As I begin boarding and designing my next personal project, I’ve been working my way through Dave McKean’s The Alchemy of Mirrormask. It’s a great read, serving both gorgeous visuals and a pile of inspiration for my own work. I’ve been a fan of McKean’s work for years now, ever since one of my friends handed me the first volume of The Sandman in the basement student lounge of my high school, bu seeing McKean’s designs come to life in motion was downright magical. You can criticize Mirrormask for a lack of narrative complexity or what have you, but you can’t deny that it’s a coherent, dreamlike vision of a film—a film which I have watched repeatedly.
There are many things in this book worth noting… I don’t want this site to become a treasury of quotations, so I will hold myself back to one particularly important passage. In it, McKean discusses how they avoided using the computer to recreate reality when they were texturing the film:
Images are embedded in the floor and engraved onto the walls. There are paper skies and metal floors and doodles and calligraphy hanging in the air. The creatures are made of stone, bone, and wood, with cloth and strings tying them together; their faces are simple, two-dots-and-a-dash […] The digital world can go anywhere and do anything, yet is usually called upon to recreate the real world. Although an astonishing technical achievement, this seems to me to be a narrow goal. [p13, Emphasis added]
This is the key, for me. It is the evocation of McKean’s collage style that really makes the movie, from my point of view, and I love it. It wouldn’t have worked if it was too realistic. This is the side of animation I did not see enough of at SIGGRAPH.