'Coraline': Neil Gaiman and Travis Knight talk adaptation, scaring kids, and more at EW's CapeTown Film Festival

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Image Credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

The penultimate day of EW’s inaugural CapeTown Film Festival featured a Q&A with rock star of fantastical literature Neil Gaiman following a screening of Coraline, the animated adaptation of his 2002 book of the same name.

Gaiman, along with the film’s lead animator, Travis Knight, told the audience at the Egyptian Theatre about the difficulties of finding a studio to back Coraline, the film’s animation methods, and why scaring kids is a good thing. Read on for five things we learned from the discussion led by EW’s Geoff Boucher.

Coraline the movie was not an easy sell. Knight noted that when the makers of Coraline were looking for a financier for the film, it was difficult to convince people that the movie could find an audience. Knight recalled the reactions from potential producers: “It’s got a female protagonist, so clearly boys will not go see a movie like this. But it’s really scary, so girls are not gonna be into that. And it’s in stop-motion — nobody wants to see stop-motion!” Gaiman said that the production company that ultimately signed on, Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, was “convinced that the only people who would go see it were essentially small children.” But he was pleased to see another company involved in the movie’s making, Laika Entertainment, market the film to “other groups, like Neil Gaiman fans” — the mention of that obvious group to target got some laughs from the audience that appeared to be full of fans of the English author — “and animation fans and just people who like cool, weird, s—.” The movie ended up performing much better at the box office than tracking predicted it would.

Coraline featured an innovative new use of 3-D printing. Knight talked about how they created so many varied facial expressions for Coraline‘s characters with a method called rapid prototyping. As the name suggests, it’s “meant for a prototype, but we used it as a mass production device,” Knight explained. “We’d model Coraline’s face in the computer and then print it out on a 3-D digital printer.” Animators printed 8,000 faces for Coraline’s character — a major increase from the 800 expressions Jack Skeleton had in The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was also directed by Henry Selick. Knight brought a Coraline puppet to the event and showed how her face could be taken off and replaced with a different one. As audience members leaned forward for a peek at the momentarily faceless Coraline, Knight admitted, “I know it’s a little unsettling.”

Gaiman recalled a touching story about visiting the set of Coraline. One of the carpenters on set recalled watching a bonus feature on the DVD for Stardust, also adapted from a Gaiman-penned novel, in which the author confessed how guilty he felt because “carpenters have spent a month building the [pirates’ flying] ship that you made up in 20 seconds.” But Gaiman felt a little better about that when the carpenter said, “Look, if it wasn’t for you, I’d be making cupboards.”

There is one change from the book in the film adaptation Gaiman doesn’t like. Though Gaiman said that he liked the majority of the book-to-film changes and that he loved “the sassy, blue-haired, American Coraline,” there was one piece of the Selick-written and -directed film he was not a fan of: “I was uncomfortable with feeling like Wybie had rescued [Coraline] at the end. She has to rescue herself.”

It’s a horror movie for kids, and that’s okay. Gaiman recalled meeting some fans who told him that the book helped them get through “very very dark, very hard, incredibly disturbing things that happened to them. Echoing the words of James Neil Hollingworth made famous by The Princess Diaries, Gaiman explained that Coraline had taught young readers that “being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you’re scared and you do the right thing anyway.” And then the fan-favorite author brought on some of the biggest applause of the event when he said, “I’m glad I wrote a book that has scary things in it and things that are worth being scared of and tells you that you should be brave, that you can persist, and you can triumph.”

EW’s CapeTown Film Festival has included appearances by such geektastic actors and filmmakers as John Carpenter, Mark Hamill, and the cast of Falling SkiesThe festival wraps up Monday night with a screening of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and a rare Q&A with Leonard Nimoy. Learn more about the festival by clicking here.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome

Read more:
Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige talks ‘Iron Man 3′ at EW’s CapeTown Film Festival
Edgar Wright and ‘Scott Pilgrim’ cast rock EW’s CapeTown Film Fest: Five things we learned
What we learned about Neil Gaiman’s influences from his interview with NPR


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