Posted: 02/03/2009


Coraline director - Henry Selick

by Neko Pilarcik

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

Coraline director, Henry Selick, braves the Chicago winter to talk with us about making his dark and charming film.

Henry Selick: What’s it like out there? I haven’t been out today.

Neko Pilarcik: It’s cold, not as bad as it had been though.

HS: I can’t believe how cold it is up here! I got in last night and I went outside without my coat or anything just to see what it was like and it was amazing! I could feel every part of me freezing all at once! I can’t believe people live in a place where it gets this cold.

NP: It kinda grows on you after a while.

HS: I’ll bet, it’s really something!

NP: So Coraline in is 3D, what specific challenges did shooting in 3D pose?

HS: I figured shooting in 3D would enhance the story; it plays on the thought of going from this world that’s not so great to a sort of Wizard of Oz, Technicolor world. The idea was to use 3D to draw the audience into the film the way that Coraline is drawn through the door and into the Other World. To do this we built 2 sets: one for the real world and one for the Other World, all the real world sets were built much shallower so you get a sort of claustrophobic feeling that it’s just not quite comfortable. Then when we go into the Other World all the sets are built very deep to really push that feeling of it being in 3 dimensions; and once Coraline learns what the Other World really is we pushed the 3D even more to really make you feel like you were being swallowed up by it.

NP: I know the whole film was done in stop motion but I noticed you did have some CG crew, what did they do?

HS: There were very few scenes that were all CG. One example was the scene with the ghost children when you see them with the golden glowing background and you get the feeling that they’re in a better place. But mostly we used it to paint things out like you see there’s a line across everyone’s face; that was so we could replace the mouths for dialogue and expressions, now I think it looks fine the way it is but the people who were paying for the film wanted them painted out so we did that in CG. Also whenever anything that flies or jumps into the air we had to have a rig to hold them up and those we had to paint out. We also used it for some neat effects, like in the scene where Coraline walks out of Spink and Forcible’s apartment after having her fortune told and there’s all that fog. What we did there was first film the Coraline’s actions and the ground was painted blue or green, then we went back and laid cotton down and shot that and then in CG we could manipulate the cotton to make it flow around her as she moved which was pretty cool. As we started to run short on time we’d use it to composite things together. I always tried to get everything in a shot but sometimes it just wasn’t possible so we would composite things in CG.

Neil Gaiman said if it was going to become a film he wanted you to direct, what were your feelings coming into the project?

HS: I wasn’t overly familiar with Neil’s work, I knew him from The Sandman but it was actually his agent who introduced us. Later he asked me to direct and when I read the pages I just felt in tune with the story. It worked with the way I think and I could see all everything come to life in my head so it just seemed like a natural thing to do. And I think it’s a story everyone can relate to, everybody wonders what if something changed; you’re always dissatisfied with something, you don’t like your wife or your father or something. Not your dog though, people are always pretty happy with their dogs.

NP: Did you assign specific characters to specific animators or did everyone pretty much animate whatever the scene required?

HS: Well, I let the animators lead the project. I’d known a lot of the animators for quite a while, some of them from even before Nightmare, some were new but I pretty much knew everyone and what they’d be good at so I did try to cast specific animators for characters to get the right type of performance. The animators were the leaders so we’d have an animation supervisor who does tests to see what the character can do and how we want them to move and then, of course, you have to rethink how the cat moves because the model just won’t do that. So we did try to specialize but due to time that wasn’t always possible and there were some characters, like Coraline, who’s in just about every scene that everyone had to animate. We did have some Coraline specialists, some people who did close ups or some who’d do action sequences or the really emotional scenes. For the other characters who weren’t on screen as much we did specialize more like the first scene with Bobinsky when Coraline brings up his stinky cheese samples and he’s swinging around and talking to her, that was all done by Brad Schiff. The Other Mother was mostly animated by Trey Thomas and Payton Curtis. The scene with Other Bobinsky when all the rats go running out of him and he falls apart, that was Julianna Cox, she just had a great way of making him move and flop about. The first scene with Spink and Forcible was done by Suzanne Twining, she pretty much lived on that set. And the scene where Spink and Forcible are in the other world and they’re doing their performance was done by Eric Leighton. Sorry, I’m trying to give credit to everyone but five minutes ago the answer is yes.

NP: It seems like it takes a lot of patience to do this type of work.

HS: A film like this is like growing a garden that takes several years to grow and you’re constantly having to water and trim and graft it. But there’s just that type of person that when you’re a kid you take your Legos and a camera and it takes you all day but when it’s done and you see the Legos moving you realize it was worth it and you just want to keep doing it forever.

NP: LAIKA is my absolute favorite studio, do you have any advice you could give animators who want to work for LAIKA?

HS: When we look at portfolios I like to see complete films so present yourself as a complete filmmaker. Thirty seconds, three minutes, five minutes it doesn’t matter how long it is just make the best film you can. Making a complete film shows your sensibilities, it shows how you do each aspect and that will help us find where to place you. Even if you end up doing storyboards it helps to see a finished film instead of just animation tests. Besides it’s much more fun, I think, to watch a little movie than it is to see tests.

NP: So do you have another project on the horizon?

HS: The next film I’m doing is called Para Norman, I’m won’t be directing though. I’m working on bringing up some people from the story department to direct because they’re very talented and I’m big about giving people their breaks.

NP: Will it be stop motion, CG or 2D?

HS: It’ll be stop motion.

NP: That’s awesome, we need more stop motion features!

Neko Pilarcik Is a freelance animator and illustrator living in Chicago. She recently directed the animated short The Three Artists which screened at Cannes in 2008.

Got a problem? E-mail us at