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The Handmade Tale: Coraline's Inventive DIY Effects

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The Handmade Tale: Coraline's Inventive DIY Effects
: Like most Hollywood kid flicks, the big-screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline boasts a big star (the voice of Dakota Fanning), an armada of digital tools, and millions of dollars in advanced animation. But that's not what makes this stop-motion, 3-D take on the dark novel so eye-popping (and possibly Oscar-worthy). It's the stunningly inventive DIY visual effects that director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) used to bring the story to life. A quarter-million pieces of popcorn are transformed into cherry blossoms, superglue and baking soda are whipped into snow, and black fishing line becomes creepy chest hair.
In all, the crew hand-built 150 sets and 250 jointed puppets, as well as plants and toys with countless moving parts. "What makes this film different," says Tom Proost, one of the art directors, "is that everything is real and everything moves." From kernel to kitty litter, here's how they did it.
Fantastic Garden
Many of the plants—which flutter for a hummingbird's attention—were formed out of plastic mesh. Their radiant stamens include fiber optics. Three seconds of footage took three weeks to shoot.
Flower Arrangement
Set dressers had to adjust these vines to avoid "retinal rivalry"—a feeling of nausea triggered when an object in the extreme foreground is viewed in 3-D.
: Cheek Tree
To create a blooming effect, animators pulled on cables and tubes to open flowers made of cosmetic sponges, wire, and Ping-Pong balls. Fiber optics within and black lights above give the petals their glow.
: Puppet
Each 9.5-inch-tall Coraline puppet has a composite skeleton, silicone flesh, and 20 ball-and-socket joints, which animators tweaked millimeter by millimeter.
: Mr. Bobinsky
The ringmaster's moustache is piano wire. Nylon fishing line doubles as body hair. (Ewww ...)
: Steam
Cotton spritzed with hair spray makes a nice puff of vapor.
: Coraline's House
A crew of 70 carpenters and model makers hand-made every slat, post, and clapboard on this 6-foot-tall home, which was built in multiple configurations so that many scenes could be shot simultaneously.
About 100 pounds of kitty litter was used to surface the 150-square-foot driveway.
Dimmable fiber optics were glued into tiny holes poked in a black curtain.
: Grass
1,300 square feet of hand-dyed faux fur (warning: when the stuff is damp, it smells like a wet dog).
: Hair
Done up with wire, synthetic hair, blue paint, and drug-store styling goop, Coraline's coiffure was arranged by hand, strand by strand.
Using needles as tiny as 0.02 inch in diameter, Indiana-based doll-clothes maker Althea Crome knit Coraline's diminutive gloves and sweaters.
The costume department scoured West Coast fabric shops for prints. What they couldn't buy—like these PJs—designers hand-screened themselves.
: Blossoms
The crew spent 800 hours painting 250,000 pieces of popcorn—pink on the outside, red on the kernel—to stand in as blossoms for the nearly 70 trees.
: Coraline's Face
To allow for more than 200,000 facial expressions, fabricators built 350 top plates (eyebrows and forehead) and 700 bottom plates (mouth).
: Cat's Eyes
A coating of Scotchlite paint behind the plastic lens simulates the reflectivity of real feline eyes.
: Mouse Circus
Designers created 550 hand-painted mice, each with nine separate parts. Animators spent four months reconfiguring and swapping them in and out to mimic motion.

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