Packaging Designer, ANOMALISA LP
"It needs to pop up when it opens." That's it. That was the brief. No other notes, no other direction, no other suggestions. The assignment was to design record packaging for the soundtrack to writer/director Charlie Kaufman's (BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND) Oscar winning stop-motion animated film ANOMALISA. A-nom-a-lisa. I wasn't even sure if I was saying the title correctly. The film follows eleven-inch tall Michael Stone, a disillusioned customer service specialist on his latest book tour traversing the country at 36,000 feet in business class, frequenting one nondescript hotel room after another. Increasingly isolated he encounters identical non-individuals in the dreary lobbies and conference halls. Then he meets Lisa.
I quickly abandoned my initial thoughts about being able to do something funny with puppets. After listening to the music files, and reviewing the still shots that were included as part of the press package, it became very clear this was not your average animated movie. The puppets and some 2,000 interchangeable facial expressions were made using 3-D printing technology. Production had apparently taken over two years, with some days producing only a few seconds of footage. To say it was a serious and meticulously made film would be an understatement.
Deciding what to create for the pop-up was a challenge. I felt the ubiquitous stand-up cutouts that are often used in pop-up record sleeves wouldn't do the complexity and creativity present in the film justice. I began looking at making the actual vinyl record itself stand-up. Initially, a major concern was the record warping due to pressure from the folded pop-up parts when closed. The solution was to have equal pressure points on both sides. This is where the idea to have symmetrical hotel room structures came from, with the "headboards" providing the support and a slot for the record to be inserted and stand straight up in the middle.
I made a prototype at 7-inch and inserted a record. It stood up. Then I made a prototype at 12-inch and inserted a record, it swayed and pitched like a drunken pirate. When I finally realized the pressing was to be on 180gm vinyl - the heavy stuff - the resulting test fell flat on the table. It is not easy to get a nearly six ounce, 12-inch tall, flat disc to stand vertically upright on its side. After some more tinkering with help from the production crew at Mondo and the expertise of the printers, I think we got it to work pretty well.
Much of the main character Michaels' time is idly spent in hotel lobby bars as the sodden napkin design of the cover attests to. Opening the gatefold, the pop-up reveals identical hotel rooms differentiated only by the books on the bed. The banal and mundane nature of the rooms is contrasted by an expanse of sky above the beds, adding the surreal tone so often present in Kaufman's films. The sky also represents an escape from the confines of earth and the type of freedom that only dreams can provide. Despite the somber mood of the film there are some genuinely funny moments and the awkward, fumbling key-card scene is one everybody can relate to. In the context of the record design, the key-card styled inner sleeve doubles as a room divider or barrier and is an apt metaphor for the potent themes of loneliness, solitude and isolation present in the story.
The score itself is sophisticated, often subtle and interspersed with sounds and dialogue from the film. I understand its origins were as a piece to be enjoyed without visuals, but my hope is that whilst looking at the empty rooms and listening to the sounds on the record one could imagine the characters in these spaces.
The project, like a lot of Kaufman's films, was complex and challenging. Despite its innocuous starting point it turned out to be one of the more involved and complicated projects I've worked on, and whilst the end result isn't perfect, much like the characters in ANOMALISA, I think it's the imperfections that make it complete.
The ANOMALISA Original Motion Picture Soundtrack LP will be available Wednesday (8/16) at 12PM (CT) on mondotees.com. Get full release details here.