In the end, the thousands upon thousands of meticulous stop-motion shots were tied together in the editing room and wrapped with a gorgeous score by Jon Brion.
On ParaNorman, editing of the movie began surprisingly early – very early – on the production, back in 2009.
“It’s very liberating to be an editor of animated movies,” enthuses ParaNorman editor Christopher Murrie, a veteran of LAIKA’s editorial department. He reveals that “unlike with a live-action movie, we can edit the feature before any footage has been shot. We built a version of ParaNorman, several times, with the storyboards and temporary dialogue – sometimes from me! – sound effects, and music. We will work on it extensively for over two years before we had to finalize anything. All told, it’s a three-year process versus maybe three months for a live-action movie. But the principles of telling a story for cinema are the same.
“We can add or remove scenes and rearrange them – all before the choices on-set are made. We can request the shots we want from the storyboard artists – ‘Can I get a couple more panels of this?’ – and not have to wade through thousands of feet of coverage. The analogy I make is that we start with a blank canvas and add layers upon layers; on a live-action movie, it’s more like sculpting out of marble. I’ve edited different forms of animation, and working on stop-motion projects is particularly fantastic.”
The editor notes that, given the digitized information banks in place at LAIKA, “When Sam or Chris would sit down with me and say, ‘What about that take where this actor tweaked that line just a bit,’ and it was recorded 2 years ago, well, I can actually find it in our system. It will take a couple of minutes, as opposed to what would take a long time if the audio files hadn’t been properly named in our database. Yet there’s a lot you store internally, from your own memory.”
Once shooting progressed, elaborates Murrie, “we would take the storyboards out and put animation in. The lion’s share of editorial on an animated movie is in the pre-production process, and not – as on live-action movies – in the post-production process. As shots come off the [LAIKA Studios] floor, we had to make sure that they fit with each other in the right way. Every department’s work comes through editing; we inherit all the problems, and hopefully don’t create new ones!
“By what is in fact the post-production phase, my department does go back to the more traditional editorial role of doing the final cut and making each little moment sing. We work closely with the sound designers and the composer.”
The production had utilized two-time Grammy Award nominee Jon Brion’s music from previous movies – including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Magnolia – as “temp tracks” for the early assemblages of ParaNorman. Director Chris Butler reports, “Jon’s music fit so well with what we were creating that we reached out to him during the final phases of production and asked him to compose the entire score.”
When LAIKA came calling, Brion was most receptive to the prospect of scoring his first animated feature. “I’d been waiting for the right one for some time now,” reveals the composer.
Murrie enthuses, “The musical element of Jon’s score really helped the van chase sequence coalesce. He added a propulsion even beyond what was on-screen.”
Producer Travis Knight calls Brion “prodigiously gifted. His inventive, genre-defying musical storytelling provides the perfect accompaniment for ParaNorman’s groundbreaking visuals and emotionally resonant narrative.”
Director Chris Butler comments, “ParaNorman very much tells the story I envisioned over 10 years ago. But the look and the scope of it has exceeded my expectations; I don’t think I ever dared imagine that it would be this big and beautiful.”
Extending the visual and thematic narratives of ParaNorman into printed and electronic form, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will be publishing several books in the U.S., with Hodder Children’s Books issuing the U.K. editions. The original illustrated middle-grade novel based on the movie is being written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, author of the Suddenly Supernatural series. For younger readers, there will be a storybook centering on Norman and the zombies, as well as an early-readers book focusing on Norman and the ghosts.
Actor Casey Affleck comments, “I go to a lot of movies with my kids, and I wanted to be part of ParaNorman because this movie is one that both kids and grown-ups will like, which is rare.”
Director Sam Fell offers, “I’m lucky to make a living doing what I’ve been doing since I was 6 years old, spending hours creating worlds. Now, I get to bring movie audiences – including my son – into those worlds.”
Producer Arianne Sutner reflects, “It’s been very gratifying to work on a project that had so much potential and to see it come to life – faithful to the original vision, to what was dreamed.”
Knight says, “I do feel that ParaNorman will speak to pretty much everybody who grew up feeling that they didn’t quite fit in. People like Norman who have a special gift are sometimes ostracized, but what may push them to the fringes is what makes them unique and gives their lives real value.
“It’s a powerful thing to recognize those experiences in not just another person, but in the whole army of people who brought this story to life.”