The Boxtrolls, the stop-motion Oscar contender from Laika, is out on Blu-ray/DVD (Universal). It’s reference quality image and sound, representing the naturalistic, tactile quality of this steampunk marvel.
The Boxtrolls represents Laika’s most elaborate, action-packed stop-motion movie yet. It’s a feast for the eyes — more Hammer than gothic with its saturation — and the two biggest challenges were the frantic waltz sequence and the Mecha-Drill mayhem. But overall, as director Graham Annable admits, “The growth and maturity of Laika, combined with the Victorian/steampunk look, made for such a rich, ornate, detailed setting. It just pushed everybody’s skills to the max.”
For Anthony Stacchi, who’s more of a newbie to stop-motion, he wanted to treat stop-motion like live-action and all of the VFX are as real or as hot or as cold as they could make them. “It was all driven by the look of the design and how to best obtain that look in stop-motion.”
“It was always the intention to preserve what’s special and desirable about stop-motion to make sure we did not lose that quality, but finding ways to surround it and make the world feel bigger,” adds Annable, who so successfully grasped the essence of the Boxtrolls that he was promoted to director.
But the waltz sequence proved the most difficult, in which Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Winnie (Elle Fanning) try to share a romantic moment despite his discomfort and the villainous exploits of Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley).
“The dance sequence wasn’t in [Alan Snow's] book [Here Be Monsters!], but we needed a moment when Eggs is really uncomfortable among the aristocrats,” Stacchi explains. “We originally had this tea party where he’s sitting with Winnie’s parents and it’s a really funny sequence and Toni Collette is great. But it didn’t feel big enough.”
They boarded the complex sequence to a generic waltz and sent it to composer Dario Marianelli, who came up with an original, beautiful waltz, and also padded Eggs’ and Winnie’s romantic moment. They hired two choreographers from the Portland Ballet and they brought some students and recreated every moment that was boarded, and Mark Stewart, the lighting/camera guy for the sequence, shot reference.
The floor of the ballroom was actually a glossy layer of paper over a metal foundation, used for closer shots. Occasionally they put in corners of the room for shots that stayed in the same direction. But it was a logistical nightmare. It took 18 months to create less than two minutes of screen time.
You can learn more about The Boxtrolls from the elaborate bonus features: ”Dare to Be Square: Behind the Scenes of The Boxtrolls, five featurettes that take you inside their world, director audio commentary, and Blu-ray only animatic sequences.