The Below the Line Screening Series presented a screening of Anomalisa recently at the Harmony Gold screening room . The 90-minute stop-motion animation film was followed by an informative panel discussion and Q&A. The panel included co-directors, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman, sound re-recording mixers Christopher Aud and Aaron Glascock, VFX production supervisor Derek Smith, film editor Garett Elkins, director of photography Joe Passarelli and producer Rosa Tran.
Anomalisa is a story about renowned customer service author Michael Stone and his emotional journey to connect to the world. Though highly successful in business, Michael’s personal life has turned mundane and caused him to become numb to almost everyone and everything. We’re first introduced to Mr. Stone on a business trip, where we find him desperately searching for what it’s like to ache and feel alive again.
Although Anomalisa is fully animated, the story line allows the audience to feel very deeply connected to the characters. One of the most astonishing facts about the film is that despite the many characters, only three voices are heard throughout its entirety. David Thewlis is the voice of Michael Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh is the voice of Lisa, and Tom Noonan is the voice of everyone else. Tom’s voice is used for everyone from the barking dog in the background, to Michael’s wife and kid, his ex-girlfriend, and even the airport taxi driver. The films creators often refer to Tom’s voice as the “World Voice.”
Co-directors Johnson and Kaufman spoke about how for them “stop-motion animation is a medium not a genre.” They discussed how they felt stop-motion animation was the best way to represent the script. Both directors emphasized keeping the script organic in its form and allowing it to reveal itself to them. They were both set on doing something small and honest, and when things didn’t feel right they moved away from it.
When asked about the time commitment to create the film, and if it took longer than expected director of photography Passarelli described the 2-year process as “painstaking”, but worth it. He explained that they were able to film about a minute a week. The reason for such slow process is because the puppets they were working with were on a miniature scale, and if one thing changed in a frame almost everything else had to change with it.
It was revealed that the three actors recorded the voices of each character before any animation took place. Once the script was fully recorded, animators reviewed film of the actors recording each scene and began working on what they thought each character should look like. As it turns out, Tran was pivotal in deciding what Lisa would look like. Rosa and her colleagues were out to lunch when they came across a woman they unanimously agreed the character Lisa should look like. Rosa was talked into approaching the women to ask if she would come in and shoot for the character. The woman said yes, and thus Lisa had her look.
Some of the challenges discussed in creating the film were making the characters look as real as possible, while at the same time not trying to conceal that they were puppets. The panel explained how in stop motion a sense of weight must be created. The team had to figure out how a spine moves, how each character hangs their head, and how they interact with each other. Johnson told the story of how he sent Kaufman 100 videos of himself tripping so that they could master a single shot of Lisa doing the same.
When the panel was asked what they wanted people to take away from the film, everyone agreed that their main goal was for people to enjoy the experience and authentically relate to at least one character. Everyone involved in the creative process allowed the emotions of the great actors to guide the picture.
Anomalisa opens in select theatres Dec. 30 and everywhere in January.