In anticipation of its fourth stop-motion movie, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” Laika has mounted the first public exhibition of its hand-crafted puppets and sets at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Globe Theater (thru Sunday). “From Coraline to Kubo: A Magical Laika Experience” brings us closer to the tactile wonders that have been produced at the Portland studio for the last 10 years.
“You can see how the company’s grown and evolved as a community with all the artistic and technological innovations, but I also think that you see the evolution of an art form,” said Travis Knight, Laika CEO and lead artist who makes his directorial debut with “Kubo.”
“‘Coraline,’ which is where we began, was something of a seismic shift for stop-motion,” said Knight. “And as you go through, you can see in both incremental and large ways how the craft and science of it has [matured].” Indeed, the exhibition begins with a life-size replica of the “Coraline” tunnel: A portal between two very different goth worlds in the Pacific Northwest from director Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas”).
“The first thing that felt like a punch in the gut was when I walked through that door and saw a proxy of that tunnel that Coraline goes through,” Knight said. “It was really weird and cool. All of these memories and experiences of making these movies just came flooding back.”
It was the same experience for Laika vets Deborah Cook (costume designer), Steve Emerson (VFX supervisor), Georgina Hayns (puppet frabrication supervisor), Ollie Jones (rigging supervisor), Nelson Lowry (production designer), Brian McLean (supervisor of rapid prototype) and Brad Schiff (head of animation).
The zombie-infested “ParaNorman” pushed the Oregon ethos with stranger sets, while introducing greater verisimilitude to the puppets, thanks to the rapid prototyping advancements that earned Laika an Academy Sci-Tech honor this year.
“Boxtrolls” followed with a Victoriana brand of Expressionism and more heightened scope and stylization. But “Kubo” represents a more exotic turn with the Japanese samurai fantasy that takes Laika’s fondness for folktales to new frontiers, including the studio’s first all-3D-printed puppet (the Moon Beast) and the industry’s largest stop-mo creature (the 18-foot Skeleton).
“There are moments [in ‘Kubo’] that are as detailed, as nuanced and as inventive as anything we’ve ever done,” Knight said. The difference is we can do the spectacle…the skeleton is the Harryhausen of my dreams…but the intimacy is really where the heart of the film lies.”
“Kubo and the Two Strings” opens on Friday, August 19.