Coraline may be the first animated film that Bill Mechanic has made under the banner of his Los Angeles-based production company Pandemonium, but the studio-chief-turned-producer is hardly a newcomer to the animation world.
When he was at Disney in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the home-video division Mechanic oversaw and the international theatrical operation he set up helped take the studio's animated releases to new revenue-earning heights. And when he was head of Twentieth Century Fox Filmed Entertainment later in the 1990s he started the studio's animation division, which had mixed early fortunes with Anastasia and Titan AE but eventually teamed up with Blue Sky to create the Ice Age franchise.
Those experiences left Mechanic with an affection for the animation genre. 'I like the form and I like the people,' says the Hollywood veteran.
Coraline, produced by Pandemonium with animation house Laika Entertainment (which also provided funding) and distributed worldwide by Universal, was originally intended as a live-action project, based on Neil Gaiman's award-winning book about a feisty 11-year-old who discovers a strange parallel world. But when director Henry Selick became Laika's supervising director for feature development and suggested an animated version, his producer agreed readily.
Selick and Mechanic, who have known each other since the director made The Nightmare Before Christmas for Disney and Monkeybone for Fox, contemplated several approaches before settling on the unique combination of stop-motion animation photographed in 3D.
The result - which opened February 6 in the US through Universal's Focus Features - is 'probably the most seductive use of 3D that I've ever seen,' says Mechanic.
Mechanic is not planning an animation slate, although he does have one more animated project in the works: a hip-hop musical from Aaron McGruder, creator of the Boondocks comic strip and TV show.
In fact, he long ago scaled back plans for eight-year-old Pandemonium, letting a distribution deal with Disney expire and finding backing for a limited number of films one project at a time. The only releases besides Coraline up to now have been Terrence Malick's The New World and Japanese thriller remake Dark Water.
'The world changed,' he says of the rethought strategy. 'The idea was to make movies that were probably a bit more unconventional, which was my history at Fox. When you're doing that independently, it's harder to sell because you have to find somebody else who wants to take a ride with you.'
Still, Pandemonium does have projects ready to go. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button director David Fincher (with whom Mechanic worked on Fight Club at Fox) is attached to a screen version of graphic novel Torso for Paramount; discussions are underway with financiers and a director on Second World War drama The CO; and Philip Kaufman, who made Quills for Fox, is in line to direct a remake of 2001 Hong Kong action film Cop On A Mission.
Mechanic, meanwhile, who in recent years has taken time to sit on several international festival juries and teach aspiring directors and producers in Vietnam, still has his taste for film-making.
'I like movies, and the movie business hasn't taken that out of me,' Mechanic jokes. 'When I left Fox I viewed it as regenerative.' Away from the insularity of the Hollywood studios, he explains, 'You have a less good job and a better life.'