Chris Tootell is a talented animator whose story in the animation industry began at the age of 16 by chance, while he was looking for experience in film and television. His entry into the world of stop-motion animation occurred when he had the opportunity to test animation in a studio close to his home, an experience that led him to the world of children’s television as an animator.
Highlighting her crucial role in “Coraline” (2009), a film that marked Laika Studios, Tootell described her recordings as emotional and inspiring. The film represented an enormous challenge and responsibility, given the quality of the original material and the expectation of producing something exceptional.
Speaking about the differences between animation for television and films, Tootell highlighted the importance of available time. While on TV there is a pressure for faster production, in films there is room for a more detailed approach, resulting in more complex and detailed performances.
When addressing the perception that animated films are mainly aimed at children and young people, he mentioned “Anomalisa” (2015) as an example of a film that addressed complex and emotional themes, with a focus on the psychology of the characters. Tootell’s experience with renowned directors, such as Tim Burton in “Corpse Bride” (2005) and Guilhermo del Toro in “Pinocchio”, was marked by admiration and an environment of creative collaboration.
Asked about a memorable scene he animated, he highlighted a scene in “Pinocchio” and the ‘Ghost Prison’ sequence in “Coraline”, highlighting the technical difficulty and pride in achieving satisfactory results. For Tootell, his legacy as a filmmaker lies in his ability to inspire future generations, remaining proud of the work accomplished and hopeful for the future of stop-motion animation in the film industry.
It is a fact that stop-motion animation, in addition to being a very meticulous work, due to all its handmade technique, is a technique that fascinates cinema fans from all over the world. What attracts you most to working with this style of film?
All animation fascinates me, being able to manipulate moving images to create motion is a joy. My entry in stop motion was more by chance. When, at the age of 16, I was looking for work experience in film and television there so happened to be a stop motion studio near to where I grew up that I lobbied to get some time at. After 4 weeks of sweeping floors and making tea I was given the chance to test animation, it was that test that got me my first job animating on children’s tv. Stop motion has a tactile quality for the viewer that I feel is not just aesthetically pleasing but also evokes something in the audiences that helps relate to the character. It’s also very satisfying from a creators perspective to be working with real objects and bringing them to life.
In addition to several successes that have their own essence, one of the films that was most responsible for making Laika Studios become known worldwide was “Coraline” from 2009, directed by the renowned Henry Selick. What was the daily recording process like and what was it like being part of the team for what became the biggest stop-motion film ever produced?
Coraline was the second movie I had ever worked on and the process was a complete joy. There were so many amazingly talent people on that film and many were at the height of their game producing such beautiful work. It was inspiring for myself to a part of that. The responsibility was huge because Henry expects a lot from his animators, plus it was Laika’s first feature and they had a lot riding on it being as artistically and technically good as possible. The crew had a real team mentality and felt proud and honoured to be there as the source material from Neil Gaiman was so good. It was a great project.
During your career, you have worked in both television and film productions. In these cases, are there many animation differences when working for both formats?
The process is much the same but the outcome vastly different simply due to the time and resources available for the work. The is generally more money available to a film production once the movie has a green light, whereas there’s so much competition in television that the budgets get squeezed down in order to compete. From an animator’s perspective time is what often makes for a more pleasing result. Typically on a TV show an animator will be expected to shoot 12 seconds of animation per day, whereas on a film it’s more like 2. That’s a whole day to shoot 50 frames which means you can be very detailed in your approach to the movement, which often means better characterisation and hence a better performance. However, many TV shows use some great shortcuts, often in the design, to help facilitate good work in a shorter period of time.
There is a slightly “biased” view that it is always said that animated films are always a product more dedicated to children and young people, especially when it comes to their plots, however, one production that attracted a lot of attention was “Anomalisa” (2015). Much was praised about the realism that this film brought to its result. Could you comment a little about the experience of working on this project?
Anomalisa was my first production in Los Angeles and I had made a move from Portland Oregon and Laika in order to get more experience at other studios. Starburns, the studio that made Anomalisa, was a hive of creativity at that time. Lot’s of crew from varying backgrounds were brought together to make this beautiful and strange film. The conversations were far more to do with the character’s state of mind that anything else, the animation was very much centered around where the characters were mentally and emotionally rather than broad strokes of characterisation to set them apart from each other it was far more about understanding and portraying each character’s current, often changing, state. The work was difficult in an entirely different way than I had previously encountered. Acting was put above the normal motivation to produce “beautiful” or smooth animation.
In addition to Henry Selick, you had the opportunity to work with several other successful directors whose work is recognized around the world, as was the case with Tim Burton in “Corpse Bride” (2005) and Guilherme del Toro in “ Guilherme del Toro’s Pinocchio.” In this case, not only does the experience of working with grandiose productions, but how does the reception from the public reach you who are working behind the cameras?
Often the crew behind the camera does not seek out attention from the public, most of us do this sort of work because we love the process and we love working with other artists. I was lucky enough to go to the premiere in London for Pinocchio and that was fun, lot’s of glitz and glamour and a great after party. Guillermo attracts a lot of admiration from his fans and they were there in force, it was nice to see. Especially for a movie that had taken so many years to get to the big screen.
Is there a scene that you’ve animated that you’ve really warmed to during your work?
I animated a scene in Pinocchio where Cricket and Geppetto have a heartfelt talk in the ruins of the carnival and decide to go after PInocchio. When Guillermo was directing me he would talk about the thought processes of Geppetto as he’s listening to Cricket speak. The challenge became about how to effectively portray a character “listening”. This was difficult but I think we got that scene to a very good place and I’m proud of my contribution. There’s also the “Ghost Prison” sequence in Coraline, when the Other Mother locks Coraline away and she meets the ghost children. Looking back although there are a few rough parts in the movement, I feel like I did a good job of keeping that sequence within the realms of realistic acting and an other worldly feeling.
One of the things that many people say about art is that it really becomes something immortal – generations will pass, people will live and die, however, our productions continued here. As a filmmaker, what do you believe is your greatest legacy to the world?
I would hope that I still have that’s ahead of me. I’m proud of the small part I have had in the films and shows I’ve worked on. It’s nice to know that all the artists work on those projects will continue to inspire the next generation just as the films I saw as a child inspired me to learn how to make films.