My Visit to LAIKA: Part 3

Posted on July 19, 2014 at 8:00 am

One of my favorite stops on our tour of LAIKA Studios to see the sets for “The Boxtrolls” was our visit with Georgina Hayns, Creative Supervisor for Puppet Fabrication. Is that the coolest job title ever or what?

She described the world of the film as “fantasy Dickensian.” They began with silhouettes of the era, then a maquette (model) style guide, then animation. The characters all have skeleton armatures inside, with ball and socket, hinge, and swivel joints, just like a human. And other parts are in motion as well. ” Snatch has a big belly and it has to move.” All the characters have to be able to shift shape and weight as they walk, dance, or reach.Copyright LAIKA House 2014

For faces, they begin with clay and the characters with limited emotions can be done mechanically (with animators using their fingers to adjust the mouths, cheeks, and eyes). But for the main characters and those showing a range of expressions they have a “library” of replacement faces numbering from hundreds to thousands.

She said that when she first saw the images of the Box Troll characters, she was initially excited to think about all of the mechanics they could hide inside those spacious boxes. But then it turns out that their heads, legs, and arms retract, “so all our space is gone” and they had to find some other way to build in all of the functionality they needed. “Every aspect of the figures has to be lockdown or animatable.”

To create the look of the costumes, they took inspiration from the gorgeously imaginative Ballet Russe. The Red Hats are the bad guys. For the embroidery, they used a sewing machine set to the tiny 1/5 scale. “In a close-up, you have to see the detail,” she told us. “We’re all about cheating the eye.”

For the ballroom sequence, they were inspired by “Gone With the Wind.” They said, “Let’s do hoops!” To create the effect they needed, “the frill is wired.”

The magnificent coiffures in the ballroom scene were made from hemp. “We go to town on our basket-weaving for the hair.”

An army of specialists work on the puppets, including engineers, seamstresses, jewelers, miniature hair people, and armature experts. Some of them have surprising backgrounds. “We have a ceramicist doing hair and a philosophy major doing armatures.” There are 185 puppets, with the most for the two main characters: 12-65 Snatches and 25 Eggs. It took about six months to make the first one for each of them. “And they break a lot, so we have puppet ER.”

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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

Shaun the Sheep: Sheep on the Loose

Posted on June 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some comic peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to DVD: June 9, 2009
Amazon.com ASIN: B0021FP322

The latest Shaun the Sheep movie is “Sheep on the Loose” The people who created “Wallace and Gromit” are behind this wonderful new series about a sheep who does not follow the flock — but sometimes gets the flock to follow him. And you never know who and what will turn out to be animated. Witty and imaginative, these DVDs are a delight for the whole family.

The first person to send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with “Sheep” in the subject line will get a new Shaun DVD. Good luck!

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Animation Contests and Giveaways DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Elementary School For the Whole Family

Coraline’s Special Effects

Posted on February 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Wired Magazine has a fascinating story about the breathtaking special effects in “Coraline.” In an era when we are used to astonishingly “true” images generated by computers, the old-school charms of this stop-motion movie, where everything you see was actually there being photographed, enhanced with ground-breaking 3D technology, is entrancingly tactile. A painstaking process meant that no more than 2-4 seconds a day were completed, with thousands of tiny adjustments in each scene. The title character’s 200,000 facial expressions, required 350 top plates for her eyebrows and forehead and 700 bottom plates for her mouth.

It’s the stunningly inventive DIY visual effects that director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) used to bring the story to life. A quarter-million pieces of popcorn are transformed into cherry blossoms, superglue and baking soda are whipped into snow, and black fishing line becomes creepy chest hair.

coraline garden.jpg

In all, the crew hand-built 150 sets and 250 jointed puppets, as well as plants and toys with countless moving parts. “What makes this film different,” says Tom Proost, one of the art directors, “is that everything is real and everything moves.”

Every detail is brilliantly imagined and brilliantly executed. I love the way they created the steam from a tea kettle: cotton spritzed with hair spray. I’ve seen the film twice and plan to go back again just to see the extraordinary garden and theater scenes and to catch some of the many details I know I have missed.

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