Marcel The Shell With Shoes On began in 2010 as a series of stop-motion shorts written and directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp and actor Jenny Slate, who also does the voice of Marcel. It’s a “documentary” about Marcel, who’s a hermit crab shell with one googly eye and doll shoes. What makes both the shorts and the film so charming is hearing Marcel’s funny, optimistic witticisms and seeing how he uses real full-sized human objects in his miniature life, such as a piece of lint on a thread as a pet, using a spoon to catapult onto shelves, and putting honey on his shoes to walk up a wall. For the full length film, Fleischer-Camp, Slate and screenwriter Nick Paley expanded the story to include Marcel’s grandmother Connie. The two live in the house alone, but they used to be part of a whole shell community. With the help of Dean, Marcel’s documentarian, Marcel goes on a quest to find the rest of his family and friends.
As a live-action and stop-motion movie, Marcel The Shell was extremely complicated to shoot. DP Bianca Cline, who has a documentary background, shot the principal photography on location so that cinematographer Eric Adkins, an experienced stop-motion DP, could use her footage as background plates for the stop-motion. Then, all of the stop-motion portions and live action portions were composited together into a seamless film. Eric was on set and took extensive notes, photos and measurements during the live action portion, since creating realistic, fool-the-eye stop-motion is extremely technical. All of Bianca’s documentary footage was edited and animatics created before Eric’s job as the stop-motion DP began, with puppeteers using interchangeable shell models of Marcel and Connie.
Bianca tried to approach the film as if Marcel was a real living character. Once she began shooting, the voices and music were already fully recorded and finished along with extensive storyboards, so it helped to have a clear blueprint. She could find the best locations within the house and use naturalistic lighting for each scene. An important part of the story is to emphasize that Marcel is very small in a big world. Bianca wanted him to always be placed next to things that made him look small, and she often used one of the Marcel models as a reference. The team took care to make everything look effortless, as if they just showed up with a camera. As with a real documentary, Bianca wanted it to seem slightly imperfect with handheld movement and a little bit of jolting motion once in awhile. They were constantly brainstorming and problem solving together with the production designer, VFX supervisor and animation director on set.
For Eric, the most complex scenes to replicate in stop-motion were the driving portions, shot with GoPros mounted inside the car, as Marcel gets driven around looking for his family. All the lighting in stop motion is strictly controlled on a set, so using flickering and moving light in scenes is rare. But complex problems just inspire Eric to find more creative solutions, and he enjoyed the challenge of making sure that the stop-motion shadows matched the movements of the real car.
Find Bianca Cline: https://www.biancaclinedp.com/
Find Eric Adkins: Instagram @eradop
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is currently playing in theaters and is proving to be another indie hit for A24.
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep176/
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