The Boxtrolls Review

This was going to be about the Animation Show of Shows since I was planning on going to that but I had a last minute invitation to see The Boxtrolls, hosted by ASIFA, and there was a great Q&A with the directors, Graham Annable and  Anthony Stacchi, and producer/animator Travis Knight after. Loved it! The animation was ridiculously amazing and the movie itself was deep yet with all the right elements of comedy.


The Boxtrolls is a heartfelt story about finding out who you are and making yourself to be who you are. Amid all that is an adventure of Egg saving his family and stopping the villain, Snatcher, from obtaining power all for the sake of cheese. From the trailer, the original beginning seemed to be about The Boxtrolls finding an unwanted child in the trash but that's changed somewhat and I really like the change as it gives the characters more association and relation with each other.

The animation is ridiculous. In stop motion, everything that moves have to be manually moved frame by frame by an animator. There were a lot of little inflection in the face and auxiliary acting choices which just means more frames that the animator would have to animate through. Just as impressive is that animators are assigned to scenes instead of characters so there is a whole ballroom dance sequence that was done by a single animator. There is a giant robot with detailed pistons and cogs that all had to be animated on top of having a character giving a full performance.

Loved the artistic style of the film. It was interesting to hear that various oil painting artists such as Lucian Freud. They really liked the various contrasting colors that would be used on skin. One thing that I would be interested in if Laika could develop is accurate specular highlights on eyes. Currently the eyes are doll-like with everything painted on instead of having an actual cornea to catch the highlight on. It may be strange, as the shape of a cornea and the iris may look strange in certain angles and unlike in CG a bump map can't just be used to cheat the effect.

The Q&A after was great. There was getting to know about the behind the scenes process which was neat but I loved hearing about how Laika is evolving their workflow and keeping up with the current technology.  Rapid prototyping has been used since Coraline but the way it's used has evolved. First of all, rapid prototyping is typically used for quick concepts that someone can print out, look at, and throw away; however, Laika is using it to print their thousands of faces to create the facial replacement animation. Back in Coraline, the faces were printed to be plain gray and an artist would have to go and paint each one. In Paranorman, Laika was able to get color into the prints. Now in Boxtrolls, not only were they able to advance the colors but they found out, through an accident, that they could print on top of prints and create what would look like a classic 2D animated smear frame. Also, make sure to keep a close eye on the ballroom sequence as Laika was able to get a capillary system under the face so the characters actually blush!

Make sure to stay through the credits. As per usual, there's a small sequence at the end as the movie makes a nod towards animators and stop motion animation. It really gives an idea to how stop motion is "an obscene way to make a film" as every little movement has to be created manually from hand gestures to a single blink and since the movie was shot in stereoscope the vfx artists would have to paint out rigs and facial seams twice.