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LAIKA Celebrates ‘ParaNorman’s 10th Anniversary With ‘Then and Now’ Interviews Highlighting Its Creatives [Exclusive]

LAIKA Studios is one of the most prestigious animation companies in the industry, responsible for giving life to wondrous tales like Henry Selick‘s Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, as well as a very special stop-motion animation film that just had its 10th anniversary earlier this year. Set in the fictional town of Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, ParaNorman captured the hearts of its audience as it explored complex emotions like isolation and bullying through the lens of witch hunts and zombies. In honor of this momentous milestone, LAIKA studios exclusively shared with Collider a handful of conversations they had with five LAIKANS who worked on the film, including those currently working on their ambitious upcoming feature Wildwood. Included among these interviews are costume designer Deborah Cook, the Oscar-nominated Head of Animation Brad Schiff, production designer Nelson Lowry, Senior Puppet Fabricator Ann Larson, and Art CG Modeler Tony Chen.

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ParaNorman brought together a magnificent voice cast, with Kodi Smit-McPhee voicing the titular character Norman Babcock who finds a kindred spirit in Aggie Prenderghast (Jodelle Ferland), the ghost of the young girl accused of witchcraft. He embarks on an unexpected quest to come to terms with his abilities as a medium, while rescuing the town from zombies, breaking Aggie’s curse, and righting the wrongs of the past. A heady task for an eleven-year-old boy who is bullied and shunned for being able to see ghosts. But what happened to Norman once he was finally seen as the hero the town needed? Well, the creatives involved with the film had a few theories about where a twenty-year-old Norman might be today.

Schiff shared that he believed, “Norman was a smart kid. I think he parlayed his newfound popularity, along with his ability to see ghosts, to become one of the most popular and highest-grossing social media influencers the world has known. He remains in Blithe Hollow, where he bought and renovated his late uncle, Mr. Prendergast’s, house and he lives there with his high school sweetheart, Salma, and his buddy Neil’s dead dog, Bub.” Larson seemed to have the same idea, sharing that she felt “He’d probably be the host of some ghost-talk podcast—working to sort out ghostly issues, connecting the dead with the living, helping them move on.” If Norman were real, I bet he would be a big fan of Ghost Files.

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When reflecting on her history with ParaNorman and her favorite moments in the film, Deborah Cook made an interesting point that is often overlooked about the paranormal adventure. ParaNorman made history a decade ago by introducing audiences to the first openly LGBT+ character. Cook noted that among a long list of favorite moments, one of her favorites was “Mitch’s reveal at the end of the movie, which makes him the first openly LGBTQI character in an animated feature movie.” Mitch Downe (Casey Affleck) was the older brother of Norman’s best friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) who was a jock that drew the attention of Norman’s sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) until it was revealed that he actually had a boyfriend. It was a sweet moment and the film never made it out to be some major revelation, Mitch had a boyfriend and that was perfectly okay.

ParaNorman made history in other areas too. It was the first stop-motion movie to utilize a 3D Color Printer to create replacement faces for its puppets, utilizing over 31,000 individual face parts that were printed specifically for the production. Because of the size of the production and the level of detail required for some of the larger scenes and the characters’ reactions, the ParaNorman crew used replacement faces on their puppets to allow for a wider range of expressions for each character. In fact, they used 250 unique faces for one character to create a single shot that only last 27 seconds on screen. It’s unbelievable to see the level of commitment the LAIKIANS have to the craft. And those faces still remain at the studio, housed in LAIKA’s face library and stored in over 1,257 archival boxes.

The five LAIKIANS also spoke about the studios’ future in the stop-motion industry, with Chen sharing his excitement about LAIKA’s commitment to the practice. “The fact that LAIKA exists as the biggest studio committed to stop-motion is very exciting. This is an old art form, yet we are not afraid of technology and will continue to utilize cutting-edge tools to further the storytelling. Every single film since ParaNorman continues to amaze me, both in the level of craft and the final product. It is our own special way to keep the tradition alive.” Lowry shared a similar sentiment by explaining:

There’s a lot to be excited about for the future because we’re doing a very old-school, traditional kind of filmmaking. Stop-motion has been around for 100 years in one form or another. And we blend that with new, cutting-edge technology for a unique hybrid. What I think is what we’re doing on the current film—which I can’t get into, of course—is expanding the world, using every tool possible. And what I am excited about is the way the technology is growing along with it. We’re doing some stuff on Wildwood that I’ve never personally tried before, and it’s working really well. It’s exciting to be on the forefront of mixing these technologies together in a seamless way.

In addition to Cook, the other creatives also spoke about their favorite moments which ranged from lighthearted moments to more tedious endeavors. Larson revealed that, while memorable, Alvin’s break dancing scene was a challenge to craft, explaining, “I remember this being a really hard one because the hands kept breaking from all the extreme angles they were forced into.” Other favorite moments included Brad Schiff, who highlighted some of the technological advances that came with the film. He shared:

ParaNorman was the first film in which we started shooting video reference that we call LAVs (Live Action Videos). Jason Stalman, who animated that scene, acted out brilliant LAVs that he was able to translate into a stunning animated performance. ParaNorman is loaded with gorgeous shots, but to me, that scene represented the direction we were headed as a studio regarding animation style.

With Halloween right around the corner, ParaNorman is the perfect family-friendly spooky film that not only showcases a fun Halloween-themed tale but also embraces the joys of being different. Relive the magic of ParaNorman in the trailer below:


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