Kubo and the Two Strings, which will be released August 19th, is Laika Studios’ latest film. The movie is about a boy named Kubo. He has the power to bring origami characters to life through his storytelling. Kubo and the Two Strings, like Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, is a movie animated mostly through stop-motion techniques. Luckily for me, Laika Studios is located in the Portland area and I was fortunate enough to receive a behind the set tour of Kubo and the Two Strings.
After an introduction to the movie, I and several bloggers watched a 15 minute screening of Kubo and the Two Strings. The screening actually consisted of several clips strung together. Even though I only saw 15 minutes of the animated film, I liked what I saw and I think it will be a hit at the theaters next month. The movie might even be Laika Studios biggest release to date.
One of things I noticed about the film is that it features more CGI than previous Laika Studios movies. For instance, Coraline was shot almost entirely in stop-motion with digital edits made mostly for things like removing riggings and lines. But in Kubo and the Two Strings, the main characters were shot in stop-motion while extras (like crowd scenes) were computer generated.
One of the characters in the story is a giant skeleton in the Hall of Bones. I think it was about 25 feet tall. I was surprised to learn that the character was an actual stop-motion character the studio built to scale. It would have been much easier to use CGI for the giant Hall of Bones skeleton. When I asked the visual effects supervisor, Steve Emerson, why he didn’t use CGI for the giant skeleton, he told me they enjoyed the challenge of creating it. I think he said giant skeleton in the Hall of Bones is the biggest stop-motion puppet ever built.
Even though Kubo and the Two Strings is a stop-motion/CGI hybrid, costume design is just as important as it is with live-action films. According to Deborah Cook, costume designer, the team took great care in coming up with the right materials to make the tiny costumes look authentic. In addition, some of the costumes have to be flexible enough to move, yet stiff enough for posing during the stop-motion shots.
One of the things I thought was really interesting is that the studio used Tyvek to create the origami warriors in the movie. They originally used cardboard, but the origami warriors fell apart during shooting. What makes Tyvek interesting for me is that I work in the building materials industry so I know Tyvek is normally used to wrap houses. It’s apply between the sheathing and siding as a water barrier.
While at the set of Kubo and the Two Strings, I got to see the inside of the puppets. The body looks like a crude framework for a robotic body. The various metal parts are movable and adjustable. While the body parts are movable, the face is not. The different facial expressions are actually created with interchangeable faces that were made with 3D printers. Magnets on the back of the faces make it easy to snap the face to the head. Some of the faces were also created in two to three pieces to increase the variations in facial expressions.
The props and sets of Kubo and the Two Strings are very detailed and elaborate. As with the puppets, some of the props have to be movable. For instance, rigs are used in the forest surrounding a cemetery to create the movement of a breeze.