Renaissance made possible by digital tools

While the animation industry carefully watches the fate of Disney’s hand-drawn “The Princess and the Frog” to see if traditional toon techniques can compete in a CG-dominated industry, another old-school style — stop-motion animation — has been making a comeback.

“Just a few years back, this would have been impossible because the only support in feature animation was for CG,” says “Coraline” director Henry Selick, the American director most closely associated with the format thanks to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach.”

The international stop-motion community is so small that many of the artists involved in competing 2009 releases have actually worked with one another before. Selick and Anderson intended to collaborate on “Fantastic Mr. Fox” years ago, but as Anderson recalls, “When ‘Mr. Fox’ wasn’t going to happen right away because the script wasn’t ready, that’s when I asked Henry to do the animation for ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.'” When it came time to make “Mr. Fox,” Anderson tapped producer Allison Abbate (who’d worked with Tim Burton on “Corpse Bride”) and animation director Mark Gustafson (a veteran of Will Vinton Studios, the shop behind the California Raisins).

Both digital cameras and CG cleanup were vital to low-budget “Panic,” which stars molded plastic figures and looks more “Robot Chicken” than “Chicken Run.” “Our little models of a Cowboy, Indian and Horse don’t move their lips, so funny dialogue could be recorded after shooting,” says post supervisor Adriana Piasek-Wanski.

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