The Fantastic Mr. Fox, adapted from the Roald Dahl children's book by director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), has been the biggest cinematic surprise of this autumn for me. About an ex-chicken snatcher named Mr. Fox who, upon feeling cramped by his family-driven sedentary lifestyle, decides to get back in the business of, well, snatching chickens, it's a magical stop-motion tale featuring the voices of everyone from George Clooney (Mr. Fox), to Meryl Streep (Mrs. Fox), to Anderson regular Bill Murray, as an angry badger. I sat down with Anderson recently to discuss the process of making the movie using what is largely an antiquated form of animation.
Cole Haddon: How did you first discover Roald Dahl's The Fantastic Mr. Fox?
Wes Anderson: Well, I loved the book as a child. It was the first book considered my property in our house. It also introduced me to Roald Dahl in general. I started reading his other books afterward. But I still have the copy of Mr. Fox I got when I was 7 or however old I was, and, at the same time I started thinking that I wanted to do an animated film, I thought of that book.
CH: You opted to shoot the movie using stop-motion, which has largely fallen out of use. What advantages did the animation format provide you?
WA: With stop-motion, one of the advantages is, because you're working in miniatures, you can build things you normally wouldn't have the resources to build. It allows you to have a bigger production than you would normally be permitted. With stop-motion over other forms of animation, I think you can sense that somebody's moving these physical objects and making them seem alive. You can somehow sense the hands being put on these things, and there's a charm to that, I think. Something magical to stop-motion in general, I think.
CH: It can be a pretty tedious process, incrementally moving puppets to create the illusion of movement. Did you find that to be so?
WA: The thing is, the way the process actually occurs, everything is happening very, very gradually, but there are so many things happening at once, it's not about patience and waiting, but rather bouncing back and forth from one thing to the next.
CH: How did you expect the process to go when you first decided to make the movie, and what surprised you about it along the way?
WA: What I expected to happen was, I'd write the script, cast the actors, record the actors, then we'd draw the storyboards and edit those to the recordings; then work with the production designer to design the sets, props, and design the puppets. I thought this would all happen, then I'd hand it off to a team of animators, and they'd animate it, and I thought maybe I'd get to direct another movie during that time. Then it would come back, and I'd score it and do the finishing work.
But it was nothing like that. Fairly early on, I realized the only way I was going to be happy with the movie was if I was involved with all of it. Each separate shot requires not just drawing how you want it, but a degree of detail about everything that takes place inside the frame. Even the syllables being uttered [by the puppets]. So the whole thing is a process of manipulating everything that's happening and providing input. It's a crazy process. Rather than being boring, it's overwhelming.
CH: One of the most endearing aspects of the movie is the care you put into the production design, the way you drew inspiration from not only Dahl's book, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but also Dahl's own life. Can you talk a bit about that?
WA: I spent quite a lot of time with [Dahl's widow] at their house. We even wrote some of the script there at Gypsy House [as it's called]. It just made such an impression on me. With a movie like this, when you say, "We need a chair," you don't have somebody say back to you, "Well, we have five chairs. Pick one." Here, you can have any chair in the world you want, because you have to make it this big for puppets. [Here, Anderson uses his hands to indicate the diminutive size of said puppets]. So you have the chance to design everything. I just thought, "Let's start with Gypsy House," since my goal was to make the film as Dahl-esque as it could be. Gypsy House seemed like a good place to start as a point of departure.
CH: Was there any point when you considered shooting the movie in 3-D?
WA: I didn't think of that. You know, with technology that they're using for Avatar, we could've done it in 3-D very simply. Our movie is 3-D [technically]. But you know, I haven't seen that many 3-D movies, I'm just not that involved in it, and so it wasn't really something that was on my agenda. But in a few years they'll probably say, let's turn it into a 3-D movie, and we'll [do just that].