The stop-motion animated “The Boxtrolls” represents some firsts for director-animators Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable. The pair hadn’t worked with each other before, and Annable had never directed a feature film before.
Stacchi, who worked his way up from being a visual effects guy to a storyboard artist to co-directing 2006’s animated feature “Open Season,” visited Laika – the studio that made award-winners “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” – and pitched some ideas. He was handed “The Boxtrolls,” which opens today.
Annable had been at Laika for years, working as a storyboard artist on “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”
“One of the big challenges of doing this were the pantomime boxtroll characters,” says Stacchi. “I knew we needed someone who can board that stuff, with a sense of expression and timing. Then a friend of mine who worked there told me about Graham's short films. They were all pantomime driven, with very little sound.”
Annable then took a stab at a sequence that, according to Stacchi, established the tone for the film, which is based on the book “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow and tells the story of an orphaned boy who is raised by boxtrolls, who are targeted by an exterminator.
Later, the duo created a scene – a ballroom dance that serves as the main character's introduction to the human world – that stretched Laika's resources to the breaking point.
The crew, typically excited about tackling new challenges, met this one with silence.
“No one would make eye contact with us when we came in,” says Annable. “The initial reaction was that it was impossible. It took all 18 months of the shooting schedule to make less than two minutes of actual dance footage. It pushed every department to the limit.”
Another benefit of being in charge: The directors loved working with their voice cast. “It's very much like putting a band together,” Stacchi says. “Do we have someone up here? Do we have someone down there? Do they all sound different enough?”
Comic actors Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade and Simon Pegg especially helped out, riffing on their lines and incorporating long pauses.
“Animators love that,” Stacchi says. “That's when the character comes to life. There's a moment that the audience says, 'Oh, he's thinking,' and then they forget that it's a cartoon character.”
Another coup was hiring Monty Python's Eric Idle to write a silly but crucial song.
“The project had been pitched all along as Monty Python-esque, and we thought, ‘well, we've been saying it, why not reach out to one of the Pythons and just see?’” Annable says. “We still can't believe it happened.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Voices of Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade
Written by Irena Brignull, Adam Pava
Directed by John Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
Running time 1 hour, 37 minutes