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SDCC2012: LAIKA's "ParaNorman" Panel

(l to r) Grandma's ghost, mom, dad, Norman, and CourtneyFocus Films and LAIKA brought their latest film, ParaNorman to San Diego Comic Con 2012. Producer and Lead Animator on ParaNorman (and LAIKA CEO and President), Travis Knight sat at a panel with ParaNorman Writer/Director Chris Butler and Director Sam Fell. Also at the panel were ParaNorman stars Kodi Smit-McPhee (Norman), Anna Kendrick (Courtney), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Alvin).

Following in the footsteps of Coraline, ParaNorman is LAIKA’s second stop-motion animated feature made in stereoscopic 3-D, and the third ever after Sony/Aardman’s The Pirates! Writer Chris Butler had been writing the script on and off for 16 years, but the movie didn’t start in development properly until three years ago. Influenced by movies such as The Goonies and Ghostbusters he enjoyed watching growing up, Butler wanted to blend two different genres. “It’s John Carpenter meets John Hughes,” Butler said. Butler also mentioned the Scooby Doo influence in the movie in terms of the group of diverse individuals who band together. “Why is the gang even friends with each other?” Butler asked in reference to the Scooby Doo gang. In writing ParaNorman, Butler was adamant in having a strong story and knowing the ending and then working backwards.

The production team saw ParaNorman as a zombie movie for kids. Sam Fell wanted goofy and funny zombies that had a classic look. Travis Knight said there’s a definite Ray Harryhausen influence on the zombies. Norman was the most difficult character to create and animate, but they enjoyed the challenge, saying that the goal of the production team on ParaNorman was to push boundaries. They challenged themselves with stop motion crowd scenes and used overlapping dialogue. “We break barriers by doing things we’re not supposed to do” said Butler. Due to various facial combinations, they were able to create 1.5 million different expressions. “With new face technology, there is subtle acting in the characterization”, said Fell.

Kodi Smit-McPhee, a young actor from Australia, was enthusiastic about voicing the main character in ParaNorman and doing an American accent. He was able to see sketches of Norman before doing the recording. However, his voice started changing halfway through production. “I can’t do Norman now”, he said. Anna Kendrick, who has received several best supporting actress award nominations for her performance in Up in the Air, had never done voice work for animation before. She was eager for the opportunity in ParaNorman, relieved that she doesn’t have to be concerned about her appearance; “I didn’t worry about my face or my body or hitting my mark”. For Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a veteran of voice acting who performed in How To Train Your Dragon, was excited to play against type as the bully Alvin, who he calls “a fat version of me”. The actors were filmed while recording their lines, and the animators were able to incorporate some of the actors’ movements in the character animation.

ParaNorman hits on August 17, 2012. The future of LAIKA will involve some literary adaptations and original material as well. “Next will be stop motion” said Knight.

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