Human at the Seams: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson Make Yearning Tangible in Anomalisa

Hiding any visible trace of the artifice of moviemaking is one of the craft’s greatest priorities: “Don’t show them how the magic is created because it would break the spell.”

We tend to favor images that seamlessly connect the real world with the world of the story at hand. But when the opposite approach is taken in a certain manner, the reminder that what’s on screen is artificial sometimes ends up imbuing the artwork with even more profoundly real, human qualities.

In Anomalisa, a delicately melancholic observation on loneliness and the flawed human condition, acclaimed writer-director Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson use stop-motion animation to tell a story of small proportions and big ideas. These ideas include our fears, failures, insecurities and our desperate need to be loved by someone who can look pass our conspicuous scars.

Kaufman and Johnson let the seams that bind the moving parts of their elegantly designed puppets become the visual identity of the film, a unique way of breaking the fourth wall. The manmade quality of their characters doesn’t diminish in the slightest the emotional impact of their foibles. Instead, their seams make Michael (David Thewlis), a respected customer-service expert and author, and Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a self-conscious sales representative, the protagonists of this animated marvel, just what they should be: imperfect, isolated creatures trying to belong.

We chatted with Kaufman and Johnson (who previously directed episodes of Community and the Adult Swim series Moral Orel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole) about bringing the story ofAnomalisa from its radio play iteration into stop-motion for this incredibly moving adult-oriented animated feature.

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): I understand Anomalisa was first a radio play [in 2005, as a component of composer Carter Burwell‘s Theater of a New Ear project]. How difficult was it to translate it into the very specific medium of animation?

Charlie Kaufman (CK): The play was kind of a radio play. It was on stage, but it was a radio play, so it was designed for there to be a disconnect between what you heard the actors doing on stage and what you saw—which was nothing, just them sitting there. That was the design of the piece and there were a lot of jokes that were part of that disconnect and that had to go away. I didn’t know what it would be without that. I liked that about it. That was what I wrote it to be.

The difficulty came in saying goodbye to that and then figuring out what it was in a visual form. It was just a matter of a lot of discussions between the two of us, and production design people, and the sculptor sculpting the characters. A lot of it was informed by the voice recording that we did with the actors, which is the first thing we did. The tape was really helpful to us in deciding the tone and deciding what the characters would look like…

Read the rest of this article from Moviemaker Magazine.