Connection of the script and the stop-motion technique in “Anomalisa”

Connection of the script and the stop-motion technique in “Anomalisa”

Autor: Faidra Derizioti. Student of the “Master in Stop Motion Animation”(2016/17)
Anomalisa, 2015
Directors: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson
Writer: Charlie Kaufman (play) as Francis Fregoli
Producers: Rosa Tran, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman, Dino Stamatopoulos
Actors (voices): David Thewlis (Michael Stone), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Lisa Hesselman), Tom Noonan (All the others characters)

Michael, the protagonist of the film, who is a famous self help “guru”, teaches the sellers how to improve their communication skills, to do better in interpersonal relations. Though, he cannot help himself. The film begins with the arrival of Michael to “Cin Cin City” in which he is going to give a lecture. For Michael everything is melancholic, the people that communicates with, are all the same, from his wife, the old mistress to the receptionist of the hotel where he stays in order to give the lecture, they all have the same faces, all sound the same. The voice is the same in every person in his life male or female. Michael looks depressed, at times angry and unhappy. But in this hotel quite unexpected he meets Lisa. Lisa, is a simple girl who has come to attend the lecture. She is not so smart, she’s kind of naive and shy, her educational level is rather low. Nonetheless to Michael sounds different, her face is unique, she is warm and accessible. For Michael, Lisa is like a light to his darkness a hope to live again, to find happiness it’s his chance to escape from his misery. Lisa is an anomaly in what Michael is accustomed to be seeing around him. It is his “Anomalisa”. But all that is doomed to fail, because Michael just project in her, his desire. The whole film of Anomalisa is like a visual projection of the mental state of Michael. Maybe because this situation it couldn’t be real although it’s rather believable. “We wanted the story to be told in a subtle and naturalist way in keeping with the script and also the [voice] performances,” says Kaufman of the approach. “We didn’t want the characters to look cartoony.”*1

“We wanted to take the medium of stop-motion animation into realms that we hadn’t seen it go before,” Mr. Johnson said, “more adult-themed, emotionally authentic, nuanced material.” Made those seams part of the aesthetic of the characters, to reflect their fragile, somewhat broken state.*2
“We didn’t want to hide the fact that it’s stop-motion,” Mr. Kaufman said. “We didn’t want to paint out the thing that it was. When the animators touch the clothing to move it, you can sometimes see clothing moving. It’s often cleaned up in post, but we wanted that feeling of the unseen presence of the animators.”*3

Michael, No Film school, pic.01
Michael, No Film school, pic.01

We could say that the hotel is a visual representation of Michael’s mind and his inner psyche. Through the stop-motion technique, there is a self-referential in relation to the scenario. Especially in the way the material itself is linked with the soul that is expressed through the story. Michael, whatever he experiences internally, he sees it unfolding in interaction with the external world. Michael seems to be trapped in a constructed face which at any moment can be dissolved. Technically, the head of the puppet is divided in two removable pieces which are replaced depending which is the expression that the animator wants to give. Because of that, the viewer can easily see the seams
The between the parts which could have been erased by VFX. But the filmmakers chose to keep the seams between the face parts.”The option typically is to erase them in VFX, but that was counterintuitive to what we were trying to do with this piece, which was to be honest with the material we were working with,” says Kaufman. “We liked the quality — a fragileness and broken quality; we felt like it related to the themes that were in the story.”*4

Michael and Lisa, Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, NY, Photo by Georgiana Filippaki pic. 02
Michael and Lisa, Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, NY, Photo by Georgiana Filippaki pic. 02

The movement in the technique of stop-motion is determinative in the story of the film. Gives the freedom and the ability to the animator to ascribe the exact movement or gesture that he wants through the puppet. The creator has a high control of everything. But at the same time there is a factor of randomness, of coincidence which creates the magic. That gap between the frames is what creates the movement and this cannot be controlled, just oriented. The medium itself seems to become independent, being beyond control. Also the slightly movement in puppets or in animated objects, the blink of eye, a little movement of the figures appears to be more intense to the audience eye than the gestures and the movement of an actor. This probably happens because, in some way we are used to and familiar with the human gestures and movements, and we are desensitized in recognize the meanings of the signs. Moreover the contrast of a non alive puppet in movement creates an even more intense feeling.

Speech of Michael, New York Times, pic.03
Speech of Michael, New York Times, pic.03

In the last part of the movie and after Lisa become as all the others to his eyes, with the same voice and face, he gives his lecture. In this lecture as he is giving his advices to the audiences, he is starting to realize that he doesn’t believe a word of that he is saying. He understands that he doesn’t know a thing about life and he is rather opposed to what he is saying. He is like lying to himself. At some point in his speech mentions that the sellers should focus on the particularities of each individual. But himself isn’t able see any particularity. The elements that are unique and make every person special: the voice and the characteristics of the face, for him are exactly the same to every person. Finally he ends up to the most crucial requisitions of his life: “What is means to be human? What is it to ache? What is to be alive? –I don’t know”. He really wants to cry and he is trying but he can’t, if he could, he would be alive he would be able to escape of his nightmare, he would be relieved. But he is a puppet, do the puppets cry? And he continues: “Our time is limited we forget that,
death comes, that’s it, soon it’s as if we never existed.” In this point we could make a relation between the puppets and the humans. As in human beings the time is limited and it’s like they never existed, in a way, it’s the same in puppets too, they came to life and they will fade away in some point. The interesting thing is that these words come out of a puppet. In my opinion, Kaufman and Johnson putting an issue through Michael character. Michael projects his inner state, his dream, his desire, his hope of happiness to Lisa and makes her special and at that point of time his totally believe it. He makes his own reality. But this doesn’t last. On the other hand stop-motion itself is an “illusion” which seems to be alive. It’s a constructed reality of persons who wants to express his owns inner worlds. In Michael’s mind there is a conflict of the reality: the outside world and the imaginary, dreamy: internal word and how he projected his inner world to others (Lisa) and how eventually changes them.

New York Times:

The Hollywood Reporter:

The Hollywood Reporter:

External links

The New York Times

The Guardian

Filmmaker Magazine

Anomalisa, Stop-Motion Animation and How 3D Printers are Changing Filmmaking

DP/30: The Oral History Of Hollywood, ‘DP/30: Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Wikipedia: Fregoli Delusion



No Film School (picture 01)
Photo by Georgiana Filippaki Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, NY, 2016 (pictures 02)
New York Times (pictures 03)


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By Daniele Zedda • 18 February


By Daniele Zedda • 18 February

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