Why the ‘Marcel the Shell With Shoes On’ Director Had to Prove to the Academy His Film Is Actually Animated

TheWrap magazine: To qualify for Oscar consideration, Dean Fleischer Camp says, he and his team had to explain how they made their whimsical movie

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

This story about “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap awards magazine.

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” is a big part of the conversation around the best animated movies of 2022, with its heartwarming story about following your dreams, led by an adorable lead character: a tiny, stop-motion shell in tennis shoes voiced by Jenny Slate. But its eligibility in the Oscars’ animated feature category was in question until the filmmakers provided documentation on how the film was made. “We always thought it was an animated film,” director Dean Fleischer Camp said. “If anything, I wish people knew the process by which we made this. And they would realize that so much more of it is animated than they realize.”

Nowhere is this clearer, Camp said, than a scene towards the end of the movie. Marcel has been reunited with his family — plus a whole bunch of other weirdos, including a peanut with eyes, some kind of ghost and at least one character who seems to just be a tampon. They’re hanging out on and around a human-sized couch, where some are bouncing on the cushions and others are skating on a thin layer of dust on the nearby coffee table. It’s a joyous eruption of familial chaos, and it was painstakingly animated to feel that loose.

“The shot is a perfect example of just how much of the film is stop-motion animated,” Camp said. “Sometimes I’m frustrated when people say, ‘Well, that’s just a live-action movie with one stop-motion character in it.’ The truth is, the illusion is that Marcel is the only thing that is stop-motion. But really, all of the animators and all of our artists on the film are doing a bit of a two-step that makes it look that way. All the real-world physics and props and natural elements are stop-motion animated to perfectly mimic real life.”

The scene was animated by a single animator over the course of a week, which Camp admitted is unusual, considering the complexity of the shot and the fact that 200 characters are in it. Utilizing a motion-control rig just like the one used in the original “Star Wars,” the shot was accomplished in three passes, starting with a live-action plate shot. But because everything the characters interact with has to be meticulously moved in stop-motion as well, the real couch was, Camp said, “gutted entirely and then re-stuffed to look exactly like a real couch with a clay material that will actually hold its shape.” The couch was then loaded with levers and pistons to simulate the impact when the characters (who are largely weightless) jump up and down.

The techniques used in that shot were repeated during the entire process of making “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” “That’s the case with any object that Marcel interacts with or anything that we wanted to add to the live-action shoot, including wind blowing some trees or a leaf blowing by,” Camp said. “All of that has to be made of a material that is animatable.”

Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.

Claire Foy Wrap magazine cover
Photo by Corina Marie for TheWrap