That weekend wasn't only spent banging futilely at the keyboard, however: I toured the Laika Studio.
lenser had offered a tour of the Laika studio, where he's been working for the last year or two on lighting for the 3D stop-motion animation version of Neil Gaiman's "Coraline." I'd invited thrihyrne to accompany me, but she had to bow out that morning. Fortunately, sanguinity was available (as long as I promised to get her home in time to attend the opera).
The first stop was a narrow room, lined with tall whiteboards. They looked like a giant spreadsheet; which was essentially what they were. They showed the activities for over fifty Units, each one a workspace for a small set, lights and animators. Sanguinity pointed out that anyone who has done large project management would find them fascinating, as the logistics for such an undertaking are huge, but our tour was just beginning.
When we walked into the mammoth studio space, the first thing I noticed was that it smelled like a theater shop. I don't know what all makes up that combination of odors; paint, velvet drapes, lumber, glue, hot quartz-halogen lights and gel filters. It was immediately familiar, though, in a friendly way.
Those fifty workspaces were all in this studio, in a maze of black drapes with entrances marked with tape (another theater familiarity). We spent over an hour wandering through, looking at the sets. The miniatures were... amazing. Incredibly detailed and beautifully done. I love the creativity in materials, like dyeing fake fur to make a hillside of matted grass, or a light pink tint to popcorn for cherry blossoms. I know that talented people can assemble such things far quicker than I could, but I couldn't help but think about the thousands of hours of labor that must have gone into it all.
Lenser kept up a running commentary about the sets, puppets, cameras, computer systems, and what it was like to work with the other people there. He showed us one set that was so big it had stairs for the crew to get to the top of it. That piece took two months to construct, just to give a particular effect that lasts about 1.5 seconds on screen. Such is the nature of movies.
We circled through the fabrication areas; sets, motion control, puppets, props, painting. While we were there, the work areas were mostly empty, but at full swing, hundreds of people worked there. That's another similarity to being in the theater; being surrounded by a crowd of creative deeply people involved in a creative project. (Sanguinity spent a little while telling a painter about the mundane aspects of manufacturing plants, which apparently is fascinating to those creative sorts who have never worked in one.)
The final soup du jour was the screening room, where we got to see an almost-finished trailer on the big screen, in 3D. In a word: Quite amazing. For those of us who are Sensitive, I'm not sure how our stomachs will hold up when exposed to a full-length feature in 3D, but the effect is very good.
Finally, in the manner of all good film-studio tours, we spent a while in a fairly bare hallway talking about Farscape. At one point, some old guy wandered past, and Lenser said, "Oh, I didn't realize Henry would be in today." As in Henry Selick, the director. I could have touched him.
I don't know how "Coraline" will be received in general, but I know I have to go see it, probably with someone who won't mind too much when I keep whispering "I saw that set! And that puppet! They were cool!"