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Into the foxhole with 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

It pays to be patient.

December 09, 2009

Although the stop-motion technique Wes Anderson employs for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is considered animation, producer Allison Abbate says the painstaking process has a lot more in common with live action than some might think.

"Because it's real space, real light, real textures, it brings you into the world more," Abbate explains. "It looks familiar and like something that you've seen in your life, yet it's much smaller."

Abbate, who has also worked on projects with Tim Burton and Brad Bird, says that longtime stop-motion fan Anderson was drawn to the artistry of the process.

"Stop-motion appeals to people who are visionaries because it is about creating every element of the mise-en-scène," she says. "Every single thing that is in the film has to be designed and created in a way that is very tangible."

In other words, it requires the attention to detail for which Anderson is known.

His meticulous production design and quirky, stylized characters are incorporated fully into this story about a suit-clad fox, voiced by George Clooney, who has left behind his chicken-stealing ways in favor of being a columnist. When he decides to make one last big heist, he throws his family and friends -- voiced by Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, among others -- into jeopardy.

In addition to consulting his tailor to find the precise type of corduroy in which to dress Mr. Fox, Anderson recorded most of the actors together on a farm in Connecticut in multiple outdoor locations.

"There needs to be a uniformity and a consistency to the performances," Abbate says. "With actors of this caliber giving us these [strong] performances, the characters were honed right at the start."

While Abbate concedes that working in animation is "physically grueling," she says the biggest challenge in working with a director accustomed to live-action was explaining the change in pace.

"There's so much adrenaline in live action; animation is very much a slow burn. But for people who are good at live action, it's just a different way of being tired," she says with a laugh.

-- Christy Grosz

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