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On the Set with “ParaNorman” – Part 2

By: Lynn Barker

Continuing our tour of Laika Studios in Oregon, Kidzworld is treated to a chat with the directors and a visit to several of the 52 sets shooting scenes for the upcoming horror comedy/adventure ParaNorman.  To recap the story: tween Norman is a social outcast because he can talk to ghosts but when they warn him that his town will be invaded by zombies, who ya gonna call?

Laika animator moves a zombie puppetLaika animator moves a zombie puppetCourtesy of Laika Studios

Fun Facts About ParaNorman

Director/writer Chris Butler tells us he’s wanted to make a zombie movie for kids for at least 12 years. Now, with shows like “The Walking Dead” on TV, it’s actually good timing.

Other director Sam Fell says the van in the movie is a tribute to fave cartoon show “Scooby Doo” and so are the kids riding in it; misfits.

The voice actors were cast against type. The school bully is voiced by a cool actor who usually plays nerds, Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Superbad and How to Train Your Dragon.

Both directors wanted the movie to play like a live-action film, like the old classics Goonies, E.T. and Poltergeist (which you’ve probably seen on video).

The guys have to oversee 52 different sets, each with different scenes being animated at the same time! They have to approve everything down to the look of a blade of grass!

Zombie head gets detailedCourtesy of Laika Studios

Biggest challenge for stop motion was a huge car chase in the middle of the movie.

In the old days of stop motion, you couldn’t have a puppet bat an eyelid or have tiny feet and a big belly or it would fall over.  Now, with new technology, both are possible.

It would take 8 to 10 frames of pictures just to make Norman lift up his arm! An animator can shoot 3 to 5 seconds of a scene a week! It can take over a year to stop motion animate just one little scene, including one with haunted toilet paper!

Animators are really “acting” the roles of each puppet in the way they decide to make them move.

Stop motion animators are lonely guys. They each are assigned a scene and are on their stage moving their puppets alone but this means they also have a lot of control.

The ParaNorman team (350 people strong) was brought together from all over the world.

Directors Chris and Sam check out mini-carDirectors Chris and Sam check out mini-carCourtesy of Laika Studios

Kidzworld on Tour

We tour many of the sets with scenes in progress or rehearsal; a character rides up on his bike and skids to a halt…22 days of work. We see an entire little town made with incredible detail.

An effects-heavy shot might have 7 still cameras going at once, like one in which Norman is actually alone with a girl! Go Normie!

We check out a middle school set and a teeny town square set with a weird witch statue that townspeople have trashed. Tiny mailboxes and parking meters are super detailed. Trees are made of cardboard, chicken wire and shredded paper. 

Tiny props for the town setTiny props for the town setCourtesy of Laika Studios

We are shown a few finished scenes including Norman in the bathroom where his weird old uncle’s ghost pops out of the toilet trying to get him to stop the zombie invasion caused by a 300-year-old-witch’s curse. In two other finished scenes, cool zombies rise and end up in town.

Our Final Impression:

This kind of hand-made movie-making rocks! Aside from the cuteness factor (all these tiny puppets and props and sets are sooooo cute) these animators, computer geeks, directors, costumers, puppet-makers etc. are dedicated to making their story work and we applaud their patience, skill and talent.

Part of the town setPart of the town setCourtesy of Laika Studios

Catch ParaNorman, in 3-D, opens in theaters August 17th




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