I got the chance to speak with the man single-handedly keeping stop motion not only alive, but viable. Henry Selick gives his thoughts on the state of stop motion, “Coraline”, as well as working with Neil Gaiman again. He also says he’s going to pick his next project soon and it’ll be another stop motion project! Read the interview after the jump —
Question: How gratifying was the response to the film?
HENRY SELICK: Incredibly gratifying. Especially because right up to the opening weekend, expectations were pretty low and we did so much better than what the expectations were. It’s wonderful. Ultimately the crew worked on the film so hard, it would be crushing to not have the film at least find an audience. It’s been great.
Did it give a shot in the arm into the style of animation, keeping it moving forward instead of falling away into other forms?
HS: For a number of years after James and The Giant Peach, it was impossible to get funding for stop motion. Simply, the CG films had just outperformed everything even though Nightmare Before Christmas and James both successfully made money. As the years went by there’s just been a handful of films. Chicken Run was a hit. Corpse Bride less so. Curse of the Were-Rabbit didn’t do that great in the US, though it’s a brilliant film. There’s still under ten stop motion features ever made so this is clearly a shot in the arm, the success of it.
Were there any challenges specific to Coraline and stop motion?
HS: We had a lot of humans. People are very harsh critics of animated humans. For a number of years there weren’t any or very few in CG because they’re harder to do. That was a unique challenge — having as many humans, stylizing them and finding the way to make Coraline as expressive as she is. Another challenge was trying to hold on to the fans of the book even though you have to make changes when you make a film.
Could you talk about the genesis of the character design?
HS: They all have a genesis. I will talk about the Other Mother. In the book, the Other Mother is a certain way right from the start — white skin and long black hair and looks like her real mother. By the end of the book she doesn’t look anything like her, but it’s only subtle adjustments: her eyes looked hungrier, her teeth were somehow longer, her nails sharper. I couldn’t go that route. I had to make bigger steps. I felt like, “This woman has woven a trap. She’s kind of a spider.” So I felt I’ll turn her into an arachnid and surprise everyone when this floor flies up and there’s a giant web. Story always comes first to inform the design of characters. In the second phase Other Mother, we made her grow taller, elegant, this extreme fashion design look, and then I had to top it. Going to Other Mother Three, it was tough. How do we go farther? How do we get her to move? She was very difficult to animate. She has four legs under a dress. Teri [Hatcher]’s voice very much inspired design and movement and timing. She did a very nice job. How do we embody who she is? She’s a spider who spins webs and steals children’s eyes. I turned her fingers literally into sewing needles and gave her the legs and so forth.
Do you have any other Neil Gaiman stories that you’d love to turn into a film?
HS: There’s several. I’m talking with Neil about one in particular. I wish I’d been able to move faster on The Graveyard Book, but Neil Jordan is a genius. It’s in great hands. I plan on doing another film with Neil, but it wouldn’t be wise to talk about it just yet.
Do you have your next project set up?
HS: I have about officially eight things I’m looking at, but really three of those are interesting to me. By the end of Summer I will choose and announce what it will be. It will be another stop motion film. Most likely, unless it detracts from the story, I’d shoot it 3D. I could always turn off one of the eyes and screen it 2D if it actually worked better that way.
Whose work do you admire in the animation field?
HS: I’ve been a fan of [Hayao] Miyazaki for many years. I got to meet him for the first time last night. He’s a rock star. I love some of the things at Pixar. I’m a big big fan of Brad Bird’s and an old friend. John Musker and Ron Clements at Disney are doing The Princess and the Frog. I got to see some sequences in that. It’s all traditional hand drawn. That looked fantastic. While I was making Coraline I barely got to see any films at all so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Why do you feel stop motion isn’t being used more?
HS: I think it’s simply who is going to invest where. There’s very few people who want to just make beautiful films that make money when they can make films that make huge money. Anyone can buy CG technology. It’s not that it’s easy to make those films. Those films are just as difficult, they’re incredibly hard to make. Although Miyazaki’s films in Japan are bigger than Titanic. He’s an incredible rock star there. In the US, they don’t do as well. People spend the money where the money is. Nightmare never goes away. They make so much money off of merchandizing. People are learning if they’re willing to be patient, stop motion can make money. Our DVD? We’re doing great. We just released this week. We’re selling like crazy. Hopefully that in particular is a shot in the arm for more. It’s more about financing than the desire and the artistry. There’s always kids who discover it. They discover they can animate their toys, clay, wadded up aluminum foil. There’s always kids who become stop motion animators. I get stuff all the time. They put it on YouTube. It’s exciting to see. There’s definitely the desire out there for young people who want to make the movies. We’ll get to go again. It’s never going to be the huge thing. It’s okay to be off to the side while the big spotlights are on the CG films. I actually prefer it that way.
Are there other forms of animation you’d like to experiment with?
HS: I’ve experimented a fair amount. I did short films. Originally, I did a lot stuff for MTV. I was a drawing animator for Disney. I’ve done cutouts. I spent years and years and this is my favorite type. Not even so much when you see the final results. It’s this tribe of people I work with and being on set. Travis in the panel mentioned that it’s a lonely existence for the animators. There’s a beehive of activity and I’m in constant motion. It’s the smell of real stuff, hammering real lights. It’s very much like live action, but instead of a whole army concentrated on getting one shot with a big star, it’s divided up into a lot of miniature sets and groups but with all the same departments and things. It’s possible I’ll do something else in animation but I pretty much find that stop motion is what I love the best.
Was it hard to translate such a theatrical movie to Blu-ray and DVD? Was that a tough process?
HS: It’s a process. In the olden days, like Nightmare, you shot it on film, there was one release on film and then there was one transfer it to video tape. It was just one adjustment. Blu-ray has its own perimeters. The normal DVD has its own perimeters. There’s a home 3D that has different perimeters than the theatrical 3D. It’s simply that there’s adjustments to be made for each of these variations. It’s tough. It’s actually tough. You try to capture the most that you can that was in the theater.