Henry Selick steps out of Tim Burton’s shadow to make ‘Coraline’

[5 February 2009]

By Rick Bentley

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

Tim Burton often gets the credit for directing “Nightmare Before Christmas.” He produced the film. Henry Selick directed it. Selick guided all of the creatures in that tale through stop-action filming to create the 1993 movie that critics and audiences loved.

So, with the new movie “Coraline,” get it straight this time. “Coraline” is a stop-action film just like “Nightmare Before Christmas” but Burton didn’t produce or direct it.

Selick found the Neil Gaiman book “Coraline.” Selick worked with Gaiman to write the script. And it was Selick who directed the film that opens nationwide Feb. 6. (Gaiman is executive producer and there are five other producers listed on the movie; Burton isn’t one of them.)

Selick, the father of two boys, acts like a proud papa as he talks about making the movie about a curious young girl. He’s calling from San Francisco as part of a lengthy promotional tour.

“Coraline is like a child of mine. The girl we never had. And I had to learn a helluva lot about girls to make this movie. That’s why I feel like she and the film are a living thing,” Selick says.

The moment Selick started reading the novel by Gaiman he fell in love with the story and character. He describes reading the book as “opening doors to my own childhood fantasies.” Selick wasn’t halfway through before he started to see it as a movie.

Coraline uses a magic door to escape to a perfect world. As a child, Selick found his magical escape into other worlds through music and making movies with his father’s 16mm camera while growing up in Rumson, N.J. Those interests became a vocation when Selick was hired as an animator at Disney in the 1970s after studying animation at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. He started out in more traditional animation on “The Fox and the Hound” before shifting to stop-motion animation with “Nightmare” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

Selick knew stop-motion was the only proper way to bring “Coraline” to life.

“What happens is that there is a variety of sculptors who are creating onscreen actors. The animators are doing a performance through puppets,” Selick says of the appeal of the filming style.

Selick had thought about shooting in 3D for years. He kept waiting until the proper format came along. He found it in a technique called Real D 3D, which uses one camera instead of two. Even then, there was a problem.

“It wasn’t bad shooting in 3D. It just took a little more time,” Selick says.

Usually in 3D, the filmmakers use two cameras that are as far apart as your eyes. But Selick could not find a set of cameras that would work with the small spaces in which he was shooting.

The solution was a method developed some half dozen years ago that uses one camera. A camera mover was created to work within the small spaces in which Selick was shooting. One frame was shot and then, through a computer program, the same camera shifted over to collect the additional image needed to create the illusion of 3D.

Selick had no trouble picking the actress to give voice to Coraline. Selecting Dakota Fanning was a no-brainer because she was about the same age as the character and has the voice skills. He struggled to find just the right voice for Coraline’s mother because the character has a good and bad side. He listened to the voices of more than 100 actresses to find the right melodic match with Dakota. Teri Hatcher was the right vocal fit.

Hatcher had no problems playing the good mom. Selick says it was the other part of the job that gave her troubles.

“The real mom is tough and not warm or loving. Teri is a mom and the role was a mom she never wants to be,” Selick says.

He was able to coach her to the final voice performance. And eventually Selick got through the long process of making the movie. Now, all he can do is sit back and wait to see how “Coraline” is received.


Here’s a few bits of trivia about “Coraline”

“Coraline” is the first stop-motion animated feature to be conceived and photographed in 3-D.

It took 18 months to shoot. Each puppet took 10 people to make over a three- to four-month period.

There were 28 different Caroline puppets of varying sizes made. The main Coraline puppet stands 9.5 inches high.

There were a total of 207,336 possible face combinations for Coraline.

The on-screen snow was made from Super Glue and baking soda.

The currency given to pay the Ranft Bros. movers has director Henry Selick’s face on the bill.

The egg yolk that Other Mother cracks into a bowl yields “The Nightmare Before Christmas” lead character Jack Skellington’s image.

The dragonfly is voiced by Teri Hatcher’s daughter, Emerson.

Selick’s son, George, voices one of the ghost children. His other son, Harry, voices one of Coraline’s friends in the photo who come alive in her Other Bedroom.

Selick set the movie in Ashland, Ore. The spot was chosen for its summer Shakespeare festival.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/70052-henry-selick-steps-out-of-tim-burtons-shadow-to-make-coraline/