Tim Burton rocked his sunglasses today (although his usually recognizable coif looked tamer than usual) at the Disney press conference along with Atticus Shaffer, Producer Allison Abbate and Executive Producer Don Hanhn. I’m pretty excited for this one, not only for the classic horror nuances but because it’ll be the first film to venture into its territory, with the combination of black and white, stop-motion animation and 3-D!
Here’s our chat with Burton about “Frankenweenie”.
You had to do this original short on the sly, so what’s it like to get to do a full-length feature?
It is a project that always meant something to me. But, the opportunity to do it stop-motion, in black and white, and expand on it with other kids and other monsters and other characters, it just seemed like the right medium for the project. Even though it’s revisiting something that I did a long time ago, it feels new and special.
As you started to expand the concept and story, how many things had been lingering in your head, from making the original short, and how many things were brand-new ideas?
There were always characters that I had. Sometimes you do characters and you don’t know what they fit into. There were always some characters that I was playing around with. Also, I just remembered some of the kids that I went to school with and some of the weird teachers. And growing up with those Universal horror films, like House of Frankenstein or House of Dracula, where Frankenstein met the Wolfman and they combined them together, a lot of it had to do with those kinds of things that I love.
What’s it like to walk out on stage in Hall H and feel the love from such a huge crowd? Is that something you find daunting or delightful?
It’s amazing! I wish my family treated me that way. When I walk in the door, nobody says anything, so it’s nice, for a change, to get that sort of thing. I remember coming to this, back in the late ‘70s, when it was at the Holiday Inn in San Diego. It is amazing what it’s turned into. It really is.
What costume would you come to Comic-Con dressed as?
I would come disguised as a human being.
You obviously have an emotional connection to dogs, as you’ve had one in almost every one of your kid’s films. Is that true?
When you’re young, it’s the first pure relationship that you have. If you’re lucky enough to have a pet that you love, it connects right to your heart. I was lucky enough to have a special pet that I had that kind of relationship with. The whole Frankenstein element is wish fulfillment, in that way. I always found movies like Frankenstein quite emotional, so it seemed like a fairly natural connection to combine the two.
There are elements of horror in Frankenweenie. Would you jump back into the horror genre again, after this?
I think I’ve had enough of me for awhile. After this one, I’m going to take a little bit of a rest. For me, this is such a special project, so I’m just gonna take the time to enjoy that and try to nurture that, and see it through to its release.
How do you feel about your animated work and how it’s progressed?
I do love stop-motion. These things always take time to get done. It’s a rarified medium. It’s a slightly lost art form, although there’s more being done now than there was, in the past. There’s something that’s so beautiful about it. Just to be able to touch and feel the puppets and move them, there’s magical about it. You wish everybody could experience it because it’s hard to talk about it. If you felt them and saw the intricacy of the movement, you’d see that it’s quite a beautiful art form.
Is it safe to say this is the most intricate and detailed thing you’ve ever done, in terms of the background and sets?
Any stop-motion film is intricate. We have a slightly smaller crew on this than we usually do. We wanted to show the stop-motion. When we did Corpse Bride, the puppets were so good that a lot of people thought it was computer animation. So, we just went back and did it a little bit low-tech, so that you really feel the stop-motion animation. When you see the details and everything, it’s beautiful. It’s its own art form. And it was a real pleasure to do this in black and white. That was part of the reason of wanting to do it. The black and white draws out textures more. It makes it feel a bit more emotional, and it makes you feel like you’re there. It does a strange thing that’s hard to put into words, but it definitely affects the way you watch it.
What was it like to go back to stop-motion, after having done The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride? How has the technology changed since then?
What we love about it is that the technology may have improved, but it’s still the same. It goes back to the beginning of cinema. It’s a technique that still basically is an animator moving a puppet, at 24 fps. That’s why we all love it. As much as you can do anything with technology, there is just something about going back to the simplicity of that and the excitement of seeing somebody move it, and then you see it come to life. It’s just very magical. It’s a form that we keep coming back to because of that reason.
The science teacher in this, voiced by Martin Landau, is very reminiscent of Vincent Price. Is he the ultimate fanboy creation for you? Are there other characters like that, in the film?
Well, yeah, but knowing those references is not necessary to seeing the film. There are kids that I went to school with. The teacher is Vincent Price. Christopher Lee is in there, for a little bit. I based some of the characters on Boris Karloff. There are personal things in there that always meant something to me, but that’s not necessary to watching the film.
What’s the difference in the creative process of expanding and adapting a short into a full-length feature, as opposed to a totally original idea?
Well, it wasn’t too much of a stretch because the heart of the story is the same. It’s just having some of these other characters that were rattling around. It didn’t make it seem like it was a different thing. That’s why I feel proud about it. It doesn’t feel like it was a short that we then padded out. It gets to explore kids’ politics and the way kids are with each other, and weird teachers and things. For me, it didn’t feel like it was a padding thing or a stretching thing. It felt quite natural. If it hadn’t felt that way, it probably wouldn’t have been worth doing. It’s important that it works as its own thing.
Looking at the span of all the films you’ve worked on, over the years, do any stand out as favorites?
It’s hard to pick because you spend so much time on each thing. But, there things like Scissorhands or Ed Wood or Nightmare, and this one is up there. You’ve gotta connect to everything, but those are ones that are probably slightly a bit more personal.
What are your thoughts on doing this movie in 3D?
The idea of seeing black and white in 3D was something I really was interested in. There’s a lot of talk about 3D being too dark and too muddy. This was an opportunity to do it with black and white, and try to keep it crisp and keep the shadows dark. When I watch it, I love it because you see things in a different way. The idea of stop-motion, black and white 3D seemed like a really good, exciting combination for us.
Do your inspirations primarily come from your childhood, or are you also inspired by new things?
You get inspired early in your life, and hopefully you keep getting inspired, but those early inspirations never really leave you. The first time you experience something is usually the most intense, and it’s the thing you remember the most. It’s not like I feel like I have arrested development and I’m only exploring that. It’s just that those are the kinds of things that had the most impact and still stay with me. But, you try to get inspired, every day. It’s important to constantly be surprised.
Twenty years ago, you opened the new world of the superhero movie with Batman. How do you feel about superhero movies today?
I recall back to when I was doing Batman, and how worried they all were that it was too dark. Now, it looks like a light-hearted romp. It’s Batman on Ice, you know? It’s interesting because it was such a struggle to get that, at the time.
What’s your favorite ride at Disneyland?
I love Sleeping Beauty’s castle. I’m a Space Mountain man, myself. But, that Haunted Mansion thing was such an honor. I grew up loving the Haunted Mansion, so the fact that they turned it into The Nightmare Before Christmas was a real amazing thing. It was one of those weird dream-come-true kind of things. That was a very special moment for me.