The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: History of Stop-Motion Feature Films: Part 3
The filmmaking techniques used for the new film were mostly the same as had been used before, although there were some new uses for computer animation employed for certain effects. CG was used to animate the bunnies floating around in the Bun-Vac 6000 machine used by Wallace and Gromit to capture an entire brood of bunnies; it would have been difficult to animate this in stop-motion. The clay texture of the bunnies was scanned onto the CG models to keep the same appearance, and the effect is seamless. The film also employed some creative use of green-screen compositing and fog effects to aid in creating certain shots for the horror film atmosphere. Overall, the film retained the hand-crafted quality, humor, and classic British flavor of the original short films while becoming more epic in scope to appeal to a mass audience. It is a movie made by and for people who love movies, filled with nods to Metropolis, King Kong, Beauty and the Beast, The Wolfman, An American Werewolf in London, and the Hammer horror films of the 1960s, all put together for a smashing good ride.
While Aardman was producing its feature in Bristol, another stop-motion feature was being produced at Three Mills Studios in London: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. The genesis of the film can be attributed to the late Joe Ranft, who was a storyboard supervisor on The Nightmare Before Christmas. Always one to recognize a good story, he came across a European folk tale about a man who unknowingly proposes to a dead woman. He told Tim Burton about the story, knowing it was “something he could really capture,” and before too long Burton’s sketchbook got some ideas brewing. Similar to Nightmare, Burton knew the project called to be done in animation, but he let the project gestate for several years until the time was right to bring it forward. Following Nightmare, of course, there was a glut of CG films straddling the late 1990s and 2000s, including Burton’s own Mars Attacks! (which was CG after being originally meant to feature stop-motion). When Corpse Bride figuratively rose from the grave of his sketchbooks, some thought was given to using CG. A few tests were done, but Burton knew that the project would have much more resonance if it was done in stop-motion.
At first, the film was considered to be produced at the former Will Vinton Studios in Portland, but the partnership was not meant to last. When the project was officially given the green light by Warner Bros., a crew of regular Burton collaborators combined with new talent was assembled in the U.K. Mike Johnson was chosen as co-director. Johnson had been an assistant animator on Nightmare and went on to direct a short film called The Devil Went Down to Georgia and several episodes of The PJs at Will Vinton Studios. The puppets (Figure 1.35) were designed by premier fabricators MacKinnon & Saunders, and were the first to employ a new technique for facial animation. Rather than extensive use of replacement heads, as had been done in other films, the Corpse Bride puppet faces were manipulated by complex mechanisms of paddles and gears underneath a silicone skin. Animators would insert a tiny Allen key into holes positioned in the puppet’s ear or the back of the head to make the jaw drop, the corners of the mouth twitch, and other kinds of subtle movements.