My first stop in a bookstore is often the film/animation section. The amount of creative work going into today’s films and animations is staggering, and these books give us a look at all the wizardry going on behind-the-scenes. But the books themselves are typically unimaginative, consisting of some large movie stills and character development drawings — a quick flip through is often enough to satisfy. The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox is not that kind of book. It feels like a meticulously crafted journal by the crew themselves. Every detail is considered, including the hardcover, which is the same texture and color as Mr. Fox’s corduroy suit. The book covers the 2009 stop-motion animated film directed by Wes Anderson, that is based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl.
The first chapter contains an interview with Wes Anderson that weaves in and out of concept art, original book cover versions, storyboard thumbnails, and all manner of miniature props. A favorite of mine is a tiny Whack-Bat trophy with even tinier MVP rankings. Anderson discusses his inspiration for choosing this particular Dahl story, the structure of the various animation crews, and his personal connection to the story. Anderson traveled to Dahl’s home, taking photos and notes about the author’s lifestyle, furniture, and belongings. Everything down to the man’s pencil sharpener was recorded and considered as inspiration for the look of the film.
The subsequent chapters are each devoted to a character, with massive amounts of detail included. Because the film is a puppet animation, every object had to be designed and built. There are schematics of the skeletal puppet armatures, drawings of different character expressions, pajama fabric swatches, even the shapes of Mr. Fox’s fingernails are specified! These are the kinds of geeky details that one can investigate for hours.
One interesting technique employed throughout the film was the use of several scales for the puppets. For big wide shots they would use very small puppets and props. This saved the crew from having to build massive sets, but it also exploits the lo-fi glory of puppet animation. One moment characters look like toys waggling across the landscape, and the next, a close-up shows a much more detailed figure. Using the larger scale gives the character the ability to speak and move with greater subtlety.
Another perk, are all of Wes Anderson’s thumbnail doodles. Sprinkled throughout the book, written on napkins and notecards are all manner of funny details for the crew to work with. It helps show how spontaneous and personal the making of the movie was.
As a final treat for the reader, and a nod to the crazy task of animation, the book’s end pages are timing sheets, the kind used to outline every frame in the film.