GeekBomb: A Brief History of Stop-Motion Animation

Editor’s Note: This is the debut post by Kevin Kelly, who will be offering his expertise in geekdom in a new /Film daily blog feature called GeekBomb. Welcome Kevin to /Film!

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline opens this weekend, and it’s directed by Henry Selick, one of the few modern masters of stop-motion animation. Although he was trained as a traditional animator, he really came to fame with stop-motion, having directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Monkeybone. In the day and age of everything being whipped up in CGI, it’s really a testament to see people work in a medium that requires hours of tedious work on films that can take an extremely long time to produce. Which is why the Sundance opening night film Mary & Max was such a treat.

Whenever someone mentions stop-motion, most people tend to think of one of the above movies, or the equally excellent Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, both co-directed by the amazing Nick Park. And just to be clear, I’m not calling Monkeybone excellent… but the stop-motion moments are pretty damned awesome. You just have to love a naughty monkey sometimes. Even though most of those films are fairly recent, stop-motion animation has been around in one form or another for more than one hundred years. Click through for the highlights and milestones of this under appreciated art form.

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I think the consensus is that movie trailers and movie title sequences used to be better – just look at the back catalogue of Alfred Hitchcock for numerous sterling examples of each, all from the oeuvre of just one director. Lately, it might be argued that title sequences have had something of a renaissance, with the work of Kyle Cooper and Imaginary Forces, but much of the great stuff has been pushed to the end of the film, as the credits roll. Witness the Pixar films, such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille and their atmospheric and engrossing final scrolls.

Of Pixar films, in fact, I recall only Monsters Inc. really having a really solid title sequence up front – but it isn’t a sequence I’m going to forget in a hurry. In fact, some of my most vivid sense memories of that film, and of how exciting, charming and awe inspiring I found it, are all tied up in my recollection of the title sequence.

Trailers, however – though not without exception – still tend to be rather formulaic affairs.

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A Magic Box From The Makers of Coraline

Over the weekend I received a mysterious package from Portland Oregon. Turns out it was from the animators and puppeteers behind the upcoming film Coraline, the first stop-animated film shot in 3D.

Based on Gaiman’s short children’s novel of the same name, Coraline is a young bored girl who discovers that bricked-up wall behind a door in her house leads to another dimension, where she has a different mother, and different father. Directed by Henry Selick, the guy behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone. the film features the voice talent of Dakota Fanning, Ian McShane, Teri Hatcher, and Keith David.

I decided to record the opening of the box on video:

[flv:http://bitcast-a.bitgravity.com/slashfilm/trailers/coralinebox.flv 460 344]

I’m not sure where the other 49 boxes will turn up, and so far it seems very random. I’ve found photos on Toycutter and despoiler.

My box contained the code “puppetlove”, which if dialed in on Coraline.com, you will get a video of director Henry Selick explaining how we look at puppets. Other boxes have included different codes, each which give access to different behind the scenes featurettes.

  • stopmotion – figures and sets
  • buttoneyes – the cast
  • moustachio A stop motion short about Bo Henry’s dancing mustache
  • armpithair Suzanne Moulton gives the puppets armpit hair
  • sweaterxxs Althea Crome knits tiny sweaters

I want to thank all team behind Coraline for the wonderful gift!

Coraline Miniatures from SIGGRAPH 2008

/Film reader Jerry K sent us photos from SIGGRAPH of miniatures on display from Henry Selick‘s adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline. As always, click to enlarge.

Behind The Scenes of Coraline

Caroline

Rotten Tomatoes got their hands on a behind the scenes featurette for Henry Selick‘s big screen 3D adaptation of Coraline.

Based on Neil Gaiman‘s short children’s novel of the same name, Coraline is a young bored girl who discovers that bricked-up wall behind a door in her house leads to another dimension, where she has a different mother, and different father. A stop-motion film produced in stereoscopic 3-D from director Henry Selick, the guy behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline Movie Trailer Online (Kinda)

Caroline

The teaser trailer for the 3D animated adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline played before select 3D prints of Beowulf. And I’m not talking about the early test footage Gaiman posted last month. I haven’t seen this trailer online until now. /Film reader named Casty The Clown alerted me that the trailer is available on YouTube, as seen below. But the trailer looks far less impressive in 2D, or as Gaiman notes “especially the poking needle going through the buttonhole”. The author hopes to get a pristine copy online soon, but for now the YouTube will have to suffice. Check out that footage after the jump.
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Sneak Peak: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

Caroline

Neil Gaiman has released a sneak peek at some early, not-quite-final footage from Coraline. Based on Gaiman’s short children’s novel of the same name, Coraline is a young bored girl who discovers that bricked-up wall behind a door in her house leads to another dimension, where she has a different mother, and different father. A stop-motion film produced in stereoscopic 3-D from director Henry Selick, the guy behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone. the film features the voice talent of Dakota Fanning, Ian McShane, Teri Hatcher, and Keith David.

Neil Gaiman has yet to really impress me. I’ve me the man and interviewed him twice, and he’s intelligent, clever, and an over-all nice guy. I feel that I should like his material based off my professional interactions, but so far I’ve found myself underwhelmed by Mirrormask, Stardust and Beowulf. Not to say I didn’t like the films, I just don’t understand the huge cult following behind the projects that he creates. I have yet to read a comic or novel written by Gaiman, and maybe there is where I’m missing out. It seems to me that I like many of his ideas, but not the final film productions.

Coraline has a great concept, and the style seems very Nightmare-ish, but without the very cool Tim Burton stylings. What impresses me with this footage is some of the subtle animation. For example, watch the area of Coraoline’s back in the beginning of this clip. Watch the clip after the jump.

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