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Stop-Motion Animation ‘Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas’ Gets Helping Hand From Screen Novelties

Screen Novelties founders left to right Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh, Chris Finnegan

Screen Novelties founders left to right: Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh, and Chris Finnegan.

Stop-motion animation specialists Screen Novelties, have produced and directed the upcoming, one-hour NBC TV special Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, on behalf of the company’s client Warner Bros. Animation. The new special marks the biggest project in the 11-year history of Screen Novelties.

The show will air on NBC on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. An irreverent mashup of the beloved feature film Elf and the hit Broadway show Elf: The Musical, the special will star the voice talents of four-time Emmy Award winner Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) as Buddy. Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas combines the humor and spirit of both the beloved 2003 holiday film, which drew glowing reviews and earned $173 million at the domestic box office, along with the hit Broadway production. The special is an all-new retelling of Buddy’s delightfully absurd, yet heartwarming story, and blends the look and feel of the classic stop-motion animated Christmas TV specials of yesteryear with the sharp sensibility of the modern-day classic holiday film.

Based on a script penned by Warner Bros. Animation in early 2014, Screen Novelties co-founders Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh and Chris Finnegan set to work designing the cartoonish world of Buddy, including characters, sets and props. The design team included Craig Kellman (characters,) Dan Krall (visual development,) Kyle Arneson (3D environments,) and Rob Ronning & Robin Walsh (characters fabricators.) In March, the company broke down the script, created story boards and planned the animation, and from April to June, built the puppets and sets that would be featured within Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas.

The Screen Novelties team, comprised of up to 50 crew members at its peak, shot the show frame-by-frame over the course of four months (July – October,) producing a handmade, miniature world. Multiple exact copies of each puppet were created to allow concurrent shooting on multiple environments and stages.

“This was a very intense and amazing project for us, as we had a very talented crew working very hard to make this project look its very best,” Caballero said. “But we also had a great deal of fun here because it was such a lighthearted and absurd story. We enjoyed creating these stylized Elf characters, each with his or her own personal style, to help get the story across in a simple, whimsical way.”

Added Walsh, “When we are working with puppets, we, as animators, get to become the ‘actors’ ourselves. We are in control of the expressions, emotions and dynamism of the puppet characters as they perform in each scene of the show. We like to think that our approach to stop-motion animation is engaging and presents a lot of personality, spirit and heart. We’ve learned that you don’t need a zillion dollars to do something funny!”

“We’re a versatile shop that can handle a broad range of styles, whether it be for a TV show, commercial or feature film,” says Finnegan. “But we get most excited when people approach us for our ‘house style.’ We like to think we have a signature look and feel to our animation.”

Founded in Los Angeles in 2003, Screen Novelties was launched with the goal of bringing the whimsy and dynamism of classic TV cartoons into the realm of modern-day, stop-motion animation. The Echo Park studio is filled with fabric, feathers, foam and glitter, and is home to a talented group of freelance animators, sculptors, designers, photographers and digital artists.

December 15, 2014