The puppets used neither of the industry standards of replaceable heads (like those used on The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)) or replaceable mouths (like those used by Aardman Studios in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)), 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 notoriously arduous animation. One animator even reported having recurring nightmares of adjusting his own facial expression in this fashion.
Composer Danny Elfman originally wrote the part of Bonejangles, looking for another musician to sing it, but after failing to find a voice that fit, director Tim Burton asked Elfman if he would sing it himself. The result was so brutal on his vocal chords, that Elfman was left hoarse whenever he had to voice the character.
Multiple identical puppets had to be created, so that more scenes could be accomplished in a shorter period of time. In all, fourteen puppets of the Bride and Victor were created, and thirteen were created of Victoria.
DIRECTOR TRADEMARK (Tim Burton): (dead dog): Victor is reunited with his deceased (and now skeletal) dog, Scraps. A picture of a younger Victor with a living Scraps is visible at the start of the film.
Mr. Bonejangles and his skeleton band, are partly inspired by the cartoon The Skeleton Dance (1929), but are also heavily influenced by Cab Calloway and his band, as they appeared in rotoscoped form in several Betty Boop cartoons. The piano player wears shades, like Ray Charles, and his movements are based on Charles' mannerisms. The character Bonejangles is based on the famous dancer Bill Robinson, who was called "Bojangles".
In the beginning of the movie, Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), releases a captive butterfly through a window. Johnny Depp's character, Ichabod Crane does something similar in Sleepy Hollow (1999), when he releases a caged Cardinal out of his bedroom window.
Co-director Mike Johnson spoke about how they took a more organic approach to directing the film, saying: "In a co-directing situation, one director usually handles one sequence while the other handles another. Our approach was more organic. Tim knew where he wanted the film to go as far as the emotional tone and story points to hit. My job was to work with the crew on a daily basis and get the footage as close as possible to how I thought he wanted it."
In a 2005, interview with About.com, Burton spoke about the differences between directing Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, saying: "The difference on that was that one I had designed completely. It was a very completed package in my mind. I felt like it was there. I felt more comfortable with it. With this, it was a bit more organic. It was based on an old folk tale. We kept kind of changing it but, you know, I had a great co-director with Mike Johnson. I feel like we complemented each other quite well. It was just a different movie, a different process." He also spoke about casting Johnny Depp as Victor, saying: "It was weird because we were doing both at the same time. He was Willy Wonka by day and Victor by night so it might have been a little schizophrenic for him. But he's great. It's the first animated movie he's done and he's always into a challenge. We just treat it like fun and a creative process. Again, that's the joy of working with him. He's kind of up for anything. He just always adds something to it. The amazing thing is all the actors never worked [together]. They were never in a room together, so they were all doing their voices, except for Albert [Finney] and Joanna [Lumley] did a few scenes together, everybody else was separate. They were all kind of working in a vacuum, which was interesting. That's the thing that I felt ended up so beautifully, that their performances really meshed together. So he was very canny, as they all were, about trying to find the right tone and making it work while not being in the same room with each other."
The film's images were stored on a 1GB image card that was capable of holding approximately 100 frames of animation. Eight roving camera teams--each team including a lighting cameraman, an assistant, a lighting electrician and a set dresser to deal with any art department issues--worked with the animators to set up shots. Each camera team had a "lighting station" workstation--comprising an Apple G4 computer and a monitor to assist in checking lighting and framing--to view TIFF file versions of the camera's images. Once a shot was approved, the computer was removed and the animators were left to shoot the scene using their still camera and "grabber" computer/camera system to check their work. The film's story department head Jeffrey Lynch explained that the scenes were developed initially from storyboards created by a team, saying: "We shot as close to a 1:1 film ratio [one take per shot] as we could because there was no time for reshoots. We did most of our experimentation in the storyboard process--as many ways as needed--to get the scene how we wanted it. There was no coverage, as there would be for a live-action film." Co-director Johnson would go over each scene with the animators, sometimes acting out the scene, if necessary. The animators would create a "dope sheet"--in which a shot was broken down, frame by frame--to account for key "hits". The animators would then shoot tests of the scene, often shooting on "2s" or "4s" (meaning shooting just every second or fourth frame of what would appear in the final animation). Johnson explained: "The next day, when they'd finish their test/rehearsal, we'd cut it in and see how it played in the reel and fine-tune from there. We might do some lighting tweaks, performance tweaks or have the art department get in and touch anything that needed it. Then we'd close the curtain and let the animator animate the shot." The animators would sometimes make use of the voice and/or video recordings of the actors, a practice also common in cel animation. Once photographed, the frames were manipulated by a team of "data wranglers." Using a workflow developed by Chris Watts, the frames were downloaded from the camera image cards as RAW files, converted to Cineon files and processed through a "color cube." Cinematographer Pete Kozachik explained: "The color cube is a 3D lookup table created by FilmLight Ltd. that forces the image data into behaving like a particular Eastman Kodak film stock--in this case, 5248, one of my favorites. With this film emulation, we could actually rate our cameras at ASA 100, then take our light meters and spot meters and, with great confidence, shoot as if we were using 5248. Sure enough, the footage would come back and look just like it." The frames could be processed further to generate a TIFF file for viewing on the lighting station computer monitors so lighting, composition and color could be previewed.
In the special features section, Johnny Depp said that stop motion animation is a dying art. Actually, that is not true. There never has been that much done with this art form, and even the great Ray Harryhausen never got to do a complete movie in stop motion animation, like this one.
The film is based on a 19th-century Russian folktale, which Joe Ranft introduced to Burton while they were finishing The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). The film began production in November 2003, while Burton was completing Big Fish. He continued with production on his next live-action feature, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), which was produced simultaneously with this film.
Visual effects were delivered by London's Moving Picture Company (MPC), and were applied to the 1,000 or so shots in the film, though most of the effects simply painted out puppet supports and similar set equipment. Some visual effects elements--groups of birds and butterflies, were created completely in CG, though others were composited as visual effects from real-life elements. Pete Kozachik explained that the trick for shooting the characters by themselves was obtaining visually interesting shots that would dependably support the director's storytelling, saying: "The challenge is keeping the action clear and simple with lighting and composition. There's a discipline to clear storytelling with these puppets. You want to be abstract, but one can easily go overboard with these critters because they aren't as familiar to the audience as real humans. The characters don't necessarily translate the same as if you're shooting a real person. You have to consciously balance arty atmosphere and graphic clarity so as to not confuse the audience about what it is they're looking at."