The Art and Making of ParaNorman

Marvel at the artistic wizardry that brought 'ParaNorman' to life.

The Art and Making of ParaNorman By Jed Alger Chronicle Books 160 pp.

"ParaNorman," the stop-motion animated feature film currently in theaters, is about a boy named Norman, who can see and talk to ghosts. Norman is charged with the task of saving his town from a witch’s curse. His story was brought to life by the talented folks at Laika, the studio which previously brought us stop-motion classic "Coraline."  This new movie is a feast for the eyes as well with so much detail in every scene – from the clothes on the puppets to the miniature sets. You leave the theater asking: How did they make that movie?

Well, the answers to all your questions can be found in The Art and Making of ParaNorman by Jed Alger, with a preface by Laika president and CEO Travis Knight, and forwards by ParaNorman writer and director Chris Butler and director Sam Fell.

Inside this book you’ll get to pull aside the curtain to learn the process of bringing these puppets and their surroundings to life. Here’s just a sampling of the details in the book about the film’s production:

– Film editor Christopher Murrie was extremely important to Laika's method. While most film editors get to work when the majority of the filming is done, Murrie was involved throughout. Briefly, in this method, when the film’s storyboards (drawings that show how the story will be told on film, where camera angles are decided) are completed they are made into jpgs and woven into a very rough take of the movie. Once they get the voices recorded they are added to the rough film. As scenes (tests and finishes) are shot they are then added to the film, replacing the storyboard version. And all the while the directors, writers, artists all meet in the editing room to see what’s working, and what needs adjusting.

– Rapid Prototype technology (RP) is basically a machine that takes a 2-D image and makes it into a 3-D object. This is used primarily to make thousands of replacement faces for all the characters in the film. Every expression and mouth movement (for talking) is created by making a 360 degree image of a head on computer. Then CG animators make all the various expressions which are then fed to the RP which makes the face (not the whole head) come out in full color.

But don't imagine that this book is simply text. On the contrary, it's packed with concept art and photos of the artists at work in the Laika studios. Concept artists such as newcomer Heidi Smith, Dave Vandervoort, Deana Marsigliese, and Pete Oswald have their art included throughout and you can see all the various looks the characters had as they evolved toward their final design. There are photos of Laika artists at work, including head of the puppet making department Georgina Hayns, head costume designer Deborah Cook, hair and fur lead Jill Penny, and Nelson Lowry head of the art department, which built all the sets and props. They are part of an incredible group – along with their talented crews who painstakingly made every puppet, pair of sneakers, strand of hair, and blade of grass you see in the final film. It's a mindboggling achievement.

The book is a must-have for any fan of the film, artist, or art lover who’ll find the array of talent inspiring. Chronicle Books does an amazing job jamming so much into 160 pages, with many pages containing full-bleed color photos and artwork. My only complaint is that I wish it were much bigger.

So go see "ParaNorman" and then get this book.

Rich Clabaugh is a Monitor staff artist.

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