L.A.-based stop-motion animation specialists Screen Novelties produced and directed the upcoming, one-hour NBC TV special Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, on behalf of Warner Bros. Animation.
The show will air on NBC, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. An irreverent mashup of the beloved feature film Elf and the hit Broadway show Elf: The Musical, the special will star the voice talents of four-time Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) as Buddy.
The special is a retelling of Buddy’s absurd, yet heartwarming story that 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.
Based on a script penned by Warner Bros. Animation in early 2014, Screen Novelties co-founders Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh and Chris Finnegan set to work designing the cartoonish world of Elf, including characters, sets and props. The design team included Craig Kellman (characters), Dan Krall (visual development), Kyle Arneson (3D environments) as well as characters fabricators Rob Ronning and Robin Walsh. In March, the company broke down the script, created storyboards and planned the animation. The puppets and sets that would be featured in the film were built between April and June.
The Screen Novelties team, comprised of up to 50 crew members at its peak, then shot the show frame-by-frame over the course of four months between July and October, producing a charming and handmade miniature world. Multiple exact copies of each puppet were created to allow concurrent shooting on multiple environments and stages.
“We had a great deal of fun here because it was such a lighthearted and absurd story,” said Caballero. “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.”
“When we are working with puppets, we, as animators, get to become the ‘actors’ ourselves,” explained 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.”