My Visit to LAIKA: Part 2

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

Boxtrolls Travis KnightMore from my enchanting visit to LAIKA Studios to see the sets and meet the filmmakers for “The Boxtrolls,” the upcoming stop-motion film:

The story:

A family event movie from the creators of “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” that introduces audiences to a new breed of family – The Boxtrolls, a community of quirky, mischievous creatures who have lovingly raised an orphaned human boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright) in the amazing cavernous home they’ve built beneath the streets of Cheesebridge. When the town’s villain, Archibald Snatcher (Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley), comes up with a plot to get rid of the Boxtrolls, Eggs decides to venture above ground, “into the light,” where he meets and teams up with fabulously feisty Winnie (Elle Fanning). Together, they devise a daring plan to save Eggs’ family.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y8E7xJ6MXU&list=UUv6Q5GVAMEQe15E4Tz5X3Vw

Some stats:

• An animator typically took 1 week to complete 3.7 seconds worth of footage, which is just under 90 individual frames
• There are 14 different fabrics in Lord Portley-Rind’s white hat
• The movie’s smallest costumes were for Eggs as a baby: the sweater, measuring 3.5” from cuff to cuff across the length of both arms and chest, and the baby socks measuring 5/8” long
• The stop-motion flames “burning” in the furnace of the Mecha-Drill are courtesy of a working iPad displaying a loop video inside the “mouth” of the device
• More than 20,000 props were handmade for the movie
• 55 different sculpts of prop cheeses were created for “THE BOXTROLLS”
• The movie’s smallest prop was a tiny sewing thread and needle

Cheese is very important in this story. One thing I noticed as we looked at the sets was a number of signs with puns about cheese names:

Chevre au lait
Fun and Fancy Brie
Churn of the Century
Here Be Munsters (This one is a reference to the book that inspired the film, Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow)

And one more: Great Rinds Stink Alike

Be sure to check out the terrific comments from some of my friends who were also on the visit to LAIKA, Enza Ketchum and Sandie Angulo Chen.

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Behind the Scenes

My Visit to LAIKA and Boxtrolls!

Posted on July 9, 2014 at 12:00 pm

I’m excited to be able to share a secret I’ve been keeping since April. I got to cross a big item off my bucket list when I was invited to visit LAIKA Studios and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their upcoming film, “The Boxtrolls.” LAIKA is the stop-motion animation studio that produced two of my favorite films, “Coraline” and “Paranorman.” A small group of bloggers spent the day at their Portland, Oregon studio, speaking to the people who were putting the finishing touches on the film, which will open in September.

The title characters are creatures who wear cardboard boxes and live under a city that is a sort of mash-up of Victorian/Edwardian London with some elements of continental Europe and Asia. A little boy named Eggs lives with them and in the film he discovers the human world for the first time.

We met with LAIKA CEO Travis Knight, who is also an animator, as he was working on the last and longest scene in the film. It was 1100 frames, or just 45 seconds of film time. Stop-motion is painstaking and slow, with just two or four frames shot on a regular SLR camera before everything on the set is slightly moved for the next shot. He was working from a “shot sheet” that was broken down phonetically. “It’s not about patience. It is about the ability to focus intensively, like chess or a math problem,” Knight said.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg5CU8Y1xnY&list=PLE5A001DF0D0120BD

This was one of 50 different sets in different rooms, each working two or four frames at a time. “You cast animators like actors,” he told us. Some specialize in distinctive physical movements, some in emotion, physics, or action.

“We don’t want a house style but there are strands of DNA” in the stories they choose. “We come back to the kinds of things I loved as a kid, like the Disney classics, with an artful balance of darkness and light, plus motion and dynamism.” They look for stories with “substance to affect people’s lives aesthetically and visually, bold distinctive stories with something meaningful to say. Something of substance to say to help families connect.” The thematic core of this film is “what makes a family, what defines a family.”

Everyone we met was passionately committed to stop-motion, the oldest form of filmmaking. “There is something about stop motion that is really magical,” Knight said, reeling off his inspirations and heroes. “Ray Harryhausen, Rankin/Bass – that old-school movie magic, like stage magicians bringing illusions to life, or Georges Melies taking technology and expanding it. We don’t quite believe that it is us who did it. Somehow they spring to life in our hands.”

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Behind the Scenes
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