Travel and related consideration provided for the purposes of this media tour.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the LAIKA animation studio based in Hillsboro, Oregon – a little over an hour away from my home. I got to embark on a private tour around the studio to visit the sets for The Boxtrolls, the new stop-motion film coming to cinemas September 26th. It was an incredible experience to see everything that goes into creating these animated worlds, and I’m so excited to share what I saw over the coming weeks! To kick things off, I’d like to introduce you to the filmmakers, whom I chatted with during my visit.
During our tour, we had the pleasure of walking on a set that Travis Knight, the President and CEO of LAIKA, was in the middle of working on. There was a Q&A right on this set, which was for the final shot in the movie. It was really neat listening to him answer questions as he stood right in the middle of the set manipulating puppets, surrounded by cameras and lights. He was clearly in his element and I couldn’t think of a better place to learn about filmmaking and really get a sense for how everything works than to be smack dab in the middle of the set with him!
The excruciating detail that goes into making a production like this is incredible. Travis spoke about the myriad of different technical elements that must come together for a stop motion film to work, and it’s a lengthy process. The stop motion shots are rehearsed before they are shot to refine the motion, even though it’s being filmed on digital, which speaks a lot to the precision and also attention to detail that goes into something like this. “Yes, it gets tedious,” said Travis regarding the countless hours spent making the tiniest movements to the puppets. “I find a degree of solace in bringing characters to life.”
He also explained how stop motion in the digital age is a great marriage of old and new technologies, as they combine traditional puppetry with modern-day filming and special effects. LAIKA has the attitude of wanting to leverage all available talents and skill sets to aid their goal of taking media beyond where it’s been before. And things have changed a lot just in the short time since LAIKA’s first feature-length film, Coraline, debuted in 2009.
“We can do things in this film that we couldn’t have dreamed of with Coraline,” Travis told us. The Boxtrolls has actually been in development since Coraline, so it’s a film almost 10 years in the making. The enormity of the project and details that must be coordinated to make it all happen is really mind-boggling.
After our set tour, we sat down for a luncheon with directors Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, who echoed these sentiments. We chatted over sandwiches about everything from the challenges of adapting the book Here Be Monsters! into a film that made sense, to the nuts and bolts of stop motion animation – it was so interesting hearing their experiences and learn how they bring magic to life on the big screen.
Graham Annable elaborated further on the painstaking process of creating stop motion: “In most parts of animation, you sort of make the film twice – you make it in board, and then you make the final animation, but in stop motion I almost feel like we’ve made this thing about four times!” he quipped. Anthony Stacchi also spoke about the immense challenges and attention to detail that stop motion animation requires, saying, “Graham has be best definition of what it’s like directing one of these things – every day’s like having to take a test you didn’t study for!”
It was fascinating to hear them talk about the LAIKA company culture of rising to challenges, no matter what the obstacle; the amount of creativity on their team is pretty astounding. For example, at one point late in the process of making in the film, one of the characters has to perform in a stage show and wear a paper mâché mask created by another character in the movie. The directors wondered how they would achieve something so specific – and found out that one of the animators makes miniature paper mâché masks for fun on his days off! So a sticking point that they thought was a huge oversight ended up being solved in a week. Pretty amazing! Some of the ingenuity and creations devised just for this film blew my mind. Graham and Anthony gave examples of saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do (X)?”, and having their team brainstorm a way to make it happen – even when it seems impossible.
Touring LAIKA, you can’t help but be struck by the crew’s dedication, patience, and eye for detail. I’ll be sharing more fun stuff from the sets and departments that I toured very soon – I can’t wait to take you further into the world of The Boxtrolls, because I think you’ll be just as charmed as I was!