'The Unofficial Art of Coraline' Returns
It's been a roller coaster ride.
Welcome back! It’s a new Thursday issue of the Animation Obsessive newsletter. Today, we’re happy to report that The Unofficial Art of Coraline is online again.
A quick recap. Earlier in November, we released a free PDF to collect and organize the art behind Coraline, our favorite project by Laika. It’s an unofficial, educational resource for anyone who’s ever loved Laika’s stop-motion films.
Normally, there’d be no reason to make something like this — what modern animated movie doesn’t already have an art book? But Coraline is a special case. As we explained at the time:
There have been art books for Laika’s ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Boxtrolls and Missing Link. Which is to say: for all of its feature films, except Coraline. The one related book, Coraline: A Visual Companion, goes into the making of the film but doesn’t have much concept art. There’s never been an Art of Coraline.
With no official home, this work scattered. Artists from the crew shared it here and there. It cropped up in auctions, Laika posted a little around online and sites like Character Design References gathered what they could.
Basically, tons of behind-the-scenes Coraline art has floated around the internet since the 2000s — character design drawings, visual development paintings, puppet designs and more. The problem: it’s always been disorganized.
We decided to gather it into a single, streamlined, easy-to-access PDF.
The Unofficial Art of Coraline went up on the 12th, and the outpouring of positivity stunned us. Disney artist Luna Miranda wrote that we were “truly doing the Lord’s work.” Cartoon Brew called it “fantastic,” artist Ian McQue called it “amazing” and Shannon Tindle — who’s featured in the PDF — shouted it out on Twitter. There were so many wonderful comments, and we’re thankful for all of them.
But there was a hitch: before long, our uploads started to go offline. To be specific, they received DMCA takedown notices from Laika.
That surprised us. So, last week, we reached out via email. Our message worked its way up to Laika’s management — ultimately, the person in charge of their publishing operations wrote us back.
As he told us, the takedown notices were sent by the legal team, but he and other managers took a closer look and “quickly realized that the e-book was compiled out of an appreciation for the film’s artists and artistry.” And so they’re going to reverse the takedowns, making the files available again. He thanked us on Laika’s behalf.
Likewise, we’d like to thank Laika for allowing this tribute to Coraline and its team to return.
While we wait for the original uploads to come back, we’ve posted a separate one on the Internet Archive as a stopgap for anyone who wants to read or download The Unofficial Art of Coraline. We know that a number of people were disappointed that they didn’t get to see it last time. Unless there’s another twist, these links should be stable over the long term:
Download PDF (277 MB)
Today’s story isn’t over yet, though.
To go along with this re-release, we wanted to write a bit about how The Unofficial Art of Coraline was done, and how we assembled a 160-page PDF in around one week. The Animation Obsessive newsletter tends to be a challenge — it’s normal for each issue to take 30 or 40 man-hours or more. But we’ve never faced anything quite like this.
The idea first arrived on October 22. We tweeted a few pieces of Coraline concept art, and a follower replied:
So many insane concepts we only got from blogspots and places long dead :'( Wishing for a proper artbook release still. Remember being star struck by Tadahiro Uesugi’s art T_T love on first sight
It sparked something. We created a planning file that same day.
The thinking was to publish the PDF as our last issue of October — tied into Halloween. It didn’t take long to figure out that that was overambitious. So, we spent time hunting down materials and art book references, sorting them into marked folders.
On November 1, we created a mockup cover and a couple of test pages to see whether we could do this. They weren’t completely there — but they set our direction.
The text was all in the Gabriola font, which seemed to fit the whimsy and flourish of Coraline. And the page size, roughly 1900x1400, felt like a decent middle ground between small and large. (Without access to the original artwork, you’re at the mercy of size and quality variation online — it doesn’t work to make a tiny or super-compressed image too big.)
These are the earliest surviving tests:
Then we started to put together the actual pages. The first two have file creation dates of November 4 — they form a spread of Coraline costume designs by Uesugi, Chris Appelhans and Stephen Bodin. Work on all the other pages began on November 6. That was Monday, around 2 a.m.
Then it was a mad rush to hit our Sunday deadline: the end of November 12.
We don’t clock our hours, so it’s uncertain exactly how many went into The Unofficial Art of Coraline. But it turned Monday and Tuesday — technically our weekend — into workdays of at least 12 to 15 hours each. With work split between two of us (the co-runners, Jules and John), the hour figure started to balloon.
The “style and world” and “characters” sections form the bulk of the PDF, and they were the bulk of the work. That was always the plan. If time allowed, we wanted to add a section on the making of the puppets as well. Here’s a November 4 planning file that lays out the progression:
Concept and world
Building the puppets
—Maquettes and early sculptures
—Armature (maybe the schematic here)
—Final designs for a few characters
Photos from the set
Things crossed back and forth, but most “style and world” pages were done by one person, and characters by the other. We organized pages by theme: circus images went together, Other Mother images went together, garden images the same. Some spreads were pre-planned and some weren’t. We just had to build pages until we ran out of material or time — there was a sea of art to get through.
And we kept finding more throughout the week. The PDF kept expanding. A big moment was the discovery, maybe 48 hours before the deadline, that a recording existed of a 2009 Gallery Nucleus panel by several Coraline artists. More than 10 of the quotes we used came from there.
It all culminated in the final Saturday–Sunday crunch — a 30-hour stretch of work, up to a few minutes before the deadline. We’ve done plenty of crunches, but this was new. Realizing that there wasn’t time to sleep, after we’d already been going 18 to 20 hours straight, was an experience. Still, we were energized.
Probably the most nerve-wracking moment came three or four hours before the Sunday deadline. The pages and checks were nearly done — we were laying out the book and saving the final PNGs. But the structure of the characters section came out wrong. At least an hour went into rearranging, renumbering and re-crediting it, but it was worth the time.
Compiling the final PDF and seeing that the spreads fit together as we’d hoped, it started to hit us that this thing was real. In the end, we uploaded it to Mega at roughly 10:40 p.m. on Sunday. There was enough time to run through our regular checks and adjustments before the newsletter shipped at 11:56 p.m.
Aside from the hours, nothing fancy went into The Unofficial Art of Coraline. We used a very old, well-loved copy of Photoshop Elements to create the pages, and compiled them into a PDF at the end with a custom Python script (named “barp”), left over from our Cartoon Modern scanning project. It all came down to the art and layouts.
Starting with such strong material, it was hard to go wrong. This art was a joy to work with. There are a few rough spots in the way we assembled it, but, overall, we’re happy with how the PDF turned out. And the reactions were beyond anything we saw coming. One of our favorites was a tweet by artist Ash Wood:
Animation Obsessive dropping that Art of Coraline PDF derailed my whole morning.
Now that The Unofficial Art of Coraline is online again, we can call this project done. Even with the hours, it was a thrill to make — and a bigger thrill to hand it over to everyone. Thanks once more to Laika for letting it live.
As always, this PDF is free to all — but we’d like to thank our paying subscribers for allowing us to dedicate so much time to odd, pie-in-the-sky ideas like this one. We’re lucky, and grateful. We have more projects in the works, and we can’t wait to share.
See you again soon!