ParaNorman, a stop-motion feature film from animation studio Laika about a strange kid that makes friends with the undead, is far from normal. A painstakingly crafted film rich in exquisite handmade detail, the story revolves around Norman, who through his ability to communicate with ghosts and zombies saves his town from certain peril. It’s a celebration of life’s introverts, oddballs and outcasts that eventually become the heroes, and a world where, as the marketing line for the film declares, weird wins.
With an overarching storyline praising and encouraging weirdness (or at least not succumbing to the predictable banality of jockdom), it’s fitting that the marketing campaign in support of ParaNorman is not exactly conventional. Spearheaded by agency Wieden + Kennedy Portland, the campaign celebrates weird through a variety of channels such as Paranorman.com, a rich story world intended to highlight the craft of the film that includes an excellent Stop-Motion Zombie Lab; an Instagram feed that features making-of images; the Weird Wins Tumblr page that includes detailed behind-the-scenes videos; and amazing zombie-filled coffins that were sent to influencers such as Neil Gaiman, Felicia Day, Kevin Smith and Jonathan Coulton, (a similar tactic was used for Laika’s previous film Coraline to gain the support of key tastemakers).
The most significant part of the campaign is 2-Bit Bub, an iOS game that brings to the fore one of the film’s secondary characters—a cute little bisected ghost-dog named Bub. A combination of a puzzle game, an action game and Angry Birds, the object of the game is to fling Bub’s ectoplasmic body into the air to catch a hovering zombie bone, using a series of orbs as a sort of floating ladder. As levels progress, the properties of the orbs change and the sequences become increasingly challenging.
The game is unique in many respects. The background graphics are meticulously crafted sets from the film that were photographed and then rendered in 3-D, adding a perception of depth that’s uncommon to a mobile game. The robustness of the game play, which includes 30 levels set over 10 film-based locations, is far greater than the norm for a movie-related game. And the particular combination of known game mechanics—from the spring-loaded release function, to using the accelerometer for lateral movement, and complicated puzzle pattern—make 2-Bit Bub exceedingly addictive.
"Most movie games find a popular game that already exists and re-skin a world or a few levels, or they’ll find a game engine that’s already out there and just apply their main characters and main plot to it. We wanted to come at it from a different place and build something from scratch," says Jeff Gillette, Creative Director at W+K Portland. "We thought it would be amazing to build a game around a minor character because everyone does it the other way and we wanted to do something that was fresh for the gaming community and for movie marketing. Using one of the minor characters helps highlight how rich this world is that Laika created. Even this one little tiny character that’s on screen for maybe a minute or two, has enough behind it to hold up and entire game."
For veteran game developer Graeme Devine, game designer/developer, GRL Games, the richness of the ParaNorman story world made 2-Bit Bub a creatively alluring project. "I’ve been making games for 34 years and most of the games I work on are things like Halo or Quake 3 or Age of Empires. So when someone approaches me and wants to make a game like this, it’s always an interesting process for me. I’m not looking to make something that is just a marketing fluff app that you can download and is full of pop-ups. I want to make a fantastic game in a fantastic universe," says Devine. "When I went to Laika and started moving around these sets and looking at the detail… Oh my god, the detail. It hits you in the head that you have to get this into the game. This sticks out like a bright light of fun that you want to get involved with." Devine says he and his team worked closely with Laika when rendering the sets into 3-D and when animating the tenacious little pup, Bud.
In addition to integrating the film’s beautiful sets and highlighting a sub-character, the game was able to highlight a series of incredible posters that become part of ParaNorman’s mise en scene but warrant center-stage attention. When players achieve three stars on a level, a stylized zombie poster is unlocked. Says Gillette: "The posters that hang on Norman’s wall are just so beautiful but they’re on screen for such a fleeting time, so we thought this game could highlight a lot of that stuff. We wanted each world to be this immersive experience that showcases the fine detail and craft. I think this is one of the only games out there that’s not cartoon based and uses real-world assets in this way."
Given the scale of the game development for 2-Bit Bub, which Devine says is the most detailed and best looking iOS game he’s ever worked on, it’s not surprising that as an agency, Wieden + Kennedy is excited by what this project represents for their business. Interactive creative director Dan Hon says that games are "an important and interesting evolution in terms of how we’re moving forward as an agency."
If the creative risk of creating a comprehensive iOS game as part of a movie marketing campaign pays off—which is likely given the highly entertaining nature of the game—Wieden + Kennedy, Laika and Devine will have lived up to the promise of the film, as summed up by one of the tag lines: "You don’t become a hero by being normal."
See early sketches and other images from the game in the slide show above.