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Q&A with Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff

Part 3 of a four part interview series with ParaNorman's creators
Animator Brad Schiff
Brad Schiff works at animation studio LAIKA, and was an animator on the company's Oscar-nominated 2009 feature "Coraline."

Q: What is special about working in stop-motion?

A: There is a certain soul to stop-motion process you don't find in other types of animation that is special. We are manipulating an actual puppet with our hands, one frame a time 24 times a second to create a performance. The spontaneity and tactility of the process in my opinion make it special.

Q: What are the aesthetic benefits that go with something that requires such physical concentration?

A: Would you consider mental exhaustion an aesthetic benefit? I don't know if it's a benefit but what's rewarding is, at the end of a day where you've been on your feet and mentally fixating on a puppet, you can press "Play" and you're able to see the life that you've created that day - our own little species.

The coolest, though, is on Fridays when you go to the theater [the screening space on-site at LAIKA's studios] with everybody, and you see all the finalized shots with people reacting. That's goose bumps time.

Q: Aside from the visuals, how do you zero in on getting the voice performances from the actors to align with yours, the animators'?

A: How it works for animators is, you sit and listen to the tracks over and over and over.  We want to hear the subtlety of the voiceover, the inflections of the voices. It helps us to figure out who the characters are.

Then there's "reference," which is live-action footage recorded of animators interpreting the characters.

Q: There must be room for different interpretations...?

A: There is, but you have to make sure there is clarity between what the directors want and what the animators are performing. This sustains the style of the movie.

Some of reference we shot on ParaNorman was incredibly helpful to the animator but was so embarrassing that you just hoped they it didn't make it into the behind-the-scenes videos...of course they will.

Q: Can you tell us some of the former, rather than the latter?

A: An example of reference footage working a treat was when [animator] Jason Stalman performed [Norman's sister] Courtney standing in a doorway looking at [her crush] Mitch. It was so beautiful, so realized. He got nuances in the performance through his reference he wouldn't have gotten otherwise. An example of one of the more compromising reference videos was for a shot Kevin McLean did with Mitch and Courtney in the burning archives building. I played Mitch and Jason played Courtney. He was snuggled up close rubbing my face and tugging at my shirt. I just know this fricking thing is going to find it's way onto the DVD.

Q: And, from you yourself - any particularly proud moments on this movie?

A: I have many proud moments from this film. Most of them revolve around the success of the animation team. While it seems like it's all fun and games, what we do is incredibly difficult and taxing...mentally and physically. It takes great skill, concentration and confidence to animate at this level. Witnessing the animators on this film shoot the greatest shots of their careers on ParaNorman has proven to be most rewarding to me.

Q: What tools of the trade do you swear by?

A:  Dragonframe frame grabbing software and my x-acto blade.

Q: Which animation system are you most comfortable with?

A: Dragonframe

Q: What facilities have you been impressed with in recent years?

A: There is no facility that I have worked at or seen that rivals what we have here at Laika.

To read Part 1 (Q&A with Director of Photography Tristan Oliver) click here.

To read Part 2 (Q&A with Visual Effects Supervisor Brian Van't Hul) click here.

To read Part 4 (Q&A with Creative Supervisor of Replacement Animation & Engineering Brian McLean) click here.

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Related Keywords:ParaNorman, Animation, Brad Schiff, LAIKA, Dragonframe, post production, film production, stop motion

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  • Q&A with Animation Supervisor Brad Schiff by DMN Editorial at Aug. 14, 2012 6:34 pm gmt

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