Portraying a character — whether human, animal or other — in an animated movie involves varying elements of performance. Actors’ vocal performances are recorded first, often over a year in advance, and a character’s animator(s) align their own performances with the voice work. The Boxtrolls producer and lead animator Travis Knight notes, “An animation performance is comprised of two parts: the vocal performance supplied by the actor, and the visual performance furnished by the animator. It’s an unconventional collaboration that can span years. But it all starts with the perfect voice.”
Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley was sought for the part of aspiring aristocrat and Boxtrolls hunter Archibald Snatcher once samples of his Sexy Beast and Oliver Twist dialogue readings were run opposite already-cast actors. This was so that they were “reading together,” a method that has previously been deployed to cast actors by animation studio LAIKA, home of The Boxtrolls, Coraline and ParaNorman.
Director Anthony Stacchi marvels, “We sent him the script and then suddenly we were on the phone with Sir Ben. He said, ‘Do you know the character of Don Logan [from Sexy Beast]? Well, I consider Snatcher to be like that.’ We were thrilled, and we provided him with imagery and discussed the character further.” Kingsley states, “I liked the Dickensian elements of The Boxtrolls; there is no joyful resolution if there is not a dark side. Snatcher is obsessive, narcissistic, envious – all the qualities that are wonderful to play!” Stacchi notes, “He put in so much work and development in on his own. He said to us, ‘Snatcher has to be [performed] reclining, because he eats a lot and is a gluttonous man.’ And that’s how Sir Ben did it in a studio.”
Producer David Bleiman Ichioka reveals, “That changed this amazing actor’s voice performance — where it would come from within his body — and that in turn changed the way we were animating Snatcher and how his body and face would be moving. He took on a much more theatrical bent; he is always ‘on.’”
The actor found the voiceover recording sessions “very releasing. I wasn’t bound by physical behavior, costume, or even to a certain extent continuity. I’m quite intuitive, I think, and Snatcher’s voice materialized on day one — I did it at home privately and then brought it to the recording session. It came out of his big gut.”
Director Graham Annable confirms, “Sir Ben came in to that first recording session with a fully formed characterization of Snatcher. When we brought it back to the LAIKA studios, the animators were clamoring to work on Snatcher’s scenes because of the way Sir Ben elongated words and sentences with a sarcastic, taunting tone. At that first session, he held syllables for longer, as was written out on the page — but by making a three-second ‘alllll’ into a 10-second ‘alllllllllllllllllllllllllllll,’ everyone — including Sir Ben — realized that he was going to be running with that from then on,” marvels Bleiman Ichioka. “Yet he did not change a word of the dialogue.”
The Boxtrolls is available starting Jan. 20 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
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