Set Visit Sneak: Tim Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’

12.22.11 6 years ago

Walt Disney Studios

No best animated feature nominee this year New York Film Critics Circle?  Well, we beg to differ, but something tells us 2012 might suit your peculiar tastes a bit more.  Not only is Pixar returning with “Brave,” but LAIKA is back with their first feature since “Coraline,” “ParaNorman.”  DreamWorks also has “Rise of the Guardians” based on William Joyce’s acclaimed “The Guardians of Childhood” novels, Disney Animated Studios has “Wreck-It-Ralph,” Aardman returns to stop-motion with “”THe Pirates! Basednd of Misfits” and Universal brings “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” to life.   One of the most anticipated new animated films, however, has to be Tim Burton’s long awaited feature length version of “Frankenweenie.”

Burton first produced the story in 1984 as a live action short.  He’d intended it to be a stop-motion animated feature, but couldn’t afford it at the time.  The story follows a young, but very smart boy, Victor, who uses some questionable science to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life.  When the reincarnated Sparky doesn’t turn out to be the godsend Victor intended, he has to convince his small town he deserves to stick around.  Now, Burton has reunited with producer Allison Abbate (“The Iron Giant,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Burton’s “Corpse Bride”) to bring his true vision of “Frankenweenie” to the screen.

The picture won’t be released until October, but production was well under way last April when Walt Disney Studios invited a select number of press to visit the sets in a gigantic soundstage complex in the outskirts of London, England.

Reuniting with Burton to voice some of the characters are some of his more well known live action actors including Winona Ryder (“Edward Scissorhands”) as Elsa van Helsing, Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”) as Mr. Ryzkruski as well as  Catherine O’Hara (“Beetlejuice”) and Martin Short (“Mars Attacks!”) as a significant number of different voices.  Charlie Tahan, best known for “Charlie St. Cloud” supplies the voice for hour hero, Victor.  Clearly, this is a picture Burton has put a lot of thought into.

Stop-motion animation is a very excruciatingly long process for the artists and filmmakers.  Shots take days to complete as figures are moved one arm, leg or mouth piece per frame to make the animation come to life.  Burton is no stranger to this having co-directed “The Corpse Bride” and produced “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  The legendary filmmaker has been very involved with “Frankenweenie” and took us through many of the different parts of the production candidly discussing the process [More on that in the months to come].

One reason “Frankenweenie” is so anticipated by many in the animation community isn’t Burton’s involvement, but that of his longtime collaborator, producer Allison Abbate.  The always refreshingly blunt and friendly Abbate has worked with Burton since “Nightmare” also produced Brad Bird’s “The Iron Giant” and Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the latter which was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2009.  She sees a lot of similarities between both Burton and Anderson in their love of stop-motion animation.

“They work very differently in the way that they convey what they need,” Abbate says. “The similarities is that they are passionate about the material and passionate about the process. Both of them love the tangible nature and the tactical quality of this animation and this prices. And they see this animation as a way to convey a story close to their hearts.”

Abbate is quick to add that this is a full on Burton film and he didn’t just stop by for the set visit this day.

“The designs of these characters are based on his drawings.  There is no middle man,” Abbatte notes. “It goes from his sketch to the 3-D mold of the puppet. Not passing through any other [creative layer].  He’s a visual guy so that’s kind off how he conveys what he wants. He picks up his pen and sketches what he wants which is crazy helpful for us.”

Animation has taken somewhat of a hit the past 12 months, with some films not preforming up to expectations either creatively or at the box office.  Of course, there were no stop-motion films in that period.  Perhaps that’s why Abbate is still so bullish on this era of animation.

“I personally think we should do more of these,” Abbate says of stop-motion films. “Audiences love the medium and the world is catching on to them.  And the Oscar nod [didn’t hurt] (Laughs.). There does seems to be a trend toward artistic visionaries finding this medium and wanting to do more with it.  I’m working with something with Guillermo Del Toro and there are lots of people coming up to say, ‘Hey, I want to make one of these movies too.'”

Considering the usually breathtaking results, who wouldn’t?

Look for more on “Frankenweenie” in 2012 on HitFix.

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