"Can you imagine if you owned King Kong? Can you imagine if you owned Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?" This is the fantastical question posed by Heritage Auctions Director of Animation Art, Jim Lentz, as he showed me around the LAIKA Auction highlights exhibit, currently on display in Manhattan. Of course, Lentz isn't talking about owning these characters in real life, but rather possessing the stop-motion puppets that made them such impactful parts of pop culture. This is what makes the LAIKA auction such a historical moment.
"There will not be a second Coraline auction," Lentz says. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity." It’s the largest auction house in the world, holding their first ever stop-motion animation offering. And thanks to Heritage Auction's online capability, anyone can get it on the action—uh, auction.
This auction offers lots from each of LAIKA's Academy Award-nominated films, Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. More than 250 pieces—from concept art to maquettes, paint tests, set pieces, props, and puppets—will be up for grabs. Already the response online has been huge, with the auction snagging headlines and attracting fans who have driven hours just to get up close to the pieces that have made such marvelous movies.
Perusing the selection at Heritage Auction's New York branch, I noticed that the pieces had estimates ranging from $500 to $2,500-plus. However, Lentz told me all lots begin at a bid of just $1, and promised that "there will be something for everybody, and everybody's budget." Pressed for specifics, Lentz said that concept art, which ranges from marker and pencil sketches to paintings on paper and wood, could go for as low as "a couple of hundred dollars." The big-ticket items—the hero puppets—could go for as much as $10,000.
While Lentz confessed his favorite piece is Coraline's Other Mother in her true and terrifying form, he told me the most popular item is currently Coraline in her blue star sweater. Its auction page has already been viewed more than 11,000 times.
As mentioned above, you don't need to attend the auction in Los Angeles on February 12th in person. Heritage Auction's website will host a live webcast. And if you register, you can track the bids on your favorite items, or issue bids of your own right now. The site provides close-ups of all the on sale items, from Pink Palace apartments set, to angry Aggie paintings, to a nude Fish puppet and the elaborately realized cheese stand pictured above.
Having curated a long line of Disney, Looney Tunes, and Hanna-Barbera auctions, Lentz reached out to LAIKA, who was sold on the idea when they realized part of the proceeds could go to their favorite charity, The Art of Elysium.
From there, Lentz was given a tour of LAIKA's offices as well as "the storage facility by the swamp." He compared this visit to the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with crates stacked high with treasures. There, Lentz found some long-lost Coraline concept art that contains test swatches of characters' costumes. LAIKA now is meticulous in its archive of filmmaking mementos. But after making their first feature, the company had hastily boxed up all things Coraline in the rush to make ParaNorman.
Lentz repeatedly stressed how generous LAIKA was with their archives, but confessed there were some items he was refused. Because these are the actual puppets on auction, LAIKA was careful to keep some crucial ones. For instance, because LAIKA had gifted Other Mother voice actress Teri Hatcher with a classic Coraline puppet in her yellow slicker, its double will stay within their personal archives. Likewise, you'll see no Mr. Penderghast puppet on the bidding block. But Coraline's doll, her clever cat, and that menacing metal hand—made of actual needles!—will make appearances.
Having thoroughly surveyed LAIKA's every nook and cranny, Lentz made up a wish list for the auction, which was sent to CEO Travis Knight for approval. With the exception of a few vetoes, Knight was game. Still, Lentz responded, "If you take something off my list, you have to replace it with something." A wide smile crossed his face as he recounted incredulously, "And they didn't have to, but they did!" One of the items volunteered was Mitch's zombie-ravaged van from ParaNorman.
LAIKA's generosity extended even further, when they offered Lentz the chance to pick the faces for the auctioned puppets. He confessed he was comfortable with leaving the studio to choose this element. But they urged him to meet with "face management," a guy who offered drawers upon drawers of character face options to Lentz. His guiding principle in picking was selecting countenances he felt best reflected the characters' personalities.
Flipping through Heritage Auction's online gallery or its collectible guidebook (available at the auction house), you can also pick out fun facts about the films' creation. For instance, you can see how the character designs of the boxtrolls and their adopted son Eggs changed in development. As you can see above, Eggs was meant to have blonde hair and mechanical wings.
The New York highlights display of the LAIKA Auction runs from February 3rd through February 6th. Then a new highlights section will open at the Heritage Auctions in Los Angeles, from February 9th to the big day on the 12th. Personally, I'd recommend swinging by even if you fear its items might be out of your price range. It's free to visit, and getting this close to the LAIKA's creations will only deepen your appreciation of their distinctive brand of stop-motion.