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Playtime in a Parallel World
Papaya Studio’s Jonathan Han discusses developing a spooky little game based on LAIKA’s 3-D stop-motion fantasy.
Those who want to relive and expand their enjoyment of Henry Selick’s Coraline movie will be able to do so thanks to a new game published by D3Publisher (Flushed Away, Ben 10: Protector of Earth) available this month for Wii, Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2. We had a chance to chat with Jonathan Han, the game’s producer at Papaya Studio in Irvine, Calif. (LOTR: The Battle for Middle-Earth II, George of the Jungle).
Animag: How familiar were you with the works of author Neil Gaiman and director Henry Selick before taking on the assignment?
Jonathan Han: I’ve been a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work for years, especially the Sandman series, and have read Stardust, Mirrormask, The Graveyard Book, Coraline and many others. As for Henry Selick, I love The Nightmare Before Christmas and the visionary direction he took for that movie. After seeing Coraline brought to life in stop-motion, I’ve become an even bigger fan of their works.
How closely did you work with the team at LAIKA and the animation directors?
Han: Everyone at LAIKA Studio has been extremely helpful in allowing us access to all their materials from the movie to develop the Coraline game. From the very start of production, we were granted access to their style guides, sketches, character models and even the actual movie sets. We even got to watch the crew record some of the scenes for the movie. They were always available when we had any questions or needed directions. It was because of their tremendous help and access to the movie assets that we were able to capture the look and feel of the movie in our game.
Does the game incorporate parts of the story that weren’t used in the movie?
Han: The movie incorporated the majority, if not all, of elements from the original story by Neil Gaiman. We were able to take much of the storyline from the movie for the game and build on it for added depth to the world for the player to explore and experience.
What makes the game different from other similar titles on the market and who is its target audience?
Han: There are a lot of great games on the market, but what really separates Coraline from the other games is its spookiness, which is indicative of the beautifully created movie. When players pick up the controllers for the first time, they will be immediately immersed into this unique world that isn’t like anything else they’ve seen before. Overall, the game is designed to appeal to players of all ages, especially fans of Coraline who want to be able to further explore the world.
Please tell us more about the animation process involved.
Han: With detailed references provided by LAIKA, our team of artists was able to create very detailed character models. Once the models were completed, they were then passed to our experienced animators. Using 3ds Max, our core team of four animators would create both in-game and various cut-scene animations. Overall, our animation team spent about five months animating each move and the rest of the time polishing the animations to make sure we capture the whimsical look and feel of the movie.
What is your favorite part of the game?
Han: My favorite part of the game is the exploration aspect of it. When I first saw the unique locations from the movie, I couldn’t wait for our teams to start creating the world of Coraline and bringing them to life so that we could wander around, meeting the various tenants of the Pink Palace.
Is the look of the game radically different before and after Coraline enters the alternate world?
Han: Each world is very different from one another. The regular world that Coraline lives in is really normal, especially for the heroine who is an adventurer at heart. Her parents work constantly and she doesn’t have a lot to do. When Coraline discovers the passageway to the Other World, she is treated to a fantastic and whimsical translation of her normal world. The world comes alive in vibrant colors and is full of activities. Yet, the Other World itself hides a dark secret that only the Other Mother knows.
What are some of your own personal favorite games of all time?
Han: There are so many wonderful games out there and it is very difficult to decide. If I had to narrow it down to my top three, it would be Chrono Trigger for the SNES, Super Puzzle Fighter II and Ace Combat 6.
Who are your animation role models/idols?
Han: It would have to be the team at LAIKA Studio. After watching them film each frame and the amount of work that goes into it, I was very inspired by their patience and extreme attention to detail. It is that kind of dedication that I would like to strive for in all aspects of what I do.
To find out more about Papaya Studio, visit www.papayastudio.com. You can also check out the new D3P titles at www.d3publisher.us.