How the makers of ‘Cryptozoo’ kept their personal lives separate from the professional [SUNDANCE STUDIO]

When director Dash Shaw and animation director Jane Samborski sat down years ago to start mapping out what would become the new film “Cryptozoo” they knew almost immediately their process needed to change. After working together on “My Entire High School Is Sinking Into the Sea” using sheets of paper to organize the acclaimed animated feature, the married couple found the same tactics untenable for their expansive new project.

“It was catastrophic,” Samborski tells Gold Derby. “There were Post-Its everywhere. So we stopped production and took a step back and built out a spreadsheet. Most of our creative interaction happened mediated by this wonderful spreadsheet.”

As Shaw explains, that allowed him to pass along notes to Samborski without having to “directly complain” to his partner. 

“I think we should move into this for all areas,” he jokes.

“It’s a marriage lifehack,” Samborski says.

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Set in the 1960s, “Cryptozoo” is a gorgeous animated film focused on mythical creatures and the cryptozookeepers who being to question whether or not the monsters should be locked up in the first place. Shaw was inspired by the early work of Winsor McCay as well as Samborski’s love of “Dungeons & Dragons,” which she played weekly with a group of like-minded fans in their Brooklyn apartment.

Once the idea locked into place, then came the casting. Among the stars whose voices appear in the film are Lake Bell, Louisa Krause, Grace Zabriskie, and Michael Cera. Shaw waited until the actors had signed on to draw their characters and even filmed the stars performing their dialogue to best capture their work. 

“I feel lucky to be thought of by you guys. It was really fun, to be honest,” Krause says. “The first time I went in was with my scene partner, Michael Cera. We had to wear bodysuits. I come from a dance background, so I have my own unitard. But he had to get in a body sock.”

“It was so cool to work in that way in an animated movie,” she adds. “Dash is so interested in performances that are rooted in reality.”

“There’s no part of this experience that has been normal,” says Bell. “The fact that it is unusual is one of the biggest selling points from an actors’ point of view. I really enjoyed having blind faith and trust in Dash. I really liked that he was so staunchly committed to this very fantastical esoteric world I knew nothing about. Jumping in without any self-consciousness and going on a ride with this unbridled tory of fantasy, it was quite exhilarating.”

“Cryptozoo” debuts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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