Selick Talks Vinton Projects: Part 2

Last week, we posted part one of our recent interview with Henry Selick, a respected director of animated films who is now helming a slate of projects for Vinton Studios. One of those works in progress is the highly anticipated Coraline, an animated feature based on the Neil Gaiman fantasy novel of the same name. At last reporting, the film was slated to be made using stop-motion, but Selick tells us that may change.

Animation Magazine Online: What’s Happening with Coraline?

Henry Selick: I’m doing a re-write on the screenplay. There’s a wall I’m looking out through my window right now of the character lineup. We’re kind of going for very cartoonish to sort of counter some of the darker aspects of the story as Quentin Blake’s drawings offset some of Roald Dahl’s darker moments and it seems to be a really good combination. We have some preliminary designs dome of all the characters and we’re sculpting up the Coraline one downstairs. We’re going to be getting into doing beat boards, having key beat moments in the story drawn up and illustrated, as well as some paintings to sort of show the coloring and worlds we go into. So that’s coming along nicely.

AMO: Is Neil Gaiman hands-on at all with the production?

HS: He’s not hands-on at all. We’ll show him things occasionally, but I want to wait until we get to key points. Neil is the originator of the story and characters, and I very much try to keep the flavor and a lot of key scenes and dialogue from the book. But I learned a long time ago that, in order to make it a film, I can’t have constant dialogue with Neil. We both do better and he likes my work better if I kind of don’t talk to him for a few months at a time and then show him things. It seems to be a healthy way to work and he’s got a lot of things on his plate that he’s involved in.

AMO: How much on Coraline will you be blending CG and stop-motion?

HS: I need to do some tests first. I have a pretty strong idea about how that could work and not be distracting. We’ll do some test animation and get a sense of which style is appropriate for which actions. There is an alternate version of Coraline’s life where things magically transform and CG would certainly be beneficial there. But, honestly, we’re just going to see what the appetite is for stop-motion. There are stop-motion features coming out this year and next, films like [DreamWorks’ and Aardman’s] Wallace and Gromit.

AMO: So you’ll be looking at films like Wallace and Gromit and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride to see what they do well?

HS: There’s no getting around it–right now, CG is king, whether it deserves to be or not. It’s the style that is making huge money at the box office. We are of course looking for co-producing partners and they will have a say in [the style] as well. So I have to be open to what’s going to work best in the story and also what’s going to function in the marketplace. We’re definitely trying to do our films for quite a bit less.

AMO: Do you think that eventually the marketplace is going to become so saturated with CG films that Vinton will be in a better position because of its ability to do stop-motion?

HS: There are going to be so many CG films coming out that there are bound to be some that are clunkers and don’t succeed for whatever reason. I think we’re already at a point where people wouldn’t really go see a CG film if it wasn’t very entertaining. Stop-motion’s always been a distant third in the animation race, behind CG and 2D. I think there will continue to be some 2D films that work, but right now, nothing’s in fashion but CG. Give it some time and those other styles will percolate back.

AMO: Speaking of CG, will Vinton be looking at your computer-generated short, Moongirl, to kind of set the tone for how future Vinton films are going to look and feel?

HS: Not necessarily. We’re certainly learning a lot from it. It sets a tone story-wise–it’s not a funny cartoon. It has humor but it’s more of a fable and kind of a magical dream. Tonally, it’s close to some of the stories we’re developing as features.

AMO: What packages are you using for animation?

HS: We’re using Alias Maya for animation and RenderMan for rendering. And then there’s Slim and Shake and all theses other programs. And there’s all this endless custom tool writing and things breaking down on the render farm. It’s amazing to me that anyone has finished CG features. It’s a miracle!

AMO: How are things going a Vinton in general?

HS: I’m really happy to be here. I like the vibe of Vinton with its traditions and a foot firmly planted in CG. There are a lot of interesting designs. There’s the classic Vinton name associated with the California Raisins and things like that in the past, but I think we’d like to show people that we’re many things beyond that as well. I’ve always done better when I’m down the street and around the corner like when we did the stop-motion features The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach . We were in old warehouses in South of Market in San Francisco, kind of out of the way and left to our own devices. That’s how we are up here and I think that’s how we’ll produce the best work.

Something I would add is: I’ve been listed like I’m directing all these movies but I can’t possibly direct all these films. Coraline is kind of my baby, but I may be bringing a co-director on to help on that and the other projects as well. At the most, I’ll be co-directing the others. There are internal people here who will be brought up to be feature directors and we’ll be using some folks from the outside as well. We are going to expand pretty quickly as we get these projects greenlit.

AMO: And after doing stop-motion effects work for Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you’re doing an animated feature with Wes, right?

HS: That’s sort of a back-pocket project. Wes is off writing [an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s] The Fantastic Mr. Fox with his writing partner, Noah Baumbach, who is also a gifted filmmaker in his own right. The Last time I spoke with Wes was at least six weeks ago when he had 50 pages done, which, with a Wes Anderson screenplay, could be … a third of the way? I don’t know! [laughs]. I’m not in constant communication with Wes but he’s a fabulous writer. I don’t talk about it much but I hope it’s percolating along and will come back to us. Our plan is to co-produce that and do it as an all stop-motion film. He’s very much dedicated to stop-motion, so if that happens here [at Vinton], which is very likely, it would definitely be a stop-motion film. There are plenty of spinning plates and I don’t know which ones are going to fall on my head first!

Read Part 1 of this interview at