Selick Talks Vinton Projects

With the recent announcement that Vinton Studios has acquired the upcoming kid lit release The Wall and the Wing for Henry Selick to direct, we thought we’d pester the Nightmare Before Christmas director for some details about this project and other things he’s been working on since joining Vinton as a supervising director last year.

AMO: Is The Wall and the Wing in the same vein as Harry Potter?

HS: "It’s an alternate version of New York where there are clear differences between the world we know and this world. While Harry Potter has more traditional magic stuff with dragons and dark forces, this is more modern wizardry but certainly in the same general vein. The most attractive thing to me is how funny it is. Even the most despicable characters have funny weaknesses or behaviors. It’s also a mystery. These kids have lost their memories at this orphanage and, in trying to discover who they are, they become fast friends and ultimately learn that they’re really at opposite sides of a particular game.

AMO: How will it be animated?

HS: It’s one of these projects that could have gone live-action, but I just think it’s actually going to reach a broader audience and just work better [in animation]. I take my cues from The Incredibles when it comes to bringing humans into animation. With the right tone and design, it can be super effective.

We’re not locked in. The tradition here is stop-motion, but we’re moving into CG. While there are a lot of smaller set pieces, there are some large-scale action scenes and crowds that would definitely use some CG help, even if it was in stop-motion. But I wouldn’t say right now definitively which way it would go. Probably CG. I’m still a great believer in stop-motion and will continue to push for that for the right project. But for this one, the scale feels bigger and feels more like a CG world. With stop-motion, I generally think that smaller, more confined worlds work better.

AMO: Right now you’re working on the CG-animated short film, Moongirl, for Vinton. Where are you in the production process?

HS: We’re half-way done with animation because we’re not just using off-the shelf stuff. We’re actually doing a fair amount of custom tool writing and trying to set up a feature pipeline. Certain areas are taking a long time, you know, the usual CG bugaboos–cloth and hair. There’s also a fair amount of compositing development that’s underway, so there are growing pains here. It’s looking great. We’ve got a few rendered-out shots that look fantastic. We’ll probably be wrapping up in June.

AMO: You want this film to stand on its own, but it also serves as a harbinger of things to come, right?

HS: It does many things for us. Hopefully we’ll get some attention. It says we’re serious about story, we’re serious about CG, but our films aren’t going to look exactly like everyone else’s. It has a bold look that I think is very attractive. We’re hoping to place it at certain festivals like the Toronto film festival, as well as Ottawa and other key animation festivals. So it’s something to develop a pipeline and be a calling card when we go out to look for producing partners for the features.

AMO: You say Moongirl will have a very bold, unique look. Can you elaborate on that?

HS:It doesn’t look anything like Chris Van Allsburg, which they tried to do in The Polar Express, but I am going for a storybook look. A lot of CG tends to be clean. That’s what it does well. So we’re trying to add textures, dirt, tone and good, clear design. Also in CG, people overlight. They blast light because they want to make sure you see everything perfectly clear all the time. I think we have some more interesting lighting and a broader range. In my mind, it’s what The Nightmare Before Christmas did for stop-motion. We really took it into a new arena in terms of camera moves, lighting, mood and so forth. This, in a much smaller way being a short film and all, is a pretty bold step for CG.

AMO: What can you tell us about the story?

HS: I really can’t tell you about the story. We have to decide how and when we want to release that.

AMO: This is your first all-CG project. How do you like the process?

HS: It’s wonderful and frustrating at the same time. I still have al lot of the same thrills–I get to push design and lighting, which are things I love to do. I get to work with some really fine animators here. It really is rocket science. There are a lot of really bright people here. I guess it’s really the unpredictability of putting believable cloth on characters. I’m used to it now, but it was very frustrating for a while. With stop-motion, you’re trying to do live-action in miniature and you set it up and shoot it, what you get is generally the final result. Here, the layers are very distinctive. When you have your animation, you don’t get to see it lit or rendered and all the other steps have to happen.

Check next week for Part 2 of this interview, where Selick discusses work on the upcoming stop-motion feature, Coraline, as well as other irons he has in the fire.