performance art

Production Designer Liz Toonkel Describes Creating the Adorable Universe Behind the New ‘Marcel the Shell with Shoes On’

A tiny mollusk with a big personality, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On captivated audiences more than a decade ago with his quirky antics and endlessly entertaining use of human-sized objects. The adorable character returned this summer for a feature-length mockumentary from A24—director Dean Fleischer-Camp and actress Jenny Slate were behind the project once again—that visits the protagonist and his grandmother, Connie, at their home within an Airbnb. Behind the elaborately constructed settings is production designer Liz Toonkel, whose brilliant world-building is an essential component of the film’s most realistic and endearing qualities.

Colossal editor-in-chief Christopher Jobson recently sat down with Toonkel to discuss building a realistic micro world within a life-sized house, the challenges of blending live-action with stop-motion animation, and why the tennis ball scenes are as impressive as the internet thinks.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. All images courtesy of A24, shared with permission

Christopher: What does a production designer do? I imagine this was a different project than being a production designer for a live-action movie. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that?

Liz:  Sure. A production designer, it’s a hard thing for people to understand. The way that I try to describe it to people is that basically everything that’s in front of the camera that isn’t the actor or what they’re wearing, we’re responsible for. Disneyland is a good example because when you walk into Disneyland, you’re immediately transported into a new space. My job as a production designer is to completely create a full world for you to be immersed in and also for the actors to be immersed in. I think of a production designer as a world builder.

In terms of applying that to Marcel, it was an exciting challenge because not only

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  • August 22, 2022