Name: Jolanta Jasiulionyte Unit title: Space Word count:1494 Essay question: How production design serves

to tell the story of “Coraline” Date: 27 November 2009

How production design serves to tell the story of “Coraline” “Coraline” is both a book, written by Neil Gaiman1 and a film about, in Henry Selick’s2 words , “stubborn, sceptical, curious eleven-year-old” (Jones, 2009:11) young girl, named Coraline Jones . From another point of view “Coraline” is one of the best examples how film can become striking merely because of wonderfully resolved production design and of how 3D can be successfully melded with stop-motion animation3 to create something marvellous to watch and experience. It is rich in it’s visual content. As Roger Ebert, the film reviewer from “Suntimes”, noted “you might care little about a fantasy, little indeed about this story, and still admire the artistry of it all”. To better understand the role and reasons why the production design is in the way as seen in this film I have researched a wide range of source material – beginning with the book about a visual companion of the film and ending with various articles and reviews, interviews and personal observations. To begin with, it is a handmade fairytale which design is shifted as well as highly stylized with its weirdness and psychedelic surrealism in such a way adapted to the fairytale genre .“It doesn’t try to be human <…> It’s very clever and slightly disturbing” as Ian McShane , the voice of Bobinsky4, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbw-Ai3IJdM) notices. Not also the production design is stylized to match its genre origins, there are few points that also are considered when
1 2

Nail Gaiman is a well known writer who created the novel “Coraline” (2009). Henry Selick Disney-trained stop-motion animation specialist was the director, executive producer, screenplay writer and the production designer for the film “Coraline”. He also directed other very successful films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993), “James and the Giant Peach” (1996), etc. 3 Stop Motion Animation is the cinematic process by which an armatured, poseable puppet is brought to life on screen by breaking up the figure's motion into increments and filming one frame of film per increment. When the final film is projected, the puppet appears to move of its own volition. (http://www.pharosproductions.com/aosma/aosma_intro.html , 2009) 4 Sergei Alexander Bobinsky is the character in this film.He’s Coraline’s neighbour.

creating the concept art for the film. In order to further discuss the concept design of “Coraline”, it’s important to briefly highlight the story. The story begins with Coraline exploring the new place that she with her family has just moved in. Sadly for her, everything in the new place, even though new and inexperienced, seems, in her own words, “painfully boring” and plane. To add more to this, she has sickly tired parents who are overloaded with work and forget to show their love and be attentive to her. Not to mention tha fact, that Coraline is surrounded by odd neighbours – “sad Russian giant <…>, two eccentric old British actresses’’ and “really annoying neighbourhood kid” (Jones, 2009:34). But suddenly a better and improved version of the world she is living in is brought to her. The “other worlds” has attentive and joyous parents, always interesting and playful neighbours. Coraline constantly explores amazing sites, experiences extraordinary events. This world is what the previous one lacked of – love, joy and excitement. But at the end of the film the heroine comes to realize how “fake” everything was. How the “amazing” became dangerous and how the “boring” became precious and dear. To summarize it, the “Real world” at the beginning appears unpleasant and boring to Coraline, it is the “Other world” which is amazing and lively, full of various joyous experiences. On the other hand at the end the perception of these worlds becomes completely opposite. The production is designed to represent the differences between these two worlds. THE REAL WORLD. The real world is arranged to look boring and “dry”, lacking of interest. Everything is designed in a way to rise a feeling “I have to get out of here”. To begin with, Henry Selick describes best the way sets were designed - “in the Real World, sets were built with very little depth. They have crushed space: the floors are raked; the ceilings and walls are at steep angles. <…>, they feel claustrophobic.” The space

here is often overstuffed with , for example boxes, books or equipment, thus further intensifying the feeling of “I can’t breathe here”. But not only has the interior design raised feelings of uncomfortable. The outer world, even though is wide and open is also designed to look derelict and unpleasant. The plants and trees are stiff, ground is bleak and muddy. To continue further, the characters match this world also. For instance Coraline’s parents wrear greyish outfits and have black and wrinkled around eyes faces, the hair is messy – everything serves for them to appear terribly tired.

Figure 1 But the most noticeable and unifying principle of the “real world” is the colour palette, which seems to be dull and plane. In the picture the production illustrator John Klassen clearly demonstrates what colours are to be picked for witch part of the real world. As I mentioned before, the outside might have appeared the place where Coraline could’ve got some ‘fresh air’, a relief, but the colours assigned are the darkest, therefore the most depressing. The only attribute standing out is the Coraline herself– as the main character whit her bright yellow coat.

Figure 2 To sum up, the real world is designed to look boring and sluggish by carefully selecting colour palette, adapting set and character design to better convey the dull beginning of the narrative. In comparison to this, there’s the “Other world”.

THE OTHER WORLD. It is simply better and improved. “You go into the same room in the Other World, <…> and there’s a sense of freedom.” – as Henry Selick described. Creator intentions were to generate a sense of liveliness through the production design. This effect was reached using, this time a variety of vivid colours and warm tones rather than moderate solutions of the colour palette. To add more, the space now has more depth, comparative to the “boring” world, as the director himself explains. The viewer also becomes aware of many other interesting elements that now are a part of this world (for instance the flower garden, new toys in Coralines room, mouse circus etc.).

Figure 3

Figure 4

To discus the change taking a certain example, of how deeply the world shifted let’s the Coraline’s room.

Figure 5 The uplifting colour tones and warm, soft lightning, the angel-like figures, and “fancy” textures in the whole room. Event the shapes appear to be softer, more fluid (for instance the curtains and the rounder shape of the fireplace) – all in service to create feelings of admiration for this place. To add more the outlooks of characters are also shifted to suit the “better version” of Coraline’s life.

Figure 6 For instance, there’s an extra charm added in the design of the other mother (as well as to rest of the characters). The vivid colours around the face, the “healthy” and flowing shapes (the contour of the hair and the hair itself, the lips). Everything in here resembles the true world but is slightly better and more appealing. That is until a certain point of the story. THE SHIFTING. Everything becomes more interesting, when unexpectedly, the “Wonderful” becomes frightening. The design, as through out the whole film, is a servant to the narrative and reflects it. For example, if the story tells, that the other mother becomes a frightening creature with evil intensions, the design is accordingly shifted to suit it.

Figure 7 Relevantly to the appealing version of the other mother (even with the buttons for eyes) now the character resembles skeleton with its shape, leaving only mere hints it once was a “human”.

Figure 8: The environment looses warm colouring, adding cold bluish-greenish colouring and lightning, looses harmonious shapes, instead using highly scattered forms and stronger perspectives (especially seen when Coraline gets trapped in the Other Mother’s spider-web). Whereas the design of home gain new colours of the previously experienced “other world” in its appealing state. A great example would be, the very last scenes, where all characters plant bright red tulips, in such way symbolically bringing the warm new tones in their lives, making the environment cosier. To conclude, it becomes clear, there were roughly two different concepts of the world created.

The production design in this film the majority of time misleads the viewer from the actual truth- the real world with loving and caring parents appears sluggish and dull, whereas the other - fake world is represented as welcoming. It is only at the end when both of the worlds appear in their true colours – the “improved“ world turns to be a nightmarish trap, on the other hand, the real world begins to resemble “home” –cosy, warm and pleasant place to stay at. Nothing was left behind when designing how this film is going to look. The character design, set design and even colours were arranged and shifted in a way to suit and improve the narrative.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Book:
Jones, Stephen. (2009). Coraline a Visual Companion.New York:William Morrow and Company; Websites: Henry Selick. (2009). Henry Selick on Neil Gaiman – Interview. : http://hollywood-animatedfilms.suite101.com/article.cfm/henry_selick_on_neil_gaiman_in terview#ixzz0X2UP7KN8 (Accessed 16 November 2009) THE STOP MOTION ANIMATION PROCESS (2009) http://www.pharosproductions.com/aosma/aosma_intro.html ( Accessed 16 November 2009) (Concept design illustrations) http://www.froghatstudios.com/art/coraline/page0.html (Accessed 24 November 2009) John Klassen. (concept design illustrations) http://burstofbeaden.com/coraline.html Barber, Nicholas .Coraline, Henry Selick, 100 mins (2009) http://www.independent.co.uk/artsentertainment/films/reviews/coraline-henry-selick-100-mins-pgbrchristephen-frears-92-mins-15brlittle-ashes-paul-morrison-112-mins-151682051.html (Accessed 21 November 2009) Edwards, Richard. (2009). Coraline http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/coraline/

(Accessed 20 November 2009)