'ParaNorman' exhibit spooks stop motion enthusiasts at Cartoon Art Museum

SF State
San Jose State University students, Lucie, left, and Amy Roberts, right, and Nelson Wells look at the structural makeup of a puppet from the stop motion animation film, "ParaNorman," at the Cartoon Art Museum on Mission Street in San Francisco, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. The Roberts sisters are animation majors, and Wells is majoring in creative arts. Photo by Tearsa Joy Hammock / Xpress

Tim Burton is often credited for pioneering — or at least reinventing — the medium of stop motion animation with his classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

The technique allows animators to create a tangible world with real sets, but it’s a world with endless unknown and unreal possibilites.

Branding a vision of his own, Chris Butler, screenwriter and co-director of the stop motion animated film “ParaNorman,” visited the film’s exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco to speak about the challenges of not emulating the standard, but doing something different, Nov. 7.

“(Co-director Sam Fell and I) sat together in a room and we talked about what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to ape Tim Burton or Henry Selick,” Butler said. “That’s not because we don’t like what they do, but it’s because what they do is excellent and there is no point in copying it.”

SF State
Sean Krummel, an animation visual development student from the Academy of Art holds the puppet of the main character from stop motion film, "ParaNorman," at the Cartoon Art Museum on Mission Street in San Francisco, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Photo by Tearsa Joy Hammock / Xpress

“ParaNorman,” the horrifying tale of a town come under siege by zombies, is the brainchild of Butler brought to life by the collaborative efforts of Focus Features and LAIKA Studios, the companies behind “Coraline.”

Butler said the concept of the story was about 15 years in the making, and from the beginning he knew what the story was going to be — and he knew it had to be stop motion.

“Stop motion was already fundamentally creepy. It’s about making inanimate objects move on their own accord,” Butler said. “That skeleton fight from ‘Jason and the Argonauts,’ that was absolutely why I knew the script had to be stop motion.”

In addition, he attests to why this type of animation succeeds in shooting in 3D.

“Stop motion, I think, is perfect for 3D because it is a very tactile medium,” Butler said. “You can see the stitching on the clothes, you can see fingerprints in the sculpt. There is something about it being a real object that makes it that much more impressive in 3D because it’s immersive. You feel like you can reach into the screen and touch a real object.”

Arianne Sutner, producer of the film, also attended the event to speak to fans about the process of the filmmaking, highlighting that love for the medium and patience is what make “ParaNorman” so great.

“Chris and Sam, they are passionate storytellers — passionate about the craft, passionate about the details,” Sutner said.

Animators, students and fans in the audience added that there is an organic feel to the stop motion art form that is lacking in other mediums.

“You can see that people have touched the things, you know?” Kevin Cannarile, Academy of Art 2D animations master’s student, said. “You get the feeling of this love for the craft that goes into it. It just has a more intimate feeling than a lot of CG stuff.”

Leanne Cutler, Ex’pression College for Digital Arts animation and visual effects major, said, “(Stop motion) has a different effect; It has something more to it than regular computerized things.”

Amanda Beals, Ex’pression animation and visual effects major, said she is finding a growing passion for stop motion. Being a stop motion animator herself, she attended the event to share her passion and hear about the making of the film.

“I love just getting your hands on things and actually moving things —  you can actually get a better sense of how things move, how things work,” Beals said. “It seems like (stop motion would) be a little harder, but I think it’s actually easier and a little more fun because you make something that literally you can hold and bring to life.”

Andrew Farago, The Cartoon Art Museum curator, said that this exhibit, along with the exhibit for “Coraline” a few years back have been two of the most popular. The meet and greet with Butler in particular was one of the most successful weeknight events the museum has had, he said.

“I am very pleased. This is about three times what a good weeknight turnout would be for a presentation like this, so obviously people were really excited about this,” Farago said, explaining that people were standing against the walls because they sold out of seated tickets.

“There were a lot of students in the audience tonight, so it looks like we were able to get the word out. This was a really appreciative audience,” Farago said.

The “ParaNorman” exhibit opened in October and will run through February 2013. The movie is still in select theaters and will be released on DVD Nov. 27.