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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 10:01 AM CDT

Digital Imaging Goes to the Movies

Advanced digital camera technology facilitates new stop-motion animation techniques
One of the 36 cameras used on the Coraline set oversees the stop-motion action.
© Pete Kozachik
One of the 36 cameras used on the Coraline set oversees the stop-motion action.
Ian Barrett
© Galvin Collins
Ian Barrett readies a camera for the next shot on the Coraline set.
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By Terry Guy, Princeton Instruments

For the better part of the last century, the process of creating stop-motion animation necessitated the use of film. This enduring art form, however, is no longer inexorably linked to its traditional medium. Over the past several years, even full-length, stop-motion features from major studios have sought to explore innovative techniques that incorporate digital imaging technology.

Recently, LAIKA Entertainment (Portland, Ore.) shot a full-length animated feature implementing the most technologically sophisticated stop-motion methods seen to date. LAIKA's Coraline production team used high-performance MEGAPLUS® digital cameras from Princeton Instruments (Trenton, N.J.) to acquire all of the frame-by-frame footage of physical miniatures required to create this classic style of animation.

Coraline, which is scheduled for a February release, is the first major stop-motion feature to be shot in stereoscopic 3D. The project's director of photography, Pete Kozachik, whose professional cinematography and visual effects experience includes work on 37 feature films and hundreds of commercials, notes that the novel approach used to create Coraline was preceded by a number of intermediate steps. This painstaking progression ultimately led to the technological capacity that enabled Coraline to forego film and move completely into the digital domain.

Kozachik says that when he worked as director of photography and visual effects supervisor on Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas in the early 1990s, every frame was shot one at a time with movie cameras that were designed in the 1920s. Although there was some use of a video frame grabber to compare two frames of film, it was only at the end of shooting a whole scene that the film was taken to the lab and the results viewed to see if the footage was viable.

Kozachik describes this extremely time-consuming, labor-intensive process as "anxiety provoking." Despite representing the state-of-the-art in stop-motion animation at the time, he reflects that it harked back to the methods used to make monster movies in the 1930s through the 1980s. For his labor of love on The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was the first full-length, stop-motion feature from a major studio (Touchstone Pictures), Kozachik received a 1993 Academy Award Nomination for Best Visual Effects.

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