Coraline Deconstructed

I’ve been enjoying following the clever marketing roll-out for Laika’s upcoming stop motion film Coraline. While not as involved and involving as the sneaky viral campaign for The Dark Knight, they’ve steered clear of the predictable Teaser, Trailer 1, Trailer 2 syndrome. A lucky few received a gift box from The Other Mother herself. The rest of us, seething with envy, could at least enjoy the magic of the dancing moustache, and Neil Gaiman’s discourse on koumpounophobia.
Most people’s entry point to the film is probably author Neil Gaiman, but when I posted a blurb about the film months back on the masthead, it was because I was excited to see another full length feature by the man who brought us the fanciful and colorful sea denizens of The Life Aquatic. Henry Selick of course was the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but I’ve never been really down with Tim Burton and James and the Giant Peach was a book a little too close to my heart to embrace as a film (although they did a pretty good job I’ll admit and I’m ready and waiting for Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox).
If none of the aforementioned has sparked your interest, you will I think be won over completely by the Cartoon Art Museum’s exhibition of artifacts from Coraline’s production. Running through the 15th, there is a little of everything here: concept art, character design sketches, storyboards, maquettes and some of the actual puppets used in the film.

The puppets are especially cool. While utilizing traditional stop motion techniques captured in stereoscopic 3D, digital effects were added later, some quite subtle. So viewing them up close you get to see the seam that bisects the face of the puppet, allowing the animators to remove the top for adjustment of the eyes or the bottom to replace the expression of the mouth. I liked checking out the fabric used for Coraline’s tiny pair of Chucks. Her little companion nearby, it is explained on the accompanying card, has no name since cats already know who they are.
The hand drawn and painted work on the walls is particularly fascinating since this might be the first time that I can remember that the freshness and expressiveness hasn’t been lost in translation from sketches to final animation. Tadahiro Uesugi’s early concept art is here, as well as a script that also seems to be serving as a storyboard. It’s covered with little sketches that capture the scene in thumbnails.

A plexiglass case against the back wall of the exhibit is filled with interesting stuff. Row after row of “replacement faces,” essentially Coraline’s jaw which must be swapped out to film every articulation of the lips during speech. Her mouth skews distinctly to the right, evidence of a noticeable character trait: a smirk always ready with a snarky comment. Here too are her raincoat and boots as well as clothing patterns and little doll duplicates of herself in two sizes, sinister button eyes in place. The little tufts of wigs on display must have been a nightmare for the animators.

Right next to the long case is an armaturist’s sketchbook, tantalizingly labeled “Secrets.” It’s amazing what’s crammed inside this mundane looking composition notebook. Page after page of glued in sketches of limbs and shoes and faces. It covers a two year period, so you can watch things evolve as you thumb through it.
Although production materials like what’s on display here showed up on the web thanks to them appearing at last year’s Comicon, the museum has a no photography sign prominently displayed, which is why the pictures in this post are all pulled straight from the trailer. The blog Stop Motion Mission has some good pics for you to check out and the LA Times has a nice photo gallery from their tour of the backlot. The film’s official website actually is packed with some excellent behind the scenes stills and video. But if you’re at all able, nothing compares to seeing this stuff in person. While I wasn’t crazy about their Harvey Comics show, considering that last year they also brought us the exhibit of Edward Gorey’s design work for the stage play of Dracula and Mary Blair’s painted concepts for Disney, the Cartoon Art Museum seems to be really hitting their stride.


1 Response to “Coraline Deconstructed”

  1. 1 hideoussunday February 6, 2009 at 10:53 am

    My friend Dawn gave me the heads up that you can personalize your own flower now on the Coraline website, so head over there and have at it!

    Also… apparently they’ve followed up the button box with a great little promo: boxes full of actual artifacts from the film. Check it out over on Boing Boing:

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