Science Fiction Filme) Dear Mr. Possert jr. After our first interview, which was very popular, here we are again. Thank you. I'm glad you agreed to delve a little deeper into stop-motion animation. In the previous interview, you talked a little bit about your work at Laika Studios, where you were employed for 7 ½ years. Before we get to know how you joined this studios, let me ask you what fascinates you about the technique of stop-motion?


Michael Posssert jr.) It is a different way of bringing the fantastical to life.  Stop-mo allows for bringing to the screen  characters that cannot be done even with creature makeup effects.  You can truly weird or unique  characters that are very tall, or skinny with movements that cannot be performed by actors.  It really  allows for more dynamic action as well.


SFF) I don't want to list all the great scenes that stop-motion can offer. But I think that for you and for me there were also key experiences that led us to indulge in this technique. For me, of course, it was the great KING KONG (1933), the fight scene with the skeletons from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and Medusa from CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981). Which scenes do you prefer?


M.P.) Of course all of those scenes are great!  I think fans of visual effects tend to lean towards realistic stop motion and less on the “claymation” of Aardman Animation and other studios.  My favorites tend to  follow the realistic or unique.  I was really taken by the animation of Phil Tippet from the STAR WARS  (1977 – 83) movies.  Especially the AT-AT Walkers in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  ED-209 from ROBOCOP (1987)  is another favorite.  The stop-motion technique interacting with a human in the Peter Gabriel music video SLEDGEHAMMER. 


This  is a fun mashup of stop-motion and pixilation.  A big favorite of mine is the small film PETER & THE WOLF  (2006) by Suzie Templeton.  A classic story done in stop-mo with only music and sound effects,  no spoken words.  It is a beautiful film.  I think you can find it on Youtube.


SFF) Besides Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Jim Danforth and Phil Tippett, there are many other great artists who have or have mastered this technique. I once did an interview with Harry Walton (also about my book THE MAGIC OF VISUALS). He talked in detail about his work on LAND OF THE LOST (1974 – 76)  and ROBOCOP 2 (1990) . Which stop-motion artists do you admire?


M.P.) Phil Tippet was a big influence on me.  Also, Henry Sellick.  I really admire his interesting and non compromising look at stories.  Henry tries to do as much as he can practically.  Meaning, he does as  much practically, on set with the characters and miniatures and relys less on post and CG.  I really admire that.


SFF) The „golden days“  of stop-motion can be attributed to the 1950s and 60s. But there were scenes in movies in all decades  that were stop-motion in perfection. Let´s take THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE RETURN OF THE JEDI, BEETLEJUICE (1988) or even NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993). Starting in the 2010s, there seems to be a sort of renaissance of this technique, culminating with Del Toro's PINOCCHIO (2022). This technique was never dead. What do you think is special about this kind of magic?


M.P.) Like I stated earlier, stop-motion can create fantastical characters and settings that can only be mimicked by CG.  The computer can do some amazing things.  But when you have a real world physical object in a miniature set on stage, magical things can happen.  Once the camera and lighting crew start setting up the shot, new and unique scenes can emerge through the camera.  Just moving the camera to the left or right a bit can create whole new exciting images.  This could occur in CG or

traditional 2D and 3D animation, but stop-mo competent stage crews can offer many more options on the fly.


SFF) Do you have any collaboration which was the most influential in your career and why?


M.P.) An early influential project for me I worked on is a small commercial for television.  In the late 1990s, early in my career,  I did some work on an Orkin commercial for Stetson Visual Services.  I built the  legs and feet and some other parts of the stop-motion Orkin man puppet.  But, I was also tasked to stage to maintain the puppet for the shoot.  I got to watch, over two days, the animator and motion control working with our puppet.  It was a huge learning experience just to watch how it all happened.  It was fascinating, even it it was just a commercial for bug spray.


SFF) Stop or go motion? Which do you prefer?


M.P.) Well go-motion does provide that realistic look we all love.  It requires a bit more work to do.  But I  think standard stop-motion can be just as effective with the right animator.  It comes down to performance of the animator working with the director.


SFF) Let's move on to your time at Laika Studios. How did you join this team?


M.P.) In 2010, a number of my colleagues in Los Angeles starting talking about Laika Studios gearing up for another movie.  I was finishing out a project at Shadow Animation, another stop-motion studio.  Much of the practical visual effects in Hollywood was drying up and many of us were looking for other work in our field.  Like many, I was not interested in moving into computer work exclusively.  So, I contacted Laika Studios and made myself available.  After a bit of back and fourth, they hired me.  So, my big move to Portland Oregon happened.  I came onto PARANORMAN (2012) shortly after it started.


SFF) As far as I am informed correctly, you were in charge of the model making department at PARANORMAN. Is that correct? What exactly was your main task?


M.P.) Yes, I inherited the PARANORMAN Model Shop – Head of the Department position from another.  My tasks were to mainly keep everybody in the model shop going forward, meeting deadlines and producing miniatures at the highest quality within the design aesthetics as I could. 


I also collaborated with several other departments to keep transitions going smoothly.  Areas like Rigging ( they are responsible for making things we made move, fly or roll or things like that),  Paint ( they paint and weather everything we make), Mold (they make molds of things that need multiples of and cast them) and several more departments.  I got to do very little in the way of fabrication as my duties were mainly managing the other craftspeople.


SFF) On the following movie THE BOXTROLLS (2014) you led a team of 20 people who made over 22,000 individual miniatures. That's a mammoth task. How do you plan something like that? What did the preparations look like?


M.P.) THE BOXTROLLS is one of the movies I am most proud of for my work.  It was a huge task that we accomplished in 18 months.  Prep was minimal and I had to stay nimble to keep up with the demands.  The first couple of months involved “Look Development” that was handed to the model shop for me to lead.  This is the process of working with the director, production designer and the art director to determine the overall look and aesthetic of the movie.  Many veersions of one prop/item were made, over and over, until the right style was achieved.  Those early  miniatures become something of a bible to follow through the rest of the movie build.  That work transitioned into building items for the movie.


We met the demands and it was tough.  I was successful at managing as Model Shop Head ONLY because I was given a fantastic crew.  If I had not had a talented and experienced crew, the model shop would not have been able to meet it's deadlines.


SFF) How do you actually scale the miniatures for a stop-motion film? I mean, stop-motion films are fantasy. There's not really a specific scale for miniatures, is there? For example, how do you scale a real sword down to a small scale? Were there any guidelines for THE BOXTROLLS as an example?


M.P.) Scale in a stop-motion project is very tricky and sometimes changes for different scenes.  It starts with the size of the puppets.  They tend to be made first, since, of course, they are the focus.  And the final scale, usually pulled from the main characters, are rarely a standard scale.  But even within the puppets, scale can be awkward and shift a bit.  So, if there are any miniatures (called props in the stop-motion world) that the puppet interacts with, the prop is tailored to that puppet. 


Because of this everything will be custom and hand made.  Each prop has to look good in the interactions of the character it is with.  It is not uncommon to have two or three slightly differing scales for the same prop if it interacts with different characters of different sizes.  In fantasy, Which THE BOXTROLLS  certainly is, characters vary in size from each other.  It all depends on which character is interacting with the prop.


SFF) Again THE BOXTROLLS. 22,000 miniatures. How do you divide this task? Does everybody have his special field? And above all: Where are the things now?


M.P.) I was lucky to have help from a coordinator I worked with closely.  And dividing the tasks relying on each crafts-persons strengths. Some people were better at sculpting, others better doing fine metal work,  some better working with fabrics, etc.  Most model makers have areas they are stronger at than some other areas.  I definitely worked with that.  I had to, to keep up managing the huge work load.  Most of the miniatures are now in Laika storage.  But a few were sold off in an auction several years back.


SFF) Then came KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016). And if you look at it, KUBO is the stop-motion film with you that doesn't necessarily have a fantastic basis but is based on history in terms of the environment. How do you imagine the preparation of miniatures in a stop-motion film set in a historical Japan? You have to be historically correct and knowledgeable about the buildings, for example, don't you?


M.P.) Yes, much research went into being as accurate as we could before the movie got started.  Much of the look was influenced by wood block and other prints of certain eras of Japan and just basic historical image digging.  Then the production designer added their own style to this.  Again, the model shop played a roll in the Look Development.  I had a hand in determining the look of the props with the use of various paper coverings applied to create a paper and wood texture throughout many miniatures.  This technique was used on the boats, weapons, furniture and much more.  I am very happy with my contributions on that.


SFF) What is the difference between a lead fabricator and the head of model store?


M.P.) The head of the model shop runs the whole room.  They are more managerial then fabrication.  They need to lead the fabricators to hit the deadlines.  The lead fabricator is next in line.  They are an experienced fabricator and tend to get the more important and difficult miniatures to build


SFF) The last film you worked on was WENDELL & WILD (2022) by Henry Selick, who already gave us NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. What exactly did you do there and was it very different from your previous work in stop motion?


M.P.) It was a typical stop-motion job on a very fun movie to be on.  I was the lead fabricator on Wendell & Wild and got to work on several important miniatures/props.   I worked on every vehicle (SUV, hearse, bulldozers, truck, etc) in one capacity or another except for the van.  The family SUV that goes off the bridge is mostly my work.  I also made one of the main characters functioning wheelchair and his “Demon Gun”.  I think I had the most experience for fabricating on the crew.  So, I got to do a lot of the interesting stuff.


SFF)  I believe movies doesn´t belong to awards. They´re for the audience not for prices. But what do you think of your kind of work in film? Is it just a technical one or is it art?


M.P.) I think it falls into a zone of being both.  Sometimes it is just technical to get an image for a movie.  Maybe it is an architectural model or a common prop that simply serves the story.  Other times we create art.  Can we fool your eye, can we transport you to a fantastical world or can we get you to feel something?  Have we changed you in some way – fear, awe, happiness or surprise?  If we can do something like that we have created something more than just a well made miniature.  We have moved into art.


SFF) Hand on heart: Which film would you have liked to be involved in?


M.P.) That is a very easy answer – TEH EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  It has a perfect mix of a good story, miniatures, practical effects and stop-motion.  Truly one of the all time classics!


SFF) Dear Mr. Possert jr. Thank you for your time again.