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‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ Director Travis Knight Works In a Creative Bubble, And Is Better For It: Awards Spotlight

The director of Laika's latest feature film describes how "Kubo" represents the culmination of a decade's worth of filmmaking lessons.

Travis Knight - 2016-2017 Awards Spotlight

Travis Knight

Daniel Bergeron

At multiple points throughout “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the title character instructs his audience to “pay careful attention.” Luckily, the team behind one of 2016’s most striking animated films makes focus incredibly easy.

Animation directors often see their visions smoothed out to pacify audiences, but “Kubo and the Two Strings” just doesn’t look like anything else. Even as the film navigates some familiar animated tropes (talking animals, fraught parental relationships, talk of destiny), it unfurls its mythology with great economy and impressive scale.

The man at the helm is Travis Knight, president and CEO of animation house Laika since 2009. After serving as a lead animator on the studio’s three previous features (“Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” and “The Boxtrolls”), “Kubo and the Two Strings” is Knight’s first stint in the director’s chair, shepherding this original tale of a young boy who must brave a treacherous voyage to assemble a mythic set of armor and defend himself from the nefarious vestiges of his family’s past.

Alternating between vast setpieces and honest moments of interspecies interaction, “Kubo” is the work of a studio that’s honed its filmmaking process for the better part of a decade. Laika has never been afraid of the metaphysical, and this story lives in a heightened realm where magic is both possible and inevitable. It gave Knight and his team the chance to fully utilize its particular brand of stop-motion animation. Toss in a top-flight voice cast and a rich Dario Marianelli score, and you have the studio’s strongest effort yet.

Now with four features under its belt, Laika has cultivated a filmmaking culture that relies on institutional knowledge and intuition over studio demands. “Kubo and the Two Strings” took five years to make, and the team had the luxury of working in their insulated Portland, OR headquarters. Knight acknowledges that the process is counterintuitive, but argues that it helped make “Kubo” the best it could have been.

While loss has become a common theme in children’s films, a significant achievement for “Kubo and the Two Strings” was skillfully weaving that element throughout the film without overwhelming it with darkness. Knight described how putting that experience front and center helped to make the film a more universal experience for audiences of all ages.

Even in a faraway land where the rules of time, physics, and mortality can be bent for the purposes of story and mythmaking, Knight found something relatable in Kubo’s journey. Standing at the divide between two generations, he drew strength from being able to see part of his own life in Kubo’s exploits.

Ultimately, “Kubo” is a study in contrasts. To create contrast between the film’s virtuous young hero and the powers that seek to defeat him, Knight and his team play with shadows both literal and figurative. Knight said drawing that clear distinction makes those filmmaking triumphs shine all the brighter.

This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Movies On Demand, who shot and produced the video interviews, and from Hollywood Proper, who provided location services for our Los Angeles shoots.

You can find all Contender Conversations at our Awards Spotlight homepage.

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Comments

David

Okay now I want to read an article about how Knight is a spoiled rich kid that never once had a real job in his life other than a terrible rap career that turned into a director thanks to his billion dollar daddy!

The Not Real Donald Trump

Fake news David. Now sit down.

Lola

He isn’t spoiled child, he is a hard-working man. He served as lead animator in Coraline, and still making animation by his own hands. He is talented and gifted. He started in Laika as simple animator and being CEO now still on his working place from 8 to 5 most of a time. Just don be jealous to his success, David-what-you-achieved

Jason

Except he didn’t really direct this film. Someone else did. And then they were kicked off the project after it was 90% done. That’s a fact. The gall of him coming out and acting like this was his work is pretty sickening. Shame on Daniel Bergeron and “Indie” wire for either not knowing or blatantly ignoring this fact.

    Fact checker

    Jason, just because you throw the word “fact” around a few times in your comment doesn’t actually make anything you are stating true. Yes the original story was not conceived by Travis, the character designs were done by another artist and the film did start out being directed by someone else. I can tell you with first hand experience, that when the decision was made to remove the original director it was the best decision for the project. The story, effects, crew moral and animation were better for it. The film was no where near 90% complete. . .I think you got the ratio flipped as it was making its way through the rumor mill. Maybe if I am being generous it was 10% complete when Travis took over the helm.

    David, I have been with LAIKA for over a decade and can count on one hand the number of times that Travis has not been one of the first people here and the last to leave. Yes, he does come from a wealthy family but he is one of the hardest working and most talented animators I have ever seen.

One Eyed Boy

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