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Henry Selick and “Coraline”

Henry Selick and “Coraline” (photo)

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A puppet is posed, the camera clicks a frame, then an ever so slightly different pose, and another click. Creating stop-motion animation must be one of the most painstaking artistic processes of filmmaking, and yet the visionary work of director Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach”) is so seamless that you’d think it just comes easy to him. With “Coraline,” based upon the best-selling novella by Neil Gaiman, Selick was in production for 18 months (following another two years of pre-production) on the first stop-motion animated film ever to be photographed in 3D — a thrilling, suspenseful fantasy of adventurous youth and parallel realities. After her family relocates to an eerie country manor, 11-year-old Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) discovers a secret passage to another world that looks exactly her own, except every meal tastes like a decadent banquet, parades of mice perform acrobatics and her parents pay her far more attention… but why do they have buttons for eyes, and why does something seem so sinister behind the façade? Selick chatted with me about what scared him as a child, the Oscar-nominated movie he’d like to see in 3D, and how he feels about Tim Burton getting all the credit for his hard work.

“Coraline” delves into some dark corners of the imagination. How does it feel knowing you’ll be giving nightmares to little children for years to come?

I’m hoping parents take the PG thing seriously, look at their kids and say, “Are they ready for it or not?” We’re not out to traumatize three-year-olds. We’ve been thinking it’s more, you know, eight and up. Below that, only the very bravest children should go to the film. If they’re ready, I think they’ll be the brave ones, the parents will be scared, but the children will hold their hands and assure Mommy and Daddy it’s okay.

It’s not overt, though. It’s more about the scariness of the imagination, like in Grimm’s fairy tales.

Yeah, it hasn’t been done for a while in animation. The fact is, the first Disney films were tapping into the same sort of primal fears of Grimm’s fairy tales, [like] the death of Bambi’s mother. If you go back and see them, you realize the Queen actually wanted Snow White’s heart delivered to her in that box. That’s the order she gave to the hunter. Pinocchio’s best friend is turned into an animal, and it’s not a funny animal. In some sense, Neil’s book tapped into classic fairy tales and just put it in a modern setting. They’re classic because they’ve been told for hundreds of years, and kids love a good scare.

02052009_Coraline1.jpgWhat fantasies scared you as a kid?

One of the first films I saw was “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” when I was four or five. It’s kind of a cheesy movie, but it has Ray Harryhausen’s special effects, and the Cyclops is stop-motion. Cyclops, that’s like this primal fear. I had dreams for years that the Cyclops was a small creature living in our huge fish tank at home, and at night, it was going to grow to full size and come after me.

Constructing a story one frame at a time, how do you maintain such patience? Are you as patient in other aspects of your life?

I’m… [laughs] Yeah, I can’t talk about my life because I’m not very good at most of the other aspects, but I have great patience for animation. I learned very early there’s a price to pay: a huge amount of time and a certain level of frustration. But the reward is phenomenal. You are literally giving life to puppets. It’s every kid’s greatest dream that their toys — their stuffed bear or their G. I. Joe, whatever it might be — come to life. That’s what we get to do. As a director, I’m not the one animating every frame, every shot. I’m moving around like a surgeon on rounds, or a farmer checking in on all the plants being grown, pruning and adjusting. For me, it’s a very exciting job. I work with some of the finest artists in the world. I’m in constant motion, making thousands of decisions a day. But for the animators themselves, it’s a great labor of love. Sometimes those sweet little puppets seem to be nothing more than vampires sucking your life out before your eyes.

At least a couple of your films had you dabbling in part live-action. Besides the immediacy of not needing to spend six times as long on a shoot, what do you like about that kind of filmmaking that you don’t get from animation?

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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