Running Time: 74 Minutes
Released: October 2005
Film Editing: Chris Lebenzon
Music By: Danny Elfman
Distributed by: Warner Bros
Based on a 19th century Russian folktale of a groom who marries a zombie by mistake, the Corpse Bride is a stunning, romantic musical set in the gloomy Victorian era. Two characters Victor Van Dort and Victoria Everglot are Due to be married, to both of their parents advantage. After forgetting his vows in the rehearsal ceremony the priest tells him to go learn his lines otherwise they cannot be wed. Victor goes out into the woods and everything is going perfectly until he puts the wedding ring onto a twig on the ground, which turns out to be the hand of a corpse called Emily and she declares they are now legally married and whisks them off to the underworld. He desperately tries to get back to the land of the living so that he can marry Victoria, but finds out that she is to marry a rich lord to make sure her family doesn't go into the poor house. "The man she is being forced to marry is the devious Lord Barkiss, who is only after Victoria for her money (not knowing that she and her family are now completely broke). When he (and the rest of the dead) finally get to the land of the living a shocking discovery is made which reveals how Emily (the corpse bride) died and who did it, as Victor and Victoria are finally able to be together."1
The film was made using stop animation, a technique used to make objects appear as if they are moving by themselves. This is done by photographing the object between small movements which creates the illusion of movement when the images are played in a sequence. Corpse Bride is ground breaking in many different ways. Firstly it is the first feature to use digital SLR photography (31 Canon EOS-1Ds MARK II SLR cameras with Nikon Lenses) instead of film cameras. It is also the first full length feature to use Apple's Final Cut Pro.
The actual models were made from stainless steal armatures covered with a silicone skin. The puppets were 25-28 cm tall and some of the stages were so large that animators could actually fit through the set doors with minimal crouching. The puppets used neither of the industry standards of replaceable heads (like those used on The Nightmare Before Christmas) or replaceable mouths (like those used in Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), but instead used precision crafted clockwork heads, adjusted by hidden keys. This allowed for unprecedented subtlety, but was apparently even more painstaking than the already labourious animation. And to make sure that the production went faster they created multiple identical puppets, fourteen of Victor and Emily were created and thirteen of Victoria!
The actual shooting part of the production is the most arduous part of the whole process. Editor Johnathan Lucas says;
"Most features shoot in 12 to 14 weeks,” notes Lucas. “With Corpse Bride it’s 52 weeks! We only get two minutes of film a week with stop-motion. One shot can take three weeks."2
The storyboarding is just as labourious as well;
"The storyboards are all JPEG images, and they shoot almost to the frame what’s on the storyboards. At one point, we had five or six storyboard artists working ten hours a day, six days a week. Do they play it in a close shot? A wide shot? It’s fine-tuned for months on end until the director says he’s happy.”
Tim Burton's Own Words on Corpse Bride:
"After doing The Nightmare Before Christmas, I was looking for something else to do in the same medium, because I love the stop-motion medium. A friend of mine gave me a little short story, a couple of paragraphs from an old folk tale. It captured my attention and seemed right for this particular type of animation. It’s such a special medium. It’s like casting––you like to marry the medium with the material. And this seemed like a good match.
I’ve always loved stop-motion animation. What’s nice about it is that it’s so tactile. Our Corpse Bride puppets are beautifully made and our animators are amazing. There’s something wonderful about being able to physically touch and move the characters, and to see their world actually exist. It’s similar to making a live action film; if you’re doing it all on blue screen, it doesn’t give you the feeling of actually being there, which the stop-motion process does.
My love for stop-motion started with Ray Harryhausen. One of the beautiful things about Harryhausen’s work is that no matter what it is that he was doing you always felt there was an artist at work behind it; you always felt someone’s personality. It’s like bringing an inanimate object to life. It’s moving a three-dimensional object frame by frame, and you think, “Wow, there’s something really beautiful and old-fashioned, hand-made and artistic about that.” To me, there’s something very special about that.
You can do beautiful work on a computer and you can do beautiful hand-drawn animation. All of it has its own quality. But there’s just something special to me about the stop-motion medium."3
It truly is such a visually gorgeous animation with its gloomy moody dark undertones in the living world contrasting with the bright colourful jazz filled underworld. It is sad that the film is only 77 minutes long as it does not give enough time for character or narrative development. The film does not quite live up to The Nightmare Before Christmas but the film definitely does have it's heart in the right place and is a very touching story about love and death.
To Read more into the technicalities of making Corpse Bride I highly recommend this article, it goes extremely into depth and is well worth the read:
Plus I highly recommend reading this website as it tells you how all the models were made, what the challenges were to making the models and how they went from sketches to model in exquisite detail: