Claire Jennings, recently appointed Head of Entertainment at LAIKA Studios, has developed quite an impressive resume for herself. Before producing Coraline, LAIKA’s first feature film, she also produced Aardman Animation’s Oscar-winning film Wallace & Gromit In The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. We recently had the chance to sit down with her during the press junket for Coraline, and chat with her about the art of stop-motion animation, the production aspects of Coraline, and what’s up next for LAIKA.
So, let’s start with your animation background. Is your background mostly in claymation and stop-motion?
Well, actually, my background is in animation. I started with 2D animation, and I predominately did 2D animation and CG animation, and then Wallace And Gromit was stop-motion.
What are the qualities, or the benefits, of working in those animation styles? For a producer, or in general?
I think, for me the benefits are that you have a lot more freedom. It’s very much like a live-action shoot, so you’re kinda working in the real world – well, we think it’s the real world when we’re doing it! So you can light it really well, you can make little props – you can do things on the hoof. Whereas with a lot of other formats, it has to be really well planned. You can change a lot of things in CG, but it’s not as tactile – and to me it’s not quite as real.
I suppose it’s that kind of mid-point. It’s like filming, but then you’re able to rearrange the facial expressions of the ‘actors’, so to speak. But then, if you’re properly drawing or rendering, you need to definitely storyboard it.
These films, especially Wallace And Gromit, and hopefully Coraline, do well at the box office, and get good reviews. But why is stop-motion still such a niche artform?
I think, for some reason, stop motion hasn’t been as prolific in America, if you look back at the history of it, in relation to the UK. And I don’t know whether that’s just circumstance, that it happened that Nick Park and people were very good at it and very successful, and that actually spawned an industry of people who were trained to do stop-frame animation.
And then in Australia, too, because of different films that have been made there. I think, the thing with stop motion, is that it is very labour heavy – I don’t want to refer to the artists as labour, but you know, at the end of the day it is very labour heavy. It’s also still a craft, so people need years of training to do it. And I think with CG, it’s a quicker process to learn, although I do think that the artists in CG are incredibly good. I just think it’s an easier system to set up, it’s more manageable, it’s a smaller team. It’s not necessarily less expensive, but I think that the labour and the craft are things that people think are more old-fashioned, and they’re trying to get away from those things.
As an animation producer, how do you work in the industry at the moment? There doesn’t seem to be room for animated films that aren’t the tentpole summer family films – short projects don’t really get shown outside of festivals. How’s LAIKA coming at that? Are you just looking at the feature projects?
Well, it is hard. And that is one of the major difficulties that most companies face – how do you keep one feature film rolling off another feature film, how do you finance the next feature film, how do you get your product to be better than anyone else’s. It’s really like any other industry, it’s incredibly competitive, there’s a high level of long term financial investment. And so, I think you just have to approach it like it is a business, because it is at the end of the day. It’s a business where if you have an interest in the artform, if you’re making something that people enjoy, then people will go and see it.
One thing people have been picking up about Coraline is the darkness to it, the assertion that it is ‘a horror film for kids’. Do you think that this darkness has a place in family entertainment?
I think everything has a place in family entertainment. I’m not sure that people are just picking up on the darkness, and macabre of Coraline. I think they’re picking up on a film that is really interesting, that is exciting, that has got a great sense of story, that has got a character that you can engage with, that is slightly different from the normal animation story. I think that’s probably what they’re picking up on, as opposed to it just being dark.
Oh, I agree. That’s what I liked about the film also, but it seems that there are some stories out there leading with that uneven focus. Finally, what’s the future for LAIKA? I know you’ve been working on this film for a long time, and it’s horrible to say ‘hey, where’s the next project?’ when this isn’t even released, but is there anything on the horizon?
There’s been several films in development when we’ve been making Coraline, and so now that we can sit back and take a breath, we’re taking a fresh look at all of those projects. They’re in active development, so we’re looking at the ones that are at the best stage for moving forward, and at the end of the summer, we’re hoping to be able to choose one of those, and move forward with it. We don’t have a definite project – out of the films that we’re developing, we just want to wait a couple of months and see which one we want to choose.
And you have every right to take a breather. I hope Coraline does well. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Claire.
Coraline is out now.