Henry Selick‘s new 3-D stop-motion masterpiece, Coraline, is coming to theaters this Friday, February 6th. For those of you who don’t know, Henry Selick was the Director for Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Many people think that Burton directed the film and although he started the idea and oversaw the entire project, it was actually Selick’s expertise that helped to make the cult classic.
Selick is now back with another stop frame animation adapted from Neil Gaiman‘s book “Coraline” and starring Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher. ScreenCrave was lucky enough to sit down and talk to Selick about his creative process, some of the issues that come up when making horror film from kids, and of course his much needed patience and dedication.
Check out the interview below…
One thing I’ve always wondered about with the style of stop motion animation is that what do yo do when the character is supposed to be in mid air, like if they’re jumping. I remember when Jack Skellington jumps through they air and now you have characters in this do it. In between frames, how do you do that?
Henry: Back then we used this stuff called spider wire, which was like the thinnest possible wire and it didn’t really photograph but now it’s simpler. We just use something that’s in the air, we use a little metal arm thats animatible itself, just called a rig it might be any number of things. We attach them to that and then it goes away and then it posts painted out. I want to do a midnight screening where all those rigs and all those face scenes in Coraline, cause we animated her upper face separate from her lower, where all that stuff is there cause it’s actually really cool to see.
Well, that can be on the DVD as an alternate version…
Henry: Yeah, they wouldn’t go for it on the first DVD release but maybe down the road.
I know you shoot a very small amount of material a day, what happens is someone suddenly accidentally bumps the set or you show up the next day and things are out of place, what do you do?
Henry: Usually the problem is that you don’t notice something shifted. The worst thing of all is sometimes these shots aren’t done in a day, there’s certain shots that take like a week even two weeks for a really long take and over the night there are things that contract and expand and so often, it’s almost subliminal things are all kind of shifting around. A certain amount of that I actually kind of like. It just sort of shows off the animating process. If it something as obvious as Coraline’s running and her ankle breaks, which happens, now that we’re shooting digital, we have the stored images, she goes back into the fabrication hospital and is given and ankle, comes back out and we can sort of flick between the stored image and live to running up again. Things go wrong everyday, all the time.
Does any new technology help in the process or are you still using all the same techniques as you always did?
Henry: Really at the heart, at the center of it, it’s actually exactly the same. It’s an animator whose a really fine actor and they’re a sculptor. They sort of re-sculpt, reshape the character in every frame. At the heart of it, it’s the exact same that has existed for over 80 years. But yes, things are easier cause in the old days, you’re shooting film, there was no digital capture, nobody got any sleep. “How does the shot look!?” Now that you capture digitally, your watching the shot as it grows and if you making a terrible mistake, you can play it back.
This looks like an amazing critical experience this film. Was there ever a point at which something really horrible happens and you thought you couldn’t make it work?
Henry: People ask, what was the hardest thing to do in the film. The biggest challenge was to get people to believe in making it. And every aspect of once we’re in production, nothing’s easy but it’s what we love to do. It’s myself and a lot of veterans I’ve worked with since before, Nightmare Before Christmas, sort of an international group as well, we just know there’s always a way to solve a problem. You get out on the set, you’ve planned a sequence, and you story board it, you’ve recorded the voices, sometimes you start to shoot the shots and it just doesn’t play, and that messes up your schedule a little bit. You find a way to recover or edit it. You know it’s very hard but it’s like going to art school and film school all the time. People come to visit our sets, when we make these movies. They’re amazed, they want to come work for us.
Was there any attempt made to make the story a little less dark than the source material?
Henry: We sort of rebalanced what’s in the book. In the book I think it goes to a dark place pretty quickly. It’s kind of ominous right from the start. Suddenly Other Mother’s teeth seemed to grow a tiny bit longer, her eyes looked hungry. You know that reads well, and it’s beautiful but I decided, and our producer Bill Mechanic, and there’s two other producers I worked with, MarySandell and Claire Jennings, let’s do more of a gradual seduction, make it warmer and friendlier at first. Except for the button eyes it couldn’t be better, but then when we do go dark, we go very dark. What I tried to do with the film, you know you get your attention, and then it’s very slow build and then once it starts to go to the scary place you know it really pushes. In total darkness it’s about the same, it’s just how we get there.
And nobody ever thought, this might be a little too dark for kids?
Oh, no. Constantly. I just nod in my head and ignore them. It’s not for kids under eight we think, eight and up is the best age we think, and even then it is parental guidance and you know, I’m more concerned about the parent’s being scared but the eight yearolds can hold their mom’s hand.
Was there ever any issue with the nudity? When Miss Forcible shows her…
Yeah! Was that ever an issue?
Henry: You know, some of the executives were little concerned, I said well let’s just see what the ratings board has to say. You know they are reenacting famous paintings, she’s supposed to beBottecelli’s Birth of Venus who is actually totally nude, but Miss Forcible’s is just enough outfit, and the ratings board loved it. They didn’t have any trouble with it. It is the biggest laugh in the movie. And the kids scream, “ahhhhh,” and then they laugh. Didn’t you ever catch your grandma almost naked?
Oh lord, I’ve seen a lot of things, just being a mother I know my son would be fascinated
Henry: It’s not gonna unhinge him or get him into any trouble.
It’s the day and age of MTV, I’m sure he’s seen worse…
Henry: Oh yeah man, look at the average music video
When did 3D come into play and it’s used rather sparingly in the traditional way than we expected. Was there an effort to kind of avoid the cliches that are commonly seen with 3-D?
Henry: I actually did a 3-D rock video 20 years ago for Veiwmaster corporation, those people that make those little wheels with pictures that you put in and I still love those Viewmasters. And the guy that I met, Lenny Whitman, whose equipment it was, he is the guys that’s gone on to develop what’s in the cinemas now, the RealD, digital 3-D system. So I was exposed to 3D early and I would keep up with Lenny like what’s his latest experiment he’s really a genius. Then when we did Nightmare Before Christmas, there was a couple people who would shoot 3-D still frames just sort of as a hobby. And you’d look through the viewer and have this ache like people aren’t really seeing the movie we got here we just can’t get his to them so, there’s an exposure early on, there’s a desire to share the experience more and all the time it took to get this film together, the 3-D was finally getting out into the theaters.
The story itself, it called for something magical. I thought “yeah, it’s 3-D.” It captures stop-motion and then it’s a way to expand the other world, draw people into the screen. It was just sort of, if I was ever lost about how much 3-D to use, I would look to the story and very much of what’s coming off the screen. Once you start to go there a lot, it really makes it difficult. It’s hard to edit, it hurts your eyes if you don’t do it right and you just sort of serve the story better to just have a couple of moments, you know, a needle in your eye, a trapeze, a few things, but mainly try to get people to come into the world with Coraline.
What was the characters hair made and clothes made of? The details looked extraordinary.
Henry: We found a woman, Suzanna Molten, who came into our puppet fabrication. I was really pushing for us to be able to go on close ups of our characters and still believe that they’re real. The hair is – you know sometimes you look at a dolls head and you see that there’s these plugs of hair? Every strand of hair is hand placed and there’s these almost invisible wires mixed in so that it can be animated and moved around and that particular shot happens to have been animated by one of our lead animators, Eric Leighton, who’s a genius, so it’s a combination of things.
We had a woman who nits miniature sweaters, so Coraline’s starry sweater is all hand nit, her gloves are hand nit. And it took her about as long to nit a miniature sweater as it does a real one cause it’s got just as many stitches. We want to go in there and [have it so] you feel like if you could rub your finger you could feel the texture of it.
Can you talk about your relationship with Neil Gaiman, and how you went about adapting his work and deciding what to add into the story and what to leave out?
Henry: Neil’s a very cool guys I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator. Early on, I was too faithful to the book. My first draft, it was a horrible screenplay. It was sort of diagrammatic and not, it was sort of screenplay by the numbers, let me try to keep every single word, every single element. And he was right he said, “well obviously, you’ve got to go out on your own and not talk to me” and that’s a rare thing. That’s when I went off and started to find my own voice and I’m a super visual person, I always had pictures in my mind of where I wanted to go.
I stayed in the US, simply because I wasn’t as comfortable writing British English versus American English, I introduced this other character Wybie to give Coraline someone her own size to sort of go up against, directly interact against in the real world. Sort of changed the pacing of the story. In the book she sort of goes to this other world and it’s a very, very long time. It’s all sort of this continuing thing and real from the start. I made it more like a dream and it’s also more pleasant, except for the button eyes, it was sort of warmer and friendlier.
There’s lot’s of things in that draft and in subsequent drafts that are changed. But believe me, I love the book and I was always trying to hold on to the essence of the characters in the story and it was that screenplay I did away from Neil that he loved and people responded to. Ultimately, over the course of making this I’ve learned go off, do a lot of work, like all the character designs and the storyboards for the whole first act and then show it to Neil, to get his input. You know he’s been nothing but encouraging and we’d always have a couple of important, small, do-able, notes…it’s been like a dream.
Teri Hatcher had said that she thought she was playing three character but you actually thought that she was playing four. I was just wondering when the fourth came in?
Henry: You know she’s real mom who’s kind of preoccupied with work and keeping the family together and kinda grouchy, which was actually the hardest for her to play, in my opinion, cause she would never want to be that mother to her daughter Emerson, who actually has a little part in the film too. She’s other mother 1, warm, loving, generous, witty, makes the food the miracles, who changes costumes but is one type, and then other mother 2, when Coraline says “you’re not my mother,” she won’t apologize she grows and reveals this much taller and gaunt, all most fashion model insect, thats Other Mother 2, throws her in the loset, and then finally other mother 3, when Coraline has found the third ghost guy and comes back in, and it’s like this creature, it’s a witch. It’s no longer even anything like… SO by my account it’s like one real and three others.
Coraline is out in theaters this Friday, February 6th, 2009.