Many found the success of an animated film set in Ashland unexpected, but director Henry Selick was never one of the skeptics.

"Coraline" brought in $16.3 million in its opening weekend. With an average take of $7,105 per theater, the film far outpaced other films opening the same weekend. Many found the success of an animated film set in Ashland unexpected.

The film's director, Henry Selick, was never one of the skeptics, as he explained in a recent phone interview with the Tidings from his Portland home.

"I wasn't surprised," Selick said. "I was kind of counting on the film doing pretty well."

Selick was confident because of people's interest in his past work, as well as interest in author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the book from which the film is based.

The movie is his first feature-length production with Portland-based animation house LAIKA studios, where he has worked as supervising director for about four and a half years. One of the conditions in his acceptance of the job was the opportunity to create and release "Coraline."

"I set the story in Oregon without ever knowing I'd be making the film in Oregon," Selick said.

He said he told the studio that, "I'm not moving there (to Portland) unless I can develop this feature."

In his first draft of the screenplay, Selick planned to set the film in Britain, as it is in the book, but he didn't like the first draft of the screenplay written entirely in British English. However, he did find some characters were better with a British accent.

"I wanted to keep those two old actresses who live in the basement British," Selick said about Coraline's Shakespearean actress neighbors, Miss Forcible and Miss Spink.

He sought to capture "this unique sense that it's not a big city, and there's this very important Shakespeare festival that sort of radiates into the rest of the town."

"It just was a good fit," Selick said. "Even without the Shakespeare Festival, it would still be a perfect setting."

Selick first discovered Ashland through a production manager, Paul Moen, who worked on the latest "Indiana Jones" film.

Selick worked with Moen on a film in the past. He visited Moen's Ashland home and left impressed.

"I found the town very beautiful," Selick said, adding that Ashland "made an impression as a smaller town with an artistic sensibility."

"Coraline" tells the story of a young girl who moves from Detroit suburb Pontiac, Mich., to Ashland, where she discovers a doorway into a dangerous parallel world. Selick said he chose Pontiac as her hometown because it was producer Bill Mechanic's hometown.

"It's a tough area, very much more urban (than Ashland)," said Selick.

"She's a kid who's toughened by where she lived, and maybe she doesn't need to be so tough," Selick said. "In this parallel world, it serves her well."

One addition to the book was Wybie, Coraline's nosy neighbor — a character Selick says was inspired by the young people he observed in Ashland.

"I saw kids around. They're smart and they're comfortable with nature," said Selick, "I just sort of sensed that these kids are comfortable being outside."

Although the animation crew studied Ashland's topography and took pictures of the town when developing the set, Selick readily admitted that Coraline's Ashland differs greatly from the actual town.

"We're not copying buildings per se, we're just trying to get the feel," he said.

Despite a fictional portrayal of Ashland, Selick said he thinks local film fans will enjoy looking for things that have a feel of the town.

"There's a lot of the flavor of Ashland in the film," he said.

Contact Nick Morgan at 482-3456 ext. 230 or