Selick helped promote, establish toon studio

“Coraline” helmer Henry Selick is leaving Laika, the Portland, Ore.-based animation studio whose reputation the stop-motion director helped establish.

Selick had been looking for another feature to oversee, but with his contract up and no next project in place for him to tackle, the helmer decided to move on.

“We’re so proud of what the studio has achieved with ‘Coraline,’” Laika owner and chairman Phil Knight said in a statement. “Henry’s skill and talent inspired a supremely gifted company of artists, and his contributions are deeply appreciated.”

Selick, who also directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the stop-motion segments of “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” joined Laika in 2004, as Nike honcho Knight acquired the foundering Will Vinton Studios, which created the California Raisins and employed Knight’s animation-inclined son Travis after college.

In his capacity as Laika’s supervising director for feature film development, Selick saw the company through an expansion into feature films (his 2005 “Moongirl” short established Laika’s CG and story departments). “Coraline” exceeded expectations for the studio’s first theatrical release, earning $75 million in the U.S. and $47 million more abroad, leading to promotions all around and a commitment to produce more features.

But Selick’s title never changed, and those close to the company suggest the director seemed frustrated without a new project to occupy him. Laika is expected to announce its next greenlit feature within the month.

As other toon studios focus on four-quadrant computer animation, “Coraline” demonstrated that Laika could succeed with more narrowly targeted stop-motion pics, boosted in part by the film’s 3D release.

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