MONKEYBONE: A Look at the Making of the Stop-Motion/Live-Action Combo (

By:Steve Fritz
Date: Friday, February 23, 2001

Ever wonder what would happen if world-recognized stop motion animator Harry Sellick (Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach) was left to his own devices without even the restriction of family entertainment to hold him back? The answer is Monkeybone .

It's important to understand this is in no way a children's movie. While it never sinks to overt violence or nudity, Monkeybone still contains enough punch that you will not want to take your eight year-old niece or nephew to a screening. It's based on a very hard-to-find underground comic by Kaja Blackley named Dark Town. 'The heart of the concept was brilliant,' Sellick comments. 'The idea of a soul being trapped between life and death ...was very intriguing. Visually, the layout was uniquely stylized and appealed to my artistic sensibilities.' Remember, Sellick is the type of sick pup who would put shrunken heads into christmas gifts; and that was for the Disney-produced Nightmare.

Sellick's use of just about every style of animation conceivable will leave you in awe. A typical scene from Down Town could incorporate elements of puppetry, 3-D CGI, traditional cel animation, the rarely used cut-up animation style as well as Sellick's own very unique style of stop motion.

'While stop motion is considered an obsolete medium, and is not as fluid and perfect looking as CGI, it has a very specific charm,' Sellick notes. 'It has a hand-crafted quality. I see it as a very personal choice and compare it to the difference between selecting vinyl over digital CD music. Vinyl has lots of pops and scratches but it has warmth that's authentic.'

In fact, one of the more interesting elements is it took Sellick 25 weeks of post-production to get both Monkeybone and his other animated characters done. The Down Town set actually measured 218 by 120 feet and took 18 weeks to construct. The cast not only included a small army of actors, but 27 different puppeteers to run around Down Town and Death's Office.

In all, Monkeybone could be used as a visual text book on just about every type of animated and other type of special effect in the Hollywood repertoire. There's enough going on there to make the likes of Cameron, Lucas and Spielberg green with jealousy.

Still, when push comes to shove, credit must also be given to the acting chops of Fraser and Fonda. Without them, the whole thing probably would have fallen flat on its face. 'Brendan is an actor who can do anything,' Sellick remarks about main actor. 'I looked at all the films he's done and realized he absolutely had the range for this. He's a leading man who is not afraid to take risks and be goofy. Bridget must play the straight role against Brendan's sometime wacky character and plays it wonderfully. Her grasp of the character was impressive.'