronning and Robin Walsh.

L to R: Screen Novelties founders Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh and Chris Finnegan.

“This was a very intense and amazing project for us, as we had a very talented crew working very hard to make this project look its very best,” Caballero said. “But we also had a great deal of fun here because it was such a lighthearted and absurd story. We enjoyed creating these stylized Elf characters, each with his or her own personal style, to help get the story across in a simple, whimsical way.”

Working from a script provided by Warner Bros. Animation, the Screen Novelties team broke down the script, created storyboards and planned the animation prior to building the puppets and sets that would be featured within Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas.

“When we are working with puppets, we, as animators, get to become the ‘actors’ ourselves,” says Walsh. “We are in control of the expressions, emotions and dynamism of the puppet characters as they perform in each scene of the show. We like to think that our approach to stop motion animation is engaging and presents a lot of personality, spirit and heart. We’ve learned that you don’t need a zillion dollars to do something funny!”

With a crew of nearly 50 artists and other production members, Screen Novelties shot the show frame-by-frame over the course of four months, producing a wonderfully charming and handmade miniature world. Multiple exact copies of each puppet were created to allow concurrent shooting on multiple environments and stages.

“We’re a versatile shop that can handle a broad range of styles, whether it be for a TV show, commercial or feature film,” Finnegan adds. “But we get most excited when people approach us for our ‘house style.’ We like to think we have a signature look and feel to our animation.”

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.