Writer Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson on the set of Anomalisa.

Writer Charlie Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson on the set of Anomalisa.

Beginning life as a sound play in 2005, as part of composer Carter Burwell’s ‘Theatre of the New Ear’ project, the script for Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa found its way to Starburns Industries, the animation studio behind ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole’, ‘Rick and Morty’ and the stop-motion special for NBC’s ‘Community’. Starburns’ director Duke Johnson was then chosen to bring Anomalisa to life as an animated feature for the big screen.

Master animator Duke Johnson makes another minuscule adjustment to protagonist Michael Stone.

Master animator Duke Johnson makes another minuscule adjustment to protagonist Michael Stone.

Kaufman and Johnson, together with producer Rosa Tran, set about creating the unique atmosphere of the film. “We wanted the bodies to seem real,” says Kaufman, “the puppets are tiny and required very precise movements with pins on the part of the animators to bring life to the eyes. Our goal was to make the characters feel soulful and expressive.” 

A crew member adjusts the angle of Michael's eyes. NB: No puppets were harmed in the making of this film. 

A crew member adjusts the angle of Michael's eyes. NB: No puppets were harmed in the making of this film. 

The filmmakers deliberately left the seams on the faces of Michael, Lisa and other characters to set the animation apart from typical stop-motion fare, in which two separate face plates on a character — the forehead and the lower face — are often painted out digitally to create a more polished, anthropomorphic look. Kaufman and Johnson preferred a warts-and-all approach, in keeping with Michael Stone’s existential predicament. “When you’re looking at big-budget animated movies that do this, the puppets are finessed in post-production to the point that they are interchangeable visually with computer generated characters,” Kaufman states. “It’s very hard to tell the difference. We didn’t want to fight against the materials we were using. Symbolically and metaphorically, this creative decision played into what we were trying to do and say in the movie, so we opted to keep the seams intact.”

One of Michael's lower face plates gets a final touch-up before shooting.

One of Michael's lower face plates gets a final touch-up before shooting.

On screen, Anomalisa fits in seamlessly alongside Kaufman’s signature works; modern classics featuring hapless but wholly unforgettable protagonists enduring a dark night of the soul under surreal, bleakly comic circumstances. Anomalisa addresses typically Kaufmanesque themes of isolation, loneliness, melancholy, depression and the search for connection — or “a sort of hope for connection,” as Kaufman puts it.

A taxi in the world of Anomalisa, in which every character and prop was recreated at 1/6 of its real-life size. 

A taxi in the world of Anomalisa, in which every character and prop was recreated at 1/6 of its real-life size. 

Following its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in 2015, Anomalisa has gone on to receive unanimous critical acclaim, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival 2015, as well as Best Animation nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globes.

A wide-angle shot of the Anomalisa set. 

A wide-angle shot of the Anomalisa set. 

To see more about the making of Anomalisa check out the following behind-the-scenes featurette.

Anomalisa is released in cinemas nationwide from 11 March. Find where it's playing and book your tickets here.