Never one to conform to the trends of the day, Charlie Kaufman has widened his already indescribably large range of capabilities to include animation. The screenwriter, producer, director, and lyricist is best known for his weird and wonderful stories that perfectly embody the human response and delicate emotion in any situation – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, and Synecdoche New York – and his latest offering, Anomalisa, is no different.
Puppets on the set of Anomalisa
It goes something like this: Michael Stone – husband, father and noted author – travels to Cincinnati, USA, to speak at a customer service conference. But once he’s separated from the routine of his daily life, a chance encounter helps him to realize just what, and whom, he’s been missing. A tale of love, laughter and loneliness, Anomalisa has been hailed by critics and was even nominated for Best Animated Feature Film in the 2016 Academy Awards. It is a masterpiece about the human condition, and ironically, doesn’t feature a single human. Despite this, the stop-motion picture is one of the most life-like ever created, with animation supervisor Dan Driscoll (Chicken Run) telling Indie Wire that 3D printing was an integral tool in making this kind of production possible. Particular attention was paid to the detail in the eyes, mouth and hands, with Michael’s hand scaled up a little bit to get more action and expressiveness out of them. Each puppet’s eyes twinkle so when you move them, they pick up the light. This, says Driscoll, really helped create the life in these dolls.
He goes on to explain how the sex scene in the film took a whopping six months to do.
“It was technically a huge challenge. When you get on a bed or put your head on a bed, it reacts to that. These puppets will not do that themselves so each impression on the bed has to be created artificially. There was two months of pre-production in just getting the sheets to pull away and making them animatable and life-like. And taking off clothes naturally. We didn’t cheat anything. There was never a cutaway, so to actually get a puppet to remove its clothes was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever seen someone do,” Driscoll told Bill Desowitz earlier this year.
Kaufman spoke to Slash Film in January, sharing his thoughts on the production. Anomalisa was initially done as a stage sound play in 2005, with composer Carter Burwell along with a foley artist and the cast reading the script. He accepts no involvement in the stop-motion animation side of it, though. He gives that credit to Dino Stamatopoulos, who was in the audience at his sound stage production, and who subsequently founded an animation studio in the intervening years. This was also where Duke Johnson worked as a director, and in 2011 Kaufman was approached about using his script to create the film. The rest, as they say, is history.
When it came to the voices behind Anomalisa, David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan did a stellar job. These were the original cast from the sound stage production, and as a result, were familiar with the material. “We rehearsed with them for a day and then we recorded with them for two days,” Kaufman explains. “We did it all together, which is an unusual thing in animation. We did it as a play in chronological order and in real time. Doing the voice recording for the animation was all about bringing down the theatricality of the live performance to a more intimate kind of form. They’re just very good. They were so good that we were able to use their voice performances to inform everything else.”
Director and Producer Duke Johnson on the set of Anomalisa
Animator Dan Mackenzie on the set of Anomalisa
Lead animator Drayson Helberg on the set of Anomalisa
A 3D printed Michael Stone being set up for his ‘performance’
All Anomalisa images ©2015 Paramount Pictures