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MICA Alumnus Was Story Artist for Coraline

Ean McNamara '05, '06 Credits MICA Faculty, Breadth of Coursework

Posted 02.18.09 by MICA Media Relations

Film still from Coraline

Ean McNamara '05, '06 was part of the team of talented artists who created the creepy, immersive world of Coraline, director Henry Selick's stunning stop-motion animated film adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel. McNamara is listed as a story artist in the credits for the movie, which was made at Portland, Ore.-based LAIKA studio and in theaters now. McNamara, who graduated from MICA with a BFA in illustration and a concentration in animation, also earned a master of arts degree in teaching through MICA's five-year BFA/MAT program.

How did MICA prepare you for working on Coraline?

I wanted to make movies, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to a school that would teach me nothing but that. The community of MICA is so open that I was able to pursue my various interests with equal passion. The illustration, animation, film, sculpture, and teaching programs never conflicted, only complemented-in hindsight, even during times of incredible stress. The faculty is amazing. They all work in their fields, and are so generous to give students that window into their lives. That takes a lot and I can't thank them enough for being able to achieve that balance of mentorship and professionalism. Also, Baltimore is a great city for art. Staying current by visiting shows, participating in community arts, visiting Washington, D.C. -it's so important to not work in a vacuum.

How did you land the job that gave you this opportunity?

I'm very thankful to Laurence Arcadias, my animation professor who arranged my portfolio review with LAIKA. She met a director from LAIKA while she was showing her personal work in the festival circuit. She contacted him, and he came to visit MICA, and saw my work. I was hired in 2006 while the production was beginning to take shape. My first job was actually data entry. I did this for a few months while waiting for another position to open. Eventually, I was hired as a junior illustrator. My first test assignment was to design the key seen in the film. I didn't have a workstation at the time (computer or other), so I nabbed some black Sharpies, white correction pens, and made liberal use of the photo-copier.

What were your specific responsibilities on Coraline?

I was part of the design team, and later, a member of the story team. As a designer I worked with several other artists. Sometimes I'd be given a master drawing by one of them, and would pull objects from that drawing to make more rendered images so props could be built. Other times I worked from the ground up, as was the case with the bathroom set. I designed a load of props for the film-my favorite being the cabinet where the old ladies keep their "special reserve" of aged taffy. I'd like to mention here, that, even though I drew all these bits and pieces, the people who actually figured out how to build them should get a lot of credit. That's sort of the miracle of stop-motion: everything is there to be touched.

As a story artist I drew storyboards-drawings that block out action and camera angles before the actual scenes are shot. You get a lot of freedom, as you're initially only given the script. There are two sequences I did work on that I'm quite proud of: the first being the scary part with the Taffy Monster, and the second being where Coraline has to make a deal with the Other Mother. There was something very satisfying in boarding the action between those two characters in such a confined space, a kitchen. I think everyone has been in that situation, where you're stuck in a room with some monstrous person, who's very passive aggressive, and they're pretending to do something nice for you.

What have you learned about animation and filmmaking on-the-job?

Seeing a whole crew working together really opened my eyes. I hadn't realized just how many people from such varied professions came together to make a singular piece of art. It gave me hope really.

Are you still at LAIKA? If so, what are you working on now? If not, what are you doing now?

I'm still at LAIKA, working as a conceptual artist on one of the next films.

Any career advice for young artists looking to break into the world of animation?

Learn to communicate quickly and efficiently, no matter what medium you're working in. Animation is a field where the more you know, the better. Learn to sculpt, paint, draw, write, weld--it's all applicable. The more diverse your talents, the more you're comfortable working with others, the better chance you'll have of finding a way in. You don't have to be an animator to work in animation. As far as portfolio work goes--try to get a short or two done. If it seems like a lot of work, try teaming up with other artists. Maybe you're not an animator, but you're an awesome puppet-maker, mold-maker, designer, or armature builder. Find people who share your sensibilities and collaborate.

How does your personal artwork differ from your entertainment artwork?

Whereas you're initially building a dialogue between you and yourself on your own work, on a large production you need to communicate ideas very early and very clearly so a number of people understand what you're saying. That's the biggest difference I suppose-is how you get there. You're also working to make another person's vision, so not everything is up to you--it's much more like a commission.

Where do you live now?

I live in Portland with my cat Nashashuk, (Shooky), the angriest cat in the world. It's a really tiny studio, so I sleep in the closet--that way I can have friends over. Portland is great, and you can see Mt. Hood from the city. It looks like a backdrop from a Godzilla movie. It's just too big.

When was the last time you were back on the MICA campus?

I've been trying to visit for the last few years now, but there's very little free time working on productions like this. I'm excited to see what the campus looks like. I show off the Web site to friends who went to other schools, and they're stunned at how lovely MICA is. I miss Baltimore.

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from 49 states and 52 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs. With art and design programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research, and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by students, faculty and other established artists.