Wes Anderson, arguably the godfather of the quirky American indie thanks to the likes of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, takes his first steps into the world of stop-motion animation this week with the release of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Based on Roald Dahl‘s classic children’s book, it’s the tale of a wily fox and his adventures thieving food from three of the meanest farmers around; Boggis, Bunce and Bean.
With a stellar voice cast including George Clooney, Bill Murray and Meryl Streep, the film received its world premiere last week at the London Film Festival. On the eve of its global rollout, RT sat down with Anderson to learn more about his passion for Dahl and making the switch to stop-motion.
Wes Anderson: It was the first [Roald Dahl book] I ever owned and I particularly thought the digging was something nice for movies. I loved the drawings that were in the book I had. And I do love this character. Beyond that it was just one that hadn’t been done, and it seemed like a great chance. I love stop-motion where the puppets have fur, and with all the animals I thought this would be a good opportunity to explore that.
WA: The place where we went is called Gypsy House, which he bought later in his life, but it’s where he wrote many of his best-known books. Mr. Fox was written there, certainly. We were interested in the idea that we wouldn’t just base it on the book; we’d base it on him. He’d written memoirs for children — which is an odd thing, not many people have written autobiographies meant for children — so from that point of view we were always very aware of him and aware that kids reading his books didn’t just know the books, they knew him. We tried to get as much of his personality into the character, and we also had his manuscripts. In fact, we had the manuscript for Fantastic Mr. Fox, which had a different ending which we used in the movie. That’s a great luxury — to be able to say, “Here’s an idea we can use — it’s not in the book, but it’s from him.”
WA: Not particularly. The reason I used the material from my suit was that I really liked it, and I thought he’d probably like it too. I just thought Corduroy might be good for Mr. Fox!
WA: Yes, but for me I didn’t, in advance, have an idea of how I expected it to turn out. I knew I wanted to do it in stop-motion and I knew I wanted the animals to have fur — to not be Plasticine or something like that. I wanted it to be autumnal and originally I thought I wanted there to be mud everywhere and it wouldn’t be very colourful. That stayed — not the mud, but there’s almost nothing blue or green in the movie. I thought it would be nice with this sort of handmade feeling. What it really ends up like is the result of a thousand little decisions rather than one overarching thing.
Me and the production designer, Nelson Lowry, tried to design things one way or another but what we figured out was that the more realistic we could make things the happier we were with them. If I was travelling I might see a building or something and I’d take a picture on my phone, send it to Nelson and we might change something about it but we tried to base it as much as we could on research and photos and things. The style is set by how authentic can we get it. How realistic can we get it to look with our resources in miniature, and that’s the look of the movie, basically. Given that the grass is going to be made of towelling and the smoke will be cotton wool, that’s the range, I guess, that we’re working in.
Continue onto page two as Anderson discusses his use of back-to-basics animation techniques and the challenge of working in animation.
WA: Yeah, animators always think that’s a bad thing, like it’s bad form. But I think they really got into it on this one. They became comfortable with it because there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Also, the stop motion I’ve loved was always a bit primitive — King Kong and the Brothers Quay — you see these objects that you recognise and you’re very aware it’s handmade. The other thing was that, to me, it was more important that the animation have energy and personality and be funny. I wanted it to be fun and upbeat rather than perfect. This kind of animation is particularly suited to that — we can work more quickly if that’s our goal and we can focus on it and make it our priority. I don’t think we could have made the movie if it had been a Coraline level of precision and smoothness. It would have been a $100m movie rather than the $30m we ended up spending.
WA: It was great. What’s nice is there’s a chance to invent. Everything there is an opportunity, because you can’t just say, “Oh we’ll use a table that we find.” You have to make one. Everything is manufactured, so everything is a chance to see, is there a way to make that funny, to connect it to a character or to find some sort of motif. Also, because it moves so slowly, every aspect is in slow motion, so things kind-of develop.
WA: You certainly try to. If something is going really wrong during a shot, then we’ll stop. Sometimes you can find a place — you can go back a bit and say, “OK, let’s take it from frame 63,” and they’ll rearrange everything and try and make it match and sometimes there’ll be a little bump when you see it, which is OK, it’s not the end of the world. But to go back three seconds may mean to go back two days, depending on how many puppets they’re moving around. It’s a big deal and definitely something you want to avoid. Also there are other solutions a lot of the time. It could be adding another shot or ending a shot early, or we can try something with sound or add some elements we can composite into the shot. There are always different possibilities.
Fantastic Mr. Fox arrives in UK cinemas on Friday. It has a limited release in the US on 13th November and comes to Australia on 7th January 2010.