Saturday, February 14, 2009

Spoilers: A Note About Coraline

My computer's in the shop today (I'm writing from Paul's laptop, his computer not his...nevermind). I went to see the highly anticipated stop motion animation from Laika and Focus Features after I dropped it off. It is a money-as-ostensibly-no-object funded stop motion animation project, crafted with an unholy amount of love, talent, and attention to detail. Having seen it, I am disheartened that I see no reason for it to have been made. It was the grandest of worlds where the experienced and gifted within the narrow art form could be gainfully employed and everyone hoped it might lead to many more feature projects, and it may still, but my hope would be that what gets made is considered even more deeply than this was.

From a commercial film industry standard (if there were ever such a thing), I can see the logic behind taking the risk. A popular story by popular writer Neil Gaiman. A proven stop motion director, Henry Selick. A chance to properly show of the genuine animation ability of Travis Knight and a phalanx of others, the best artisans in prop making, costuming, hair, lighting, sets, armatures, etc., were all engaged for years creating this film. I can only imagine the blood sweat and tears that went into it. But as I watched it, even I, a stop motion fanatic, couldn't see any value in having gone through all of that time and expense.

A few specifics: I'll have to now read the book Coraline by Neil Gaiman as I'll want to separate out the screen play from the original story. I understand the needs of a visual story in relation to one written, but I'll be hunting for value as I saw nothing of that on screen.

I don't need narratives to display redemption or even dramatic resolution to make me happy. But I do require my protagonists to be worthy of caring about what happens to them. I found the Coraline character, selfish and self-centered, ungrateful and neglected by parents that were the same. If the writers had her help clean up the bowl of candy that shattered on the ground rather than leaving it for her hosts, for example, I would have had a signal she was at least considerate. Even after being strong and brave to release her parents from the trap, I didn't notice any change in Coraline or her parents. Coraline was plucky and unafraid from the beginning and her parents absorbed in their work ignoring her, only happy when they were accepted by a publisher, I guess? There wasn't any transformation on anyone's part through the story's telling. Yes, ghost children's souls were freed, Wybie was proven as friend and black in a roundabout way (huh?), the Witch the banished in the well? Coraline became helpful and had a change in attitude. I guess.

The antagonist's goals were not clear enough either, by the acid-tripping end of it I could sort of parse out that the Belle Dame was an evil witch that set her cap for children, lured them with treats and wonders in order to eat them, contain their souls, or somesuch. But it wasn't clear and there were truck-sized loopholes in that premise, if that was it.

The cat character was the most engaging because it seemed to be the only one in the world who was able to be rational. But even it wasn't wonderful to look at. I felt the hand-crafted charm of stop motion was lost in something about the film, perhaps the clean-up stage with the aide of computers. Something. Something about all the frame-by-frame animation didn't make it through, not to the heart. Something prevented the hand-work involved from reaching through the project itself. Another recent stop motion feature, Corpse Bride, suffered from this puzzle too. It had zero advantage over a cgi animation, it was too slickly animated for its own good. And even with the deliberate stepping down of frame rates to "look" hand-made, it still doesn't.

But even if it did, there wasn't anything to live with about the film, as is the case with movies these days.

Technically I think the makers may have made two fundamental errors that cost them a lot in terms of the value of stop motion's aesthetic. First, I understand the initial concept art, after Japanese illustrator Tadahiro Uesugi's sketches were polished and rendered on computer in order to prepare them for output to a 3D rapid plotter. This obviously took away the human sculptural quality of the characters which was further banished with the digital clean up used to remove telltale signs and lines left by replacement facial feature components. Perhaps nothing the filmmakers could do after that approach would gain back any humanity in the characters. The human hand in stop motion is the entire appeal. Where was the advantage of it in this project?

Here's what I admired about the Coraline production.

They finished it.

The landscape sets were jaw-droppingly spectacular. I felt the vast endlessness of Portland hillsides and forests all around as a real place, not one I'd like to visit, but real and rendered perfectly.

Of course, from the behind the scenes video (links will be hooked up once I'm back on my computer, laptops suck! update: looks like they have all been taken down to include them on the dvd instead. update: I found 2 more clips buried in the well of the bloated and annoying Coraline site here) we learned about the attention to detail involved, such as the microscopic hand-knit sweaters, the frame by frame plastic rusty shower water, etc. It was all rendered almost too perfectly. I would never have appreciated how much work went into the film without these videos describing it. The five-mile silk wig for the theatrical number would have rolled right over my head, unaware of the labor it took.

Using pink popcorn as cherry blossoms. That killed it was so beautiful. Coraline's hair movement is an inconceivable stop motion visual achievement.

I liked the opening credits in 3D, especially how the frame of lace stood on it's own layer. I was so hopeful watching that as I thought it meant that the whole movie would be that well thought through.

I liked the entry to Mr. B's apartment with it's lovingly built tiny raised paneling details. Many of the props had this particular quality of detail; the packages for Mr. B, the tiny dirigible passing through the portico's window, the sliver of moon on the farthest back layer of the 3D kitchen.

I loved the hand-made box campaignused to promote the film among geeks like me and how they premiered the film far far away from Hollywood.

I will buy my copy of Coraline on dvd to watch over and over with appreciation for what was done masterfully and maybe learn to love what didn't grab me on the first viewing. I feel like crying when I see how hard so many talented individuals worked their asses off on this and what they must have endured to make it.

UPDATE: Enui kindly directed readers to the Harper Collins preview of the book, which I'm enjoying very much more already
Later (bleery-eyed from online reading): Read every word of the story and was very surprised at how faithful the screenplay was to the book. Certain hard to convey ideas in it were not translatable to film and certain too objectionable implications were left out as well. Certain plot devices were added, such as Wybie and the happy garden character wrap up so useful for movie-telling. There were just two tiny omissions between book to screen, two little ideas that would have made all the pointless rest of it worth enduring. As Nofby pointed out in the comments, Coraline's definition of bravery being the strength of character to do what's right precisely when one is scared. That it isn't bravery if one isn't aware of the danger and truly scared. And the realization that Coraline didn't want to have whatever she wanted like the Beldame was offering her. That she would greatly prefer to have her genuine life, with all of its irritations, rather than an illusory life. This was the pivotal point of discernment that enabled Coraline to appreciate the life she had. Perhaps the movie makers felt these ideas were communicated sufficiently by the characterization of Coraline. But as an audience member, I'd have to say not so.

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  1. I loved reading this review. Truth be told, I've been reading them all over the place. I have to wait till May!

    The book is wonderful, I'm sure the film will captivate me as much as I was when I read the book. I was infact having second-thoughts about the book being animated, I didn't really think it was the right type of novel to be adapted to film, because as Coraline is alone in the Other Mother's world, you can't potray thought in film, its all a personal journey to overcome the evil and danger that the other world is, so when I heard that they were bringing in Wybie as a character that Coraline could talk and relate with I wasn't so sure about it.

    Is the section where Coraline explains to the cat about the meaning of bravery in there? That was the most compelling description of bravery I've ever read.

  2. Hi, I just found your blog and I'm completely captivated by your work -- but first I want to say that I saw Coraline on opening night and I agree with you. I'm not an animator and I can't tell you what it was about this movie that made me feel this way, but for the first thirty minutes or so of the movie, I was trying to figure out why they didn't just do it in CGI, because I really couldn't tell that it was stop-action. Then I got caught up in the story and stopped noticing. I went into the movie really wanting to say it was great and the handmade aspect made it so, but somehow it just didn't.

    I still think it's worth seeing, because it is a great story. I read it as Coraline's journey from being a selfish, inconsiderate brat to being a more grown-up kid who was willing to make allowances for her parents (although the ending could have made that point a little better). And I understood the Beldame (I looked that word up when I got home; it means "an old lady") as the archetypal witch in the Hansel and Gretel story. But anyway, that was my take.

    I would also like to volunteer any help I can give you in your Halfland project. I'm a dollmaker and an aggregator of web links, useless knowledge and shiny things. You can see my work at

  3. Doh, blogger just ate my comment.

    Which is probably good... I'll probably still see the film when it comes out. *sigh*

  4. HI Nofby! I'm certain you are right about the story being great. I look forward to reading it, especially what caught your attention about bravery. I saw nor heard none of anything close to it in the film.

    Miss Thessaly Rose! Hello to you! Welcome to Halfland! I went of course to spy on all your sites and galleries of work and I really like the meaning you put into your pieces. You a thoughtful and dear person obviously, which makes your remarks all the more emboldening to hear. Thank you.

    I agree with you, Coraline is worth seeing, at least the first half, if only to support stop motion being made. But as I say, I hope something with more to it.

    Would you consider making a undersea creature, simple is great, for Halfland's underwater scene? Details are in the sidebar at right. I would be tremendously grateful!

    RICH! You know the word "SPOILER" means don't look if you don't want to know before seeing something, right!!!!? Of course you should see it! you'll probably swoon over it. You dropped acid as a youth, right?! Maybe that's a measure for liking this and there's me without ever having been drunk!

    When does it open in Aussieland?

  5. Isn't that the most common complaint ever though? I feel that about almost every movie I see, and to be honest I can even do without a character arc, but empathy is everything. That was the mad thing about the last Batman. "Batman" was a twat. I felt like slapping the screen. The joker on the other hand was brilliant. Even though I didn't want him to win, he was the one I cared about.

    I don't know if I'm becoming more screen-cynical but the ability to inspire empathy seems to be becoming rarer and rarer. Maybe it's really hard to do?

    It's incredible to me that tens? hundreds of millions are thrown at these projects and they bungle it. Artwork by committee I think... or (more likely) by nexus of political tectonics.

    Seems to be tough for low budget as well though. Fan-flicks are appalling in this respect. Micro tectonics.

    It's something I'm really interested in... how to fake authenticity :) how to believe in the act so much that it becomes real. All these onion-skin layers of artifice and devotion that we wear like medals or bruises. Damn I'm poetic. I'm not even drunk.

  6. Aaawww.. that's too bad you didn't like the film 100%. So do you think it was over produced like a song with drums, bass, electric guitar and strings when all that was needed was an acoustic guitar? The charm was sacrificed for production value. I can understand why it was done this way. Although the Wallace and Gromit film had just the right balance.

    I have not seen it yet but I just had to read your review!

  7. Yay! I think you need a leafy sea dragon for your undersea scene. I'll let you know when I'm done.

  8. Is that what Spoiler means... I always thought it was a wing on the back of an automotive contraption which created a downward force to induce greater traction. ;)

    It opens in Australia, 7 May. I don't mind spoilers, but when my worst fears for what should be a good film are confirmed it's just a little depressing. I too thought the Corpse-bride was a travesty so I trust your opinion.

    When is the sea creature creation cut-ff date?

  9. Who are you, Nick Taylor and why are you so intelligent!? Your comments have layers, not of artifice, but of clear objective insight! Well said! Of course you are right. I don't think it is possible to make a film that can inspire empathy or anything else worthwhile. At least not with a product that is made to be commercially successful.

    I'm hoping that the future will offer thousands of independent personal stop motion projects that mean something to the people who make them. And I also wish that no money ever gets wasted on the wrong things again in any arena of life and I also hope that citizens out grow their need to worship celebrities of any kind.

    I accept that none of those wishes will ever come to pass. I should make peace with the facts of life.

    I tell you, Yuji, I don't think over producing was the problem, although you maybe correct. It was more for me a problem of not choosing stop-motion-effort-worthy material? You make truly excellent points about the charm factor. I never thought about the value of a humble style before you mentioned it! Please don't take what I said about the film too much to heart when you see it because you may flipping LOVE IT! I hope you'll say so if you do!

    ThessalyRose, you dear! I would love a leafy sea dragon for the scene. YES PLEASE! Extra points for the word pun nature of your idea!

    HI Rich! Don't be depressed about seeing it--YOU MAY LOVE IT!!! I'd love a counter review that explains why someone loves it to bits. Maybe I missed something?!

    Every thing is taking longer than I could know, so there's fish time, bro. I'd say you have until March 15th AGAIN! (that was last years' deadline!)

    That's the thing about Coraline, they had 1,000x more work than Halfland and they were organized and hard-working and did it to done. So there is merit to that over the sole-artist approach.

    However, I'm also getting the better picture that there's a need to have the material mean something to a single director/artist so that it doesn't become art by dummed down beige committee, as Nick says above.

    I guess it depends on what success is. LIke you said to me, Rich, a film is successful if it reaches its audience.

    That's brilliant.

  10. Hey Shelley
    Glad you got to see it, you got a lot more out of it than I did on first viewing - story wise.

    I say give the book a try, Gaiman might not be your cup of tea, but the parents and Coraline are both a bit more sympathetic characters. Stuff that was left out of the movie.

    There were a few points in the book that I thought the movie did poorly, especially the final confrontation with other mother.


  11. Hooray, thanks so much, Mark! I'm so glad you had similar reaction to the screenplay here. I feared that my opinion was bent and embittered by jealousy. (Only very slightly I'll concede.)

    I went looking for a copy in the book stores I visited today. I'll have to stop into a liberry. Now, you've got me interested to see the differences even more!

  12. You can read the book online at the publisher site:

    (that's how I read it :P) It's up for a limited time but it doesn't say when they'll took it down.

    I haven't seen the movie and have no clue whether I'll be able to see it in a cinema, I'll probably have to see it on dvd :(

    But while reading the book I've been wondering how did they turn it into a film, since lots of the book is made of what she thinks, and that's not easy to render on a screen.

    Hope this is not a spoiler but if you're afraid skip the next lines: in the book I did not feel Coraline was particularly selfish, just a bored kid wishing for some adventure during the last vacation days before going back to school, with parents absorbed by their work. All very "normal", in a good way because it wasn't pushed too much. And after the adventure she gains a new appreciation of her parents and everyday life. I did not find terribly original (as many review says!) but enjoyable.

  13. Thanks for the info, Enui! I'll check that link out. I read in a LOoooong promotional "article" about the Coraline movie that Neil Gaiman was inspired to write the story for his eldest daughter originally but was waylaid and then thought he'd better hurry to complete it before his youngest daughter was too old for it. So, maybe the author was writing to make himself feel better about his work taking his parental attention away from his girls. Although, from reading his blog, I'd say everyone in the family is quite happy with one another and cheer the success of Coraline, both book and film.

  14. I must admit I'm still looking forward to seeing Coraline when it comes out over here, but your comments have confirmed my fears about the film... I love all things Gaiman/McKean but I always have trouble imagining how they will adapt the prose and illustrations into a coherent film.

    I love their film Mirrormask (but again that's a case of visual beauty over content) but that was written as a film, not adapted from a book, which I think helped it have a coherent storyline.

    Completely off the point, but thankyou so much for the beautiful animated Christmas card you sent me Shelley! I meant to say thanks as soon as it arrived, but as tends to happen in the festive period, other things distracted me. I saw it on my shelf today, and it reminded me I still have to say thankyou - the cards are such an amazing idea and look like they took a whole lot of planning and hard work to make!

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  16. Hi Ceri! After reading the book last night, I have to say you will not be disappointed about the translation to the screen. The movie pretty exactly depicts the story with the exceptions I mention.

    It was completely coherent as a storyline, flawed logic in places and things left too ambiguous or inconsistent, but I'd say it was up to modern movie script standards for sure.

    Only read this after you see the movie:

    I would have bet donuts that 99% of what I saw in the movie was just the screenplay writers running amok with dark drug-vestige-brain nonsense, but for better or worse they translated the Gaiman story pretty exactly. Some visuals were fleshed out, just for movie-making sake, like the other mother in her revealed state literally chasing Coraline on a web, etc. but that's fair of them I think. And most of Gaiman's sensitive "word pictures" were lost, but that's only natural going from book to screen.

    My objections come from the missing meaning they left out. Perhaps they were pretty paltry meager morals in the book but at least they gave something to live with after leaving the theater.

  17. awww...too bad...

    I thought you might not dig it. Just take from it the good things it offered and use the inspiration in your own creations.

    I really enjoyed the film alot! just needed a little more heart for me and I would have given myself completly over.

    instead i just gave 98% of myself...ha!


  18. The problem with stop motion, especially the replacement process is it's sooooooo slow and painstaking, it becomes very easy to get lost in technique and lose any emotion or feeling. Because so much time is at stake it's hard to be intuitive and let things happen.

    BTW, there were very few women involved in the piece. It is a bit sexist to mention this ( perhaps ) but could that have anything to do with the outcome?

  19. Hi Justin, I guess the inspiration I could take from it is that other people love stop motion too.

    Yeah, the heart was missing for me. Even the things that could have been wonderful, like the inventive meal at the other mother's house with the gravy train, etc. or the imaginative theater show and mouse circus, or the endless walk.

    But even these lighter-hearted things were layered with black overtones that wasted the work for me. I'm glad you got so much joy from it though.

    Hi GinaK! I think you are right on, on both points. Very hard to keep a meaningful heartfelt vision when you have hundreds of hands working and are trying to be technically sensational. Maybe more women in higher control positions would give projects like this more heart, although it's doubtful based on what I've seen.

    Usually, we get tough men-like women in power positions instead of project (and governments) getting softer and kinder.

    I don't think it's ultimately about gender. The shapes of our pink fleshy parts don't make us man or woman, right? I think it comes down to the individual's nature/sensitivity/consciousness, perhaps. Gender on a spectrum.

  20. Alright, alright new post later....


  21. Ha! Noooooo, I was just being silly.

    To play devils advocate, I don't think artwork by committee has any bearing on the authenticity of characters. After all even some of the great Auteurs of the last century are failing in this respect during he naughties. And the great studio films were often rightfully accused of different departments having no idea what each other were doing until they turned up on set.

    Maybe it's just that the really talented people are charging too much money these days. Not that the film becomes a paycheck, just that it shortens the amount of time you can have their influence on the production so they're making more decisions that aren't digested properly by the greater crew which makes the execution more haphazard.

    Even the most inspired ideas need time to be dreamed over.

  22. Herman!

    Seriously, Rich, that's one interesting assertion you put out there. That could be part of the movie problem. The really creative visionary artists could only be hired to make initial sketches for mood and style. Logic would dictate that would be enough but pudding eating proves something fundamentally important is in fact being lost in the big movie projects.

    I was reading an article about the rise and fall of New Line Pictures yesterday and Shayne had a line whenever directors wanted more creative control. He'd say, "The Medici Film Company is down the street." Meaning that he was running a commercial film business not one to satisfy creative visions.


    That's really the problem, or at least the true facts in the industry. It's only business, it's not personal.

    On your other good point, I was thinking yesterday in a garden, as I was inspired by watching clouds floating gently behind a tree, how to rig clouds in Halfland. I thought of how much better this film piece will be because of all the years I've spent developing the concepts.

    More action here will get it done.

  23. I think if someone is working within the industry, 'It's only business, it's not personal' is an excellent maxim. Gawd, if you took everything personally...

    I would imagine the clouds in HalfLand to be the shapes of other things? Almost like dreams themselves.

  24. I knew it before, but these conversations with you have provided me with even greater clarity. Halfland has NOTHING to do with the film industry. What a relief!

    Yes! Clouds shaped almost like other things and... MOVING! w00t!

  25. Finally got to see the movie today! Technically, it was great. Animation was fantastic. Puppets, sets, lighting all top notch. Story wise, it was a little thin. Girl is bored and goes off into fantasy land and the people there wants to keep her there. I can see why it then became a visual/action movie. After I got comfortable with what the film was going to be, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride so to speak. I may be wrong, but did the other world only exist in her head? She dreamed it all right?

    About the face replacements technique. Did they just cross the line of CG and stop motion? If you create a face using computers and create a real object and take a picture of it, is it still not CGI? Seems like it went digital to analog back to digital. Would you get the same results if the puppets had a green screen face to be replaced later in CGI? The advantage of the Coraline technique would be that the face would be in the real lighting with the rest of the puppet. Whatever the case may be, good or bad, it has certainly moved stop motion forward. It is now possible to get really good expressions on puppets.

  26. Hey Yuji! Man, I'm so glad you saw it so we can dish. I think you make a stellar point there about Coraline being essentially cgi generated stopmotion?! A moron of oxy proportion. Sure looked that way to me.

    really good expressions on puppet faces? meh. I saw absolutely NO ADVANTAGE in expression in Coraline over a total cgi animation! NOTHING? Why go through the agony of hand wrought frame by frame for something that for all the world looks and behaves exactly like 2D?!

    Even Ron Cole's cable control frame by frame work retains a hand made feel. I see no advancement in the craft with what Laika (formerly Will Vinton's) has done.

    BUT-- I would like to add here that all this discussion has given me a place to sort out my thoughts about it and my new bottomline is that. What Coraline is trying to do has less than zero to do with me and what I'm trying to do. Even though we both are using the medium of Stop motion, that's where any similarity ends. I am not in the film industry--thank GOD! I'm just making my art, personal art, meaningful only to me ultimately. And that is more than enough.

  27. Anonymous6:07 AM

    Someone's taken the buttons out of her eyes! ;)

    This was good to read, Shelley -- some solid criticism of Coraline, and coming from a stop motion artist, no less! I had a VERY hard time looking critically at the film, because I left so awe-struck by the visuals that it was hard to explain the teensy dissatisfactions I felt with the storyline.

    I agree with you that the witch's motivation wasn't clear. I think I would've felt better about the conflict and resolution if the world wasn't the construction of one evil-doer, but rather just some sort of parallel universe where people had no souls (or whatever the "buttons" were supposed to represent.) It didn't make sense, for example, that this witch had constructed everything making up this universe, and yet created a Wybie who needed his mouth sewn shut because of his averse opinions. Why would he have opinions she couldn't approve of IF SHE HAD CREATED HIM? Just one of the loopholes. The conflict came on too quickly, and seemed forced, as if the producers were saying "hey let's wrap it up! Money's a-spendin' here!" There should have been 6 eyes rather than 3 (were these one-eyed ghosts?), unnecessary deus ex machina plot devices like the magic viewfinder, the mysterious grandmother who knows the story of the house yet isn't at all helpful, etc...

    Holes I had overlooked while watching; too enthralled by the vaudevillians, the theatre set (waaaah! too beautiful!!!) and that lacy intro. Damn, that was good.

    If this illusory world were something like The Matrix, where it had some intrinsic reason for being, independent of what one particular character wants, it would have made more sense.

    I didn't need to see the witch transform, either -- again, if she is creating this universe, why does she let the illusions fall apart?

    This is how I've unraveled my own feelings of dissatisfaction in the story -- I've heard other people say it wrapped up too fast, that the white background was a cop out,

  28. Anonymous6:10 AM

    oh no! I got cropped. oh well.

    Enough complaining -- I'm just jealous of that beautiful theatre set. Sigh.

  29. Hi Stephanie, Your comment got cropped? Oh, no, I was hanging on your every word!

    You really analyzed the film better than I did. I say right on to your points about the script's failings.

    Here's the thing, an animator reader here commented privately that they liked all the types of stop motion styles, that it was akin to liking different types of music. You might like folk music (like Halfland) and a good Philharmonic performance (like Coraline) every now and again. An audience member can like different sounds for different reasons. A really smart point I think.

    BUUuuuuuut, my complaint about Coraline isn't really so much about the script's issues or its visual style or the director and his teams' choices. My chief outrage is how it didn't look like stop motion. Great animation, YES! for a 2D project. Even the incredibly detailed sets could have been drawn for all I got out of seeing them.

    That's my point. Where was the all important "hand" in this? Maybe the hired hands were too talented to be believed.

  30. True, it was all very slick. At the Q&A Neil Gaiman was asked -- "Why stop motion, why didn't you do this in CG?" And his response was all about how wonderful it is to think that all the things you see in the film actually existed, that it was all built by hand. A method which he felt suited the story best. And then you could ask, well why didn't you make it LOOK more hand-made, to exaggerate that quality?

    There's a conflict here which must come with the enormity of making a feature 3d stopmo film. With so much money involved, I'm sure the producers felt insecure about seeing a film that looks too hand-made. The usual charm of stop motion could be seen as a technical imperfection, or cheap, when you're spending that kind of dough. Even if it's done on purpose, that's how it would read, so that's probably what they're afraid of.

    Or maybe Sellick is trying to overcome the technical problems of stopmo, to erase the glitchiness, as a personal challenge? Or he felt the producers' expectations of not seeing the handmade quality, maybe. He certainly seems to be looking for technological "advancements" in this direction.

    The slickness didn't bother me too much, but it does bother me a little to think that people might not even know it's stopmo at firsg glance -- and that these days, with CG often being used to simulate a glitchy stopmo style, it can be hard to tell. The CG simulations make me love the glitchy qualities of stopmo even more.

    I'd love to see a feature stop mo done in a handmade style, too... I guess I saw the film with lowered expectations, because I find it amazing that such a film could be made (and distributed in major theatres!) in the first place.

  31. Boy, Stephanie, you really hit the nail squarely on the head with your comment.

    You have the final word on the matter with that.

    I think you are 100% correct about the flesh on the bones position the production staff were dealing with. Well said.

    My expectations were soaring high over seeing Coraline, not for the story but for the stop motion expertise involved and the relatively endless money/time/talent involved. The statistics are stunners, thousands of hands for hundreds of puppets with gabillions of ball joints, etc.

    I was wrongly expecting a handmade art piece.

    I would be happy that stop motion was featured in a big main stream (well, nearly) movie---except after all the slickering up it really wasn't stop motion for me.

    That's all, I swear.

  32. Anonymous6:49 AM

    I can't add much that hasn't been said so eloquently here, but thank you for opening the discussion! I loved the book, was disappointed with the CG-ness of the movie. It was kinda like porn with too much vaseline globbed on the lens. I wanted to see the real thing, but got "beauty" instead.

  33. hee. Go ahead, Miss Peggy! LOL! Stop Motion PORN! HA! Comes down to Art vs. Commerce I guess.

  34. I need to correct myself. I found an article that said this, "Everything started with hand sculpted clay marquettes that were scanned into Maya using a 3D scanner.". So it started as analog! Here's the whole article.

  35. Yeah, but it LOOKED cgi! HA! I don't care if they sculpted it with raw mud with their feet, those puppets looked so polished and sanitary I saw no hand in the hand craft. Maybe the artists involved were just too damn good!

    Thanks for the article find, Yuji!

  36. Anonymous7:27 PM

    I won't be able to see the film until May 7th apparently (thanks for the info G3T), but I've had serious reservations about the character design all along - way too close to The Incredibles. Smooth and slick. I prefer the puppets in Madam Tutli-Putli or One Night in One City. I did enjoy the book though, so the basic material is sound.
    I read up on the source material for Corpse Bride, too, and felt an opportunity was missed... it came from pogroms in eastern europe, where a jewish wedding party would be waylaid and slaughtered, and all that was tidied out of it for the film. But I felt it survived as a film in it's own right, despite the genuine darkness being mostly replaced by a pretend-darkness in a non-threatening no-county-in-particular. So I hope I'll feel Coraline still has a lot to offer.

    Fish deadline around 15 March? I've just cast the Piano Tuna body, but still have to make fins and paint it. I'd better get on with it!

  37. HI, Nick!

    Yep, LOVED the original Russian Corpse Bride tale too.

    I've come to terms with big budget stop motion/cgi likeness vs. hand-crafted styles.

    I think what was most upsetting in the shock of seeing Coraline was how unlike stop motion it was, after all the time and effort and funding it had.

    Different taste and values. I get it now.

    Piano Tuna! HA! Gah, I love that so hard. Let me be real for a minute, March 15th is an annual deadline. Take your time, unless the approaching deadline makes it arrives sooner!

    I am thinking about building the undersea set as soon as the main set is done and shooting the underwater scene FIRST! Just so everyone who was kind enough to make a puppet won't have to wait until 2010 to see it!

    Here I go back to the set... after WEEKS!

  38. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Here are my thoughts on Coraline:

    To kind of add to what Yuji said:

    "seems like it went digital to analog back to digital"

    Then he corrected himself:

    "it actually started out analog, with sculpted maquettes"

    However, if you saw it in 2D at the theater, this is what you were seeing:

    Coraline started out analog
    (sculpted Maquettes by Tony Merrithew and others)
    to digital (sculpts scanned into computer)
    to analog (real puppets posed on real sets)
    back to digital,(shot on machine vision cameras and at least one Nikon D70 DSLR)
    then to analog (35mm film projection)

    Now here's the kicker: Coraline is released on DVD...back to digital.

    So, to break it down:

    analog, digital, analog, digital, analog, digital- it's like watching a tennis match!

  39. fantastically clear breakdown, Don, thanks.

    I wouldn't care about the back and forth at all if the result looked hand-crafted after going through the huge effort of making it by hand!

  40. Anonymous1:12 PM

    And AMAZINGLY... no quality was lost throughout the entire conversion process. Maybe a little bit of the human touch, but the movie looks fantastic, and the story wasn't very personable to begin with (it's not supposed to be).

    My only gripe was that the lighting didn't have much contrast. I understand why the lighting was flat; you need to do that to make the characters readable as cartoons. In fact, CG suffers from the same issue-flawless sculptures are hard to dramatically light in a way that feels tactile, and too many lights (fill) spoil the effect. Our eyes are drawn to flaws, and Coraline had none visually, so we'll all looking at something else (in this case, story). That's psychologically affecting.

    One viewer even commented that by the middle of the film, it started to seem like a video game. Adding to that effect in the 3D version is the fact that there is no discernible grain. CG doesn't have any of that either, hence the comparisons between the two, I suppose.

    But I love Coraline, and I was invited to try out for it, the experience was wonderful, the animators kind, and the most deserving and proven person I can think of is now running Laika.

    So it's a good thing that Coraline doesn't succeed in every respect; it would be like eating dessert before dinner! (Mango Milkshakes, anyone?) I think the next film Laika makes will be the real dessert, and this was just the main course.


  41. Well, we'll have to disagree that a story doesn't need to be personable. And that only a little bit of human touch was lost in this.

    I nearly walked out of the film in the middle in disgust for how video game crap was being shoved down my throat when I was expecting something that reflected the painstaking efforts that went into to making it.

    That is the flaw of the film, not the story (which is yet another story). The flaw is the the fundamental decision to make the film look like a cg video game.

    Great talents made Coraline, with great time and expense, absolutely. But I see no advance in the craft of stop motion as I enjoy it.

    Like I said, I've decided other people are doing other things. ok.

    It's like the most soulful song in the world being sung by Britney Spears. I went in for one thing and got another.


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