SDCC: Tim Burton introduces 9's 'stitchpunk' universe

Friday's San Diego Comic-Con panel for the upcoming 3-D animiated film 9 brought Tim Burton back to the stage for the second time in two days and offered audiences an extended preview of the new computer-animated film and a panel of participants that included co-producer Timur Bekmambetov, director Shane Acker and stars Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly. Focus Features screened footage and offered fans an opportunity to investigate the so-called "stitchpunk" universe of this new film.

The trailer introduced 9's world, a post-apocalyptic landscape where mankind has been completely wiped out. One scientist's creations, magical little creatures seemingly made from burlap and machine parts, are still alive and find themselves negotiating a world whose scale is 10 times their own. Featuring plenty of action and imagery that recalls the stop-motion animation of films such as Burton's and Henry Selick's A Nightmare Before Christmas—updated with computer-generated trickery—the film seems like an adventure, a parable and a character study all in one.

Other clips featured the diminutive characters as they square off against a monstrous, robotic doglike creature with a literal skull for a head. Facing what appears to be certain death, the terrified little creatures find themselves rescued by 7 (voiced by Connelly), who flips over the beast, decapitates it and lands safely in front of her cowering companions. Unfortunately, the group's reunion is short-lived, as 9 (Wood) inserts a small device into a larger one, bringing it to life and killing one of the others in the process.

As the rest of the creatures flees, the now-very-much-alive creature begins stalking and examining them. They run off to find a spot to hide, accidentally activating some gargantuan, undefined machine that separates them and places them in even more danger. But before their fates could be revealed, the clip ended, prompting excited applause from the crowd as the lights came back up.

Burton has obviously worked on animated fare similar to this before, but he admitted that his participation in the film was largely as a protector of its vision, fighting the battles that he once had to fight to bring his visions to the screen so that director Acker was able to simply focus on the artistic challenges of rendering it believably.

For their part, the film's stars, Connelly and Wood, said they'd never done anything like this before, in particular its demanding voice-over recording, but both said that they were enchanted by the animated short film that inspired the movie and signed up in order to see how a feature might turn out.

Acker reflected on the process by which he went from his garage to a major studio: The filmmaker conceived and created 9 as a short film, and when Burton saw the footage, it reminded him of his days making shorts and steering a vision regardless of its commercial prospects. Subsequently, Burton and Bekmambetov signed on to help the film get made and ultimately recruited even more terrific cast members, including John C. Reilly and Christopher Plummer.

Screening the trailer one more time, the filmmakers got the audience charged up by the imagination and energy of the film, which Acker called "stitchpunk," a term he admitted was created by a random blogger but which felt appropriate for the character and universe's patchwork visual style. Whether that will necessarily translate to box office success remains to be seen, but the footage looked fascinating.

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