The Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital exhibition showing at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, explores the highly important role of digital material in contemporary art, science, fashion, design and architecture.
The exhibition consists of the work from more than 60 artists, architects and designers globally such as Zaha Hadid, Ron Arad and Barry X Ball as well as works from Australia and the Asia-Pacific and the MAAS collection. The exhibition explores the impact that digital technology has in the creation and design process of works, making us appreciate the several techniques that have been recently discovered giving artists greater opportunity and advancing possibilities and expectations.
One work that was a particular stand out was ‘Faces used for ParaNorman Film’ created by LAIKA. ParaNorman is a 2012 American comedy horror film in the form of 3D stop-motion replacement animation. As mentioned in TV Tropes article, the film was the first stop motion that utilised a 3D colour printer to create their characters faces and limbs which were regularly replaced with slightly different parts in order to achieve the illusion of ‘movement’ (Tv Tropes, 2012).
LAIKA entertainment founded in 2005, is a company who employ storytellers, artists, inventors and technicians from all around the globe. LAIKA is dedicated to creating handmade animations with not only state-of-the-art technologies but with traditional handmade animation techniques from the very beginning (LAIKA, 2017). Their intent is to form emotional, innovative and crazy stories the filmmakers admired and loved to watch as they were growing up (LAIKA, 2017). The company has made its mark on American cinema by constantly challenging the boundaries of stop motion animation.
The film is set in the small town Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, the main character Norman Babcock is an 11 year old boy lives with his father Perry, his mother Sandra and his teenage sister Courtney. Norman has the ability to see and speak to ghosts, zombies and the dead wherever he goes. Everyone apart from his loyal best friend Neil refuses to believe him and for this, Norman is bullied by his peers in school and is an outcast from his family. Later in the film Norman is summoned by his crazed uncle (whom is a ghost) to protect Blithe Hollow from a centuries-old curse. However, things don’t go according to plan and the town is put at risk.
The work is displayed in the gallery on a white bench top exhibiting only 40 different faces in a glass box, including the mouth and eyebrows used in the actual film. Next to the work is an iPad playing a short documentary regarding the materials and techniques used in order to create the faces. Having a passion for film and television I was immediately drawn to this work. Despite the fact that it was the last work I saw at the exhibition I still spent the most time observing it as opposed to the others, watching the documentary countless times and carefully studying each individual face. There was something quite fascinating and appealing about them, their shape and colour are beautifully crafted and the detail in their expression was vivid and capturing.
As portrayed in the youTube video Faces of ParaNorman, before ParaNorman LAIKA created Caroline, which was the first film created using 3D printing for animation (eOnefilms, 2012). It was here they took every specific facial expression a character would make and printed it using a rapid prototyping machine. The company continued to use the same technique with ParaNorman, however they couldn’t risk the sacrifices they had to make with the design. As mentioned in eOnes YouTube film using a rapid prototyping machine means the objects printed would be colourless and plastic (eOnefilms, 2012). This means each individual facial part would have to be hand painted, which is possible but they wouldn’t of been able to get the interesting and detailed facial features desired. For example, one of the main characters Neil (Norman’s best friend) has thousands of freckles, he himself has tens of thousands of expressions and therefore it would be impossible to paint these freckles in the exact same place on every face. With 24 frames a second, if he were hand painted it would be evident that these particular facial features would be moving quite rapidly which is what producers want to avoid at all costs. As stated in eOnes Youtube film to resolve the dilemma the company decided to invest in a 3D colour printer, through the use of this machine the creators were able to build the colour into the model, which isn’t something you could do with a regular 3D printer (eOnefilms, 2012). Hence why colour 3D printing is much more beneficial when creating realistic, relatable and lifelike stop-motion animation characters.
So correspondingly, as mentioned in Juanmi’s short film, each individual face is created through a colour 3D printer but more specifically a powder printer, thin layers of powder are repeatedly applied until it eventually become a 3D object (Juanmi, 2016). This object is then dipped into super glue, which hardens them so they continue to keep their shape (Juanmi, 2016). These two materials are essential in creating the different facial parts to the characters, the powder printer gives the opportunity to give a very detailed, controlled and precise look to every model, where as the glue plays an important role in keeping their frame. As mentioned by Juanmi, there were over 40,000 faces alone used in ParaNorman, each face needs to be exactly the same in terms of colour and shape (Juanmi, 2016). This is because 24 different faces will make up only one second of conversation or emotion and therefore it is essential that all faces go together smoothly.
Creating stop motion pictures is a massive job, and requires a lot of time, money, expertise, patience and materials. As portrayed in Juanmis film in order to create ParaNorman it took, 3 years of work, 4,000 kilograms of printing powder, 300 liters of superglue, 300 puppets, 50 stages, 5,000 x-acto blades, 66,400 rare Earth magnets, 729 sheets of sand paper, 8 liters of white resin, 25,000 purple nitro gloves and 1 massive warehouse (Juanmi, 2016).
I believe the film creators utilised replacement animation, as it is a way to get the most out of your characters, in terms of emotion and vocabulary. Doing this gives the power to completely alter a characters expression in any way you choose with full control of the outcome. Although, creating a stop motion feature is an extremely long, difficult and time-consuming process the final product is generally quite appealing which was definitely achieved in ParaNorman.
LAIKA’s intention was to create a stop motion animation through combining traditional animation techniques with 21st century technologies, like the 3D printer. Instead of altering facial expressions by constantly sculpting characters ‘clay’ faces, LAIKA remove the entire face and replace it with another, take a photograph and change it again. As mentioned by MarBelle, the faces are broken in half, from the eyebrows to the mouth and therefore they are able to be animated separately and have more freedom to work with the characters emotions (MarBelle, 2013).
Through the use of colour printing, the creators were able to produce a human like skin tone. I noticed in the film when the artificial light hits the surface of the characters skin it absorbs as opposed to reflecting off it, just like it does to us as humans. This technique creates unique frames we haven’t yet seen in stop motion animation before and I assume is another reason as to why LAIKA chose to use 3D printed faces for their characters.
As stated in Juanmis video each character in Paranorman begun as puppet, LAIKA first designed each body on paper, which was then transferred to a metal skeleton (Juanmi, 2016). This allowed the film makers to pose it and hold its position, from there they dress them in their individual costumes and put on their 3D printed faces (Juanmi, 2016). The makers would move their body slightly, take an image and do so again after changing their faces, this created the illusion that the characters were alive. Studying various frames throughout ParaNorman you are able to gain an insight into just how much effort was put into every second of ParaNorman. Every scene is extremely detailed, from the chip packets in the vending machines, to the newspapers in the background, everything has a purpose and adds to the element of realism the film presents.
LAIKA producers wanted to take this art form, which they were so passionate about and push it as far as they could. In doing so this took numerous characters, giant sets with great attention to detail. However, there were various issues they came across when it came to transferring what was in the script to real life. As mentioned on the LAIKA website when creating stop motion you are fairly limited in regards to what you can do in terms of effects and fast paced scenes, LAIKA really wanted to challenge this by creating high-speed chase sequences with massive effects and they achieved it to a high standard (LAIKA, 2017).
ParaNorman received an average of 4 stars on majority of reviews. Common sense media said it is a lush, vivid and stylised stop-motion animation (Common Sense Media, 2012). Possessing exciting and eccentric characters while obtaining a level of sophistication just edgy enough to engage teenagers that refer to themselves as too old for animation films (Common Sense Media, 2012). They explain it to be far from a ‘Disney princess musical’ by having an authenticity to its ‘teenspeak’ (especially Courtney’s hormone-fueled attempts to attract Mitch) while also displaying a deep understanding of the perils of early adolescence, when being different feels like it’s a curse but can really be a blessing in disguise (Common Sense Media, 2012).
Another review from The Guardian said it’s a likable scary story – with hints of Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg (Bradshaw B, 2012). The review also says it’s engaging entertainment, with a solidly constructed storyline (Bradshaw B, 2012). Likewise another review by Metacritic explains ParaNorman to be an amazing film. They say the art style is fantastic and innocent and the message of the movie is even better (Metacritic, 2012). The review notes that “ParaNorman focuses a lot on tolerance so it never got boring, this in combination with visual effects were perfect and so was the voice acting” (Metacritic, 2012). These reviews prove that the film was a success, not only for its story line but its characters through the use of combining 3D printing with stop motion animation.
LAIKA producers believe this form of film making to be extremely rewarding due to the detailed love and care invested into every precise thing from the characters faces, to the smallest prop, they do it for the end result (LAIKA, 2017). Which is a beautifully produced stop motion animation.
Overall, LAIKA’s technique of combining traditional animation with modern day technology and 3D printing made it possible for them to create the unique film ParaNorman, the kind of animation that hasn’t yet been seen before. By utilising 3D colour printing to form the characters faces LAIKA’s producers were able to create realistic scenes and characters the audience could relate to. This along with the modern day story line gives the film the ability to capture the attention of all ages, hence why reviews believe it to be the perfect family movie, which was LAIKA’s intent.
Tv Tropes, 2012, Western Animation/ParaNorman, Tv Tropes, viewed 25th April 2017, < http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/WesternAnimation/ParaNorman>
LAIKA 2017, Connecting the New with the Timeless to Tell Enduring Stories, LAIKA, viewed 25th April 2017, < http://www.laika.com/about>
eOnefilms, 2012, ParaNorman Feaurette: Faces of ParaNorman, Youtube eOnefilms, viewed 1st May 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu62AzWPTDs>
Juanmi, R 2016, ParaNorman – Making Faces, YouTube, viewed 1st May 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMpDJ6YKuF8>
MarBelle, 2013, Step Behind the Scenes at Laika, the Stop Motion Animation Company Behind ‘ParaNorman’ No Film School, viewed 1st May 2017, <http://nofilmschool.com/2013/03/bts-laika-stop-motion-animation-paranorman>
Common Sense Media, 2012, ParaNorman Review, Common Sense Media, viewed 1st May 2017, <https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/paranorman>
Bradshaw, B 2012, ParaNorman review, The Guardian, viewed 30th April 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/sep/13/paranorman-review>
MetaCritic, 2012, ParaNorman, MetaCritic, viewed 1st May 2017, <http://www.metacritic.com/movie/paranorman>