How ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes’, the Cutest Movie of the Year, Was Made

Look carefully at the intricacies of Marcel the shod shell and try to figure out how the movie makes it all work. It’s stop-motion animation, yes, but how is Marcel (Jenny Slate), our brave little protagonist, able to roll himself entirely in a tennis ball? It’s impossible to understand. Watching marcel feels like watching magic.

In this case, it is because the film employed a literal magician to direct production design. This is Liz Toonkel, the production designer behind Marcel the shellwhich orchestrated all the ways the little mollusk was able to jump, tumble, and wiggle its way through a variety of miniature spaces in the film.

“I had to bring a lot of my magic techniques to this,” Toonkel told The Daily Beast on a zoom from his studio. “Every time the blinds go up and down or Marcel jumps on a spoon and throws a berry, we had to make it really happen without anyone. It’s just another fun thing to think about when watching the movie.

Picking up where the viral YouTube video of 2010 left off, the new version of A24 expands Marcel’s universe into an entire Airbnb. So, really, there are two worlds: the impersonal guest house and the small, intimate and tailor-made house that Marcel has built with his family.

But his family is long gone and Marcel only stayed with his weakling Nana Connie (Isabella Rossellini) after the traumatic separation. When new guest Dean arrives (played by director Dean Fleischer-Camp), Marcel is delighted to show him around the many rooms, gardens and treehouses of his habitat.

Fleischer-Camp and Toonkel must have been extremely meticulous in creating these rooms, whether it’s Marcel’s bread room, in which two slices of white bread make a mattress and duvet, or the toiletry bag female make-up by Nana Connie. After all, seashells do not have extensive knowledge or ability when it comes to interior design.

“Everything has to be done with your teeth or with your feet,” says Toonkel, a crucial reminder that seashells don’t have hands. As a title, With shoes, suggests, feet have meaning. “We thought a lot about that, in terms of what they might actually have and how they would have done it. It was an extremely important part of the design process.

Early in production, Toonkel struggled to find a way to decorate Marcel and Connie’s walls. They couldn’t have smaller versions of classic artwork – those just don’t exist in the real world. No Monet footprints water lilies for Marcel. Instead, Toonkel landed a postage stamp for Connie and a baseball card for little Marcel as room decor.

“These have to be things that make sense on his scale, but are true in our world,” she explains. “It was really important to Dean – and to me – that everything in Marcel’s world was real. He didn’t exist just to be twee or cute.

Toonkel’s background in theater design helped her, her experience building small versions of larger set models helping her as she sourced tiny items for Marcel’s home. Her favorite room to create was Nana Connie’s blush-toned bedroom. Although it took forever to find the perfect pink stuffed animal for Connie’s bed, the end result was worth it.

“It was very close to both of my grandmothers,” Toonkel says. “A big part of how I maintain my connection to them is through their stuff, especially jewelry. There was something that I found really special about her embodying that kind of space.

This attention to detail – even the exact fabric to use as Nana Connie’s sheet on her puff bed required long debates – makes marcelThe world seems so real and relatable, fantastic as it can be.

“It was really important to Dean to preserve any natural progression of this space — all the cobwebs, all the dust,” Toonkel explains. “When we had someone come in to prep the house for filming, we were like, ‘Don’t clean up the cobwebs! Anything we normally get rid of, keep it! That’s what we There was a lot of tape in some places, like: Don’t touch that thing.

Even the seemingly simple design elements created creative headaches. The trickiest aspect of the production was the sofa. “Which you won’t even notice!” Toonkel teases. But Fleischer-Camp noticed, in six different canapes, that the cushions were too firm. “The shells are supposed to be able to bounce off that. It should feel old and worn, and have grooves,” says Toonkel.

The fix? No cushions at all. To this day, the film’s director doesn’t know what was actually inside the final sofa – what type of upholstery was used – but it was the sofa he approved of. “If he somehow reads this, now he’ll know what we did,” Toonkel jokes.

Then there’s the case of that tennis ball, which Marcel uses like a “rover” to ferry his little self around the sprawling house. Before I manage to ask, Toonkel informs me that behind the couch, the rover was the second most difficult creation to build. The first tennis ball robot (Did anyone else know these existed?) was too slow, so they built the zoom from scratch.

“Ultimately, we had to get a pre-existing ball robot, and I had my friend, who’s a prop maker, literally cover it up and turn it into a tennis ball,” she says. . “That tennis ball you see on camera is not a real tennis ball. It’s totally handmade to look like one.

Although the trick behind the tennis ball has been revealed, there are still so many illusions marcel which remain unresolved. How did Marcel jump on the spoon to throw this berry, for example? A magician never – well, only sometimes – reveals his tricks.

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