Henry Selick wanted the art department to create customized forced perspective sets. He wanted the rooms in Coraline’s “Real” world to be have a flattened feel. He also loved the idea of capturing the look created by Coraline’s top Illustrators like Jonathan Klassen, Andy Schuhler and Tadehiro Uesugi. Henry wanted to play with the dimensions of the sets, pushing the envelope of what we could shoot.
Before I arrived, the first tests of heavily forced-perspective sets were made using computer mock-ups. These were then printed out and built in foam core. The tests were interesting but it was hard to tell what was going on or to really approve a final look this way. At this point none of the interior rooms in the movie had been built or signed off on.
Phil Brotherton (Art Director / partner in crime) and I decided to build in nearly full detail, finished rooms that Henry could inspect. They could also be sent to stage for Pete Kozachik’s camera department to shoot and test. These finished mock-ups would include versions of Coraline’s bedroom, her “other” bedroom, the kitchen and Dad’s study.
Our goal was to put sets in front of Henry so he could start fine-tuning some and throw out others completely. Basically get the ball rolling in a tangible way.
Instead of using computer mock-ups to calculate forced-perspective, we decided to go a more organic route.
Dad’s Study was built by eye. A still print of Tadehiro’s illustration of the room was tacked to the side of the table for everyone to reference. Every day, the artists from the art department would add walls and props. Bo Henry set up a camera so that we could check the build against the illustration.
The other rooms were made with the help of the line-up layer feature in Dragon. We would take a table, then set an angle for the floor. When the floor was set, we would set up a camera with live-view in the angle of the illustration for that room. Then we’d load the illustration into Dragon and overlay it on the live-view. We would lock down the tripod and the table. Morgan Hay would then start the process of cutting foam-core and building the set to match the illustration. This process was accurate while also allowing a human touch. When the foam-core build was complete, it became the template for the build.
Right before Christmas 2006, we presented Henry with five different finished builds. To our surprise, he liked them all, or at least something about them all. We spent the next few months fine-tuning those rooms. They appear in the movie much like our original “test” mock-ups.
Testing 3D rain and other effects with Dragon
During one of our meetings, I made the suggestion that we should try to shoot the rain you see outside the windows of Coraline’s house as an in-camera effect. Henry liked the idea but it wasn’t really my job as Art Director to suggest how effects shots should be done. I had sort of created a problem, so I wanted to help solve it.
One night Morgan Hay stayed late with me and we used Dragon to shoot a 3D stereo test of rain falling outside the window.
We used Dragon’s multi-exposure system, naming one exposure left and the other right. For the rain we used a fun trick involving a 45-degree glass outside the window facing down. Then, below the set, we used a multi-plane of layers of black strings over a black velvet bg. The strings had occasional white paint to emulate a blur of falling rain. We lit the strings with polarized light and moved the layers of string at different intervals to emulate perspective.
We borrowed a horizontal camera slider from Pete Kozachik that would allow us to set a left and right position for each frame. We used Dragon’s handy motion calculator to help us create a dolly-in for the shot.
After the shoot we used After Effects to prep the still sequences for the digital 3D projection system. In the morning we were watching a full blown rain test with camera move on the big screen with our 3D glasses.
Henry and Pete approved the test and soon Brian Van’t Hul was working with Andy Gent to design rain-rigs that could be run by motion control. I think Henry appreciated the rain gag. When I decided to leave Coraline and come back to my home in Ojai, He gave me a fun plaque with an allusion to the rain rigs.
We also used Dragon to test stereo effects shots of the world coming apart and other fun experiments including 3D wallpaper. I’ve included a still of animator, Amy Adamy shooting a 3D effects test for Coraline using a pre-release of Dragon Stop Motion.
“Hey Jamie, You’re not in the movie credits”. I was only there for five months while others stayed the long haul of years. They did throw me a credit on IMDB. I’m Just happy to have been able to work with such a fun and talented group of people.