by Bethany Whiteman
New Yorkers and the world are buzzing about the Oscar nominated studio Laika’s newest animated film, and it hasn’t even been released yet. Opening in theaters August 19th, Kubo and the Two Strings is a 3D stop motion film that explores a coming-of-age tale of a young boy’s journey to protect him and his ailing mother from vengeful spirits. By using larger-than-life puppetry and 3D printing, the Oregon-based animation studio’s production team once again pushed through all creative limitations to deliver what has been named one of the most anticipated movies of 2016. Today, we take a look at the creative process of the film, and note some of the challenges that the production team faced in creating Laika’s latest masterpiece.
Creating the largest puppet ever used for an animated feature film.
Laika is infamous for creating their movies using hand-crafted puppets. These characters are typically built to be 6-12 inches tall. But, the story of Kubo and the Two Strings sought a puppet with a height requirement that the studio had never needed nor built before. Created by Laika’s CEO Travis Knight, the larger-than-life skeleton that was needed to make the magic happen sized up to be almost 18 feet tall. Due to spatial concerns in contrast with the other characters, Camera Motion Control Engineer, Steve Switaj, had advised the team to think big when planning for this film. After six months of tedious labor, the end product was Knight’s 18-foot tall, motor powered giant. The scale of the figure resulted in a long and challenging shoot — one week’s worth of filming averaged out to be one second of film.
Stop motion, CGI, and 3D printers enhanced character development.
By making use of of stop motion, CGI, and 3D printing collectively, a limit did not exist for all the creatives working on this film over the past five years. Visual Effects Artist, Steve Emerson, said their team went into this believing that, “when a storyteller comes in with a vision, let’s deliver that vision. Let’s not ask them to simplify their stories.” To help deliver their hybrid film, 3D printers were brought in to enhance character development. These printers helped the production team capture a character’s every emotional response, including any subtle human-like expressions you could imagine. In the end, the character of Kubo had about 48 million facial expressions.
Cultural insensitivity was of great concern.
Inspired by ancient Japanese folklores, the production team researched the history and cultural diffusion to ensure their work was historically accurate to its time. They wanted everything from the scenery to the characters’ facial movements to be spot on to the people and era the film depicts. However, even with extensive research, the fear of being culturally insensitive was still a subject of great concern. To prevent any degree of this happening, Laika’s team regularly met with a consultant throughout the production process. Assistant Art Director Rob DeSue said, “There is creative license taken in the film, since it’s a fantasy, but, of course, we wanted to make sure we weren’t doing anything offensive and didn’t want to get called out for not doing our homework.”
Watch the trailer for Kubo and the Two Strings, here, and go on set at Laika Studio, below: