Comic-Con 2012 is in full swing. And Thursday morning, ScreenCrave spoke to a couple of the creative minds behind Frankenweenie. It’s the latest animated film from director Tim Burton, and it features a very familiar story. Producers Don Hahn and Allison Abbate happily opened up about Burton’s passion project from the past.
Frankenweenie was originally released in 1984 as a short. Why did Tim want to revisit it?
Don Hahn: Probably because there was so much more there than what could have been done in a half hour. I went to Tim and we started talking about it, it was like, this is the Frankenstein myth. It’s one of the greatest pieces of literature. It’s rich and it has more flesh on the bone that you can do in a half hour. There was much much more to it. There’s also an added level of we can also pay homage to the great monster movies of that era, which is part of the reason we did the film in black and white. Part of the reason we escalate the story so that by the end of the movie, not only does Victor bring Sparky, his little dog back to life, but all the kids in the neighborhood are like, ‘Well if he can do it, we can do it.’
The original was live-action, why make this version an animation?
Allison Abbate: Tim has always felt that there was more story to tell. He loves animation and I feel that there is an emotional quality that you can get from the dog that you can get in animation that you might not be able to get from a live action dog. It just seemed like a good marriage of the storytelling and the medium.
Are there any major changes that have been made in terms of story and characters?
Don Hahn: Yes and no. The original story is about a kid whose dog gets hit by a car. And ultimately, it’s a story about love conquers all, even death. Our pets are our closest relationships sometimes after our parents. After our parents, our pets, whether it’s a cat or a dog or a hamster, that’s the first close relationship you have. So losing a pet can be pretty traumatic for a kid. That’s at the core of this. But what we could expand, and did expand on was the celebration of great monster movies from the ’50s and ’60s. To be able to say, ‘Yes, this is a Frankenstein story, but it comes from a great tradition of movies about monsters and let’s play with that.’
So there are homages in there?
Don Hahn: Completely. What’s funny is that when we show it to an audience, the kids look at it at face value and say, ‘Oh, there’s a funny character.’ But to the adults, they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s the creature from the Black Lagoon, and that’s the Wolf Man or whatever.’ So it operates on these levels.
Back to the animation. Is it all stop-motion? Is there any clay?
Allison Abbate: No clay. This is not claymation at all. This is really… it’s puppets. They’re armature, silicon sort of skinned steel armature puppets that are just moved one frame at a time. It’s just pure puppetry.
What stop-motion advancements have been made since Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas?
Allison Abbate: The most clear change would be since I’ve obviously Nightmare. With Nightmare there was no VFX so all the rigs had to be hidden so if you had a character like Sparky running around it would be really hard to have him on wires and pins. It would have just been really difficult to get the kind of natural performance from a dog that you would really want to get.
Since Corpse Bride and this, it was really about trying to embrace the stop-motion of it. And go right from Tim’s drawings. That to me was one of the biggest changes that we made is that we went, ‘No character designers. We want to go to get the sketch that Tim does and make a puppet out of it. And just what is that process like?’ To try to keep that real energy that he has in his drawings. The simplicity is the crazy, beautiful graphic style he has, and have it be done in a puppet.
How long did the filmmaking process take?
Don Hahn: By 2009, 2010 we were rolling. Got animators in, got up to 120, 150 animators working on the film in London. About 30 or 35 standing sets and all these puppets and starting making the film in 2010, 2011 and here we are finishing music and we’re mixing the movie now and finishing the 3D.
Allison Abbate: I would say ultimately it was about a year and a half. Just because we went on a slower — we were big for a year and then we went into a really core group just to do some little bits at the end. It was about 14 months.
As a viewer, we sometimes forget how much time really goes into making these movies.
Don Hahn: And you should. That’s the thing about any kind of animation. There’s this paradox that you put all this time and money into building these puppets or drawings whatever. And you want the audience to forget that. It’s so weird.
Find out what Tim Burton had to say about Frankenweenie at the Comic-Con press conference.
Frankenweenie opens in theaters everywhere October 5.