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The Boxtrolls directors

Sheridan alumnus, Graham Annable, makes directorial debut with The Boxtrolls

September 15, 2014

For Graham Annable, the transition from storyboard artist on LAIKA’s s previous films, Coraline and ParaNorman, to directing (along with Anthony Stacchi) The Boxtrolls, was quite a leap:  “It was like being really good at making paper airplanes, and then suddenly finding yourself at the controls of a Boeing 747,” says the Sheridan alumnus.

The Boxtrolls, which opens in theatres on September 26, tells the story of a community of oddball characters who live beneath the streets of Cheesebridge.  Their survival is threatened by the evil Snatcher (voiced by Sir Ben Kingsley), who has hatched a plot to exterminate them.  Eggs, an orphaned boy raised by the Boxtrolls in their subterranean world, ventures aboveground to attempt to foil Snatcher’s plot.

The Boxtrolls 

Above: The Boxtrolls - Credit: LAIKA, Inc. / Focus Features (Top Right: Directors Anthony Stacchi (L) and Graham Annable (R) )

Annable, a Sault Ste. Marie native, graduated from Sheridan’s classical animation program in 1991, and worked at LucasArts as an animator for 10 years.  He went on to work as creative director at Telltale Games before joining  LAIKA  as a storyboard artist in 2006.  Annable is also known for his Grickle comics and videos.

Originally, Annable was tapped to be head of story on The Boxtrolls, but that morphed into sharing the director duties alongside Anthony  Stacchi.  The film, which he describes as “a labour of love”, was in development for several years after LAIKA acquired Alan Snow’s book Here Be Monsters, on which the movie is based.  That’s not surprising, given the incredibly laborious process involved in making a stop motion animated feature with CG effects.  “What we do is a pretty complex thing,” says Annable.  “Stop motion, especially with the addition of CG effects, is not like other forms of animation.  You’re basically doing a live action shoot in slow motion, and you get one chance to nail the shot.”

In taking on co-director responsibilities, Annable notes that “the biggest challenge was that I’ve spent most of my life solving things visually, through drawings and sketches.  I learned pretty quickly that in the director’s role I’d have to be a much more effective communicator to the crew.”

The complexity of stop motion filmmaking was also a revelation for Annable.  “I used to joke that all the crew needed to do was take our storyboards and go make the movie,” says Annable.  “But it’s a staggeringly challenging art form - and so rewarding at the same time.”

The Boxtrolls 

Characters Winnie and Eggs from The Boxtrolls - Credit: LAIKA, Inc. / Focus Features

Annable points to the rapid prototyping process that LAIKA has innovated as one indication of the studio’s  progress.   “Coraline had about 200,000 possible facial expressions, while Eggs, our hero, has about 1.4 million.”

For Annable, LAIKA  has proved to be a perfect fit.  “LAIKA  is a very special place for artists,” he says.  “They’re committed to the art of stop motion animation through the use of old school, handcrafted artistry and cutting-edge technology.”

The Boxtrolls, which has already received rave reviews in European markets, has its North American premiere on September 26, 2014.

The Boxtrolls

Eggs from The Boxtrolls - Credit: LAIKA, Inc. / Focus Features