A stop-start affair

A self-described "total novice" in stop-motion animation, Wes Anderson severely tested the patience of his crew of stop-motion top guns by forgoing many of the most modern animation methods and innovations in the genre to give his family thriller Fantastic Mr Fox what he calls a more "rudimentary" feel.

But even while exasperating his underlings - "He has made our lives miserable," director of animation Mark Gustafson said on the movie's London set - Anderson's aesthetic mandate had an unexpected upshot.

The indie auteur was able to cram almost every scene with a staggering number of in-jokes, self-referential flourishes and visual nods to his other movies.

Stuff that will tickle his hard-core fans.

Reached by phone in Paris shortly after production wrapped, Anderson defended the insular flourishes as a simple choice of preference rather than some kind of ego trip.

"I wasn't thinking of anything self-referential," he said. "This is the kind of thing I like. So it ends up being self-referential."

Take the distinctive, rust-coloured, wide-wale corduroy suit that master poultry thief Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) wears throughout the film.

Anderson got the material from his tailor and personally saw to such touches as the stitching, buttons and trouser length.

"His attention to detail is amazing," said Andy Gent, the movie's models supervisor, amid the bustle of the film's "puppet hospital", where the animated characters (most of which were about 40cm tall) were built and repaired.

"The cut of the costumes, he lavished time looking through and approving them."

If those blue pyjamas worn by Mr Fox's nephew Kristofferson (the voice of Anderson's brother, Eric) look at all familiar, you've probably seen the director's picaresque 2007 road movie The Darjeeling Limited.

In that film, Adrien Brody can be seen sporting an identical outfit.

For the movie's director of photography, Tristan Oliver, Anderson's dizzying attention to detail and impulse to infuse Mr Fox with personal touches weren't an issue.

But Oliver, a veteran of such films as Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run with stop-motion whizz Nick Park, took exception with Anderson's unorthodox choice to direct most of Mr Fox via email from his apartment in Paris.

"I've done two features with Nick Park. He is as picky. But he's always on the studio floor. So that level of pickiness never became an irritation," Oliver said in London.

"That's part of the working day. Whereas here, you'll try to get something right. It'll go back. It'll be wrong. The feedback is blind, essentially."

Anderson and Oliver later smoothed over their differences.

And the director has no regrets about his first, highly personal stab at stop-motion animation.

"There's been so much labour that went into getting this just right," Anderson said.

"I'm not saying it was a walk in the park. But once we figured out how to go about it, we got it done."

- Chris Lee of the LA Times-Washington Post.

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