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Reseach Paper - Coraline

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My research topic is on the movie “Coraline”. “Coraline” is a 2009 American 3D stop-motion horror film that was written and directed by Henry Selick from Laika and released by Focus Features. According to Selick, this classic film took 20 months to shoot, excluding the time spend on pre-production and post-production work. The entire time taken to complete this film was roughly 4 years. The film was based on Neil Gaiman’s 2002 Novel “Coraline”, which is about a girl named Coraline who moves into a new home, in which she finds a secret door which leads to an alternate universe that very closely resembles her own. The storyline of this film is a very unique one, hence, Selick believed that if this film were to be done in live-action, as it was originally planned, it would not do this film justice. Sources1 quote that Selick felt as if the film would seem too ‘fake’ if done in live-action; for example, the scenes in which the black cat was talking or in the scene that had over 500 Scottish terriers seated in a theatre. He also believed that since the film was to be directed towards a younger audience, live-action would make this film too scary for children to sit through. Therefore, stop-motion animation was used to create this film. Stop-motion animation is a technique that involves animating physical objects, making it seem as though these objects are moving on its own. This is done by taking many still photos of static objects and putting them together, hence creating an illusion of these objects in motion. Stop-motion goes back a long way. The creation of stop-motion can be credited to J. Stuart Blackton. The first film that incorporated the use of stop-motion was 1898’s “The Humpty Dumpty Circus” but this technique became more popular after films such as “King Kong” (1933) and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) were released.

Over time, stop-motion animation evolved. Traditional stop-motion animation was combined with computer-generated imagery (CGI) and 3D printing technology to create 3D stop-motion. Laika was the first animation house to do this, hence, this is one form of stop-motion used to create “Coraline”. Another form of animation used in this film is ‘replacement animation’. Replacement animation is just like regular stop-motion animation; the only difference is that instead of using one object or ‘puppet’, many different faces with different expressions are printed of each character. Within the context of this film, each replacement head was digitally sculpted and then printed using a 3D printer. 3D printing uses a UV-sensitive resin and support material that is sprayed down in a layering process that builds objects in 3D space. This is how each character’s facial expressions were made to seem so realistic, which is truly incredible as such naturalistic performances can be created using inanimate objects. Quoting Brian McLean, director of rapid prototype at Laika, “Henry [Selick] really wanted [the character] Coraline to be able to be very subtle at times but also have broad expressions,” 2 At that time, no other special effects technique allowed this to happen. Hence, this is another reason why stop-motion animation was used to create this film. Sources state that 6,333 heads were printed for Coraline alone and up to 20,000 heads were printed for every character in the film. This was done by layering liquid glue in white powder. These heads were then hand-painted and hand-sanded. When combined, these heads could create up to more than 200,000 different facial expressions. As for the entire puppet, it took 10 people approximately 3 to 4 months to build just one puppet. As the smaller parts of the puppet tend to break easily, each puppet had gone through around 13 pairs of hands. The people in charge of constructing the puppets were so detailed when it came to creating these puppets for the film and the evidence is that Coraline’s puppet had 42 different wigs.

The puppet’s hair was created using everyday products such as ‘Got2be glued hair cement’, which allowed animators to make the hair movement look realistic. Aside from 3D printing different heads for each character, Laika went to the extent of hiring a professional knitter, Althea Crome, to hand-knit all the sweaters that were worn by Coraline in the film. In an interview 3, Crome said that it had taken her anywhere between 6 weeks to 6 months to design and knit a sweater. She also mentioned that the needles she used to knit these sweaters were as small and fine as a strand of human hair. Puppets weren’t the only objects they had to create for the film. Miniature versions of the “Pink Palace” and the forest had to be built for the animators to be able to shoot a scene. Not to mention that two versions of the same set had to be built; one for the ‘real world’ and one for the ‘other world’. When it came to filming this movie, matte painting was also incorporated. One example of a scene that added the use matte painting was when Coraline and her family drove up to the “Pink Palace” at the beginning of the film. According to representatives at Laika 4, ‘The Fantastic Garden’ was the hardest set to build for the film. Hundreds of flowers were handcrafted and most of them had their own light source. These flowers had to be build in a way that they could be moved for the shot of Coraline entering the garden. Animation rigger Oliver Jones shared an example of how he created some of these flowers in an interview 5. Jones used parts of a dog toy to enable the flower to open and close realistically. Thin sheets of foam were used to create the petals and the leaves. “Coraline” was a chart-topping blockbuster, and up to this day, it remains as an iconic film which is still many peoples favourite. “Coraline” set the standard for stop-motion films all around the world and has inspired many filmmakers to delve into the world of 3D stop-motion animation, so much so that traditional stop-motion might as well be a thing of the past.

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