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SDCC 2017: LAIKA Works Its Movie Magic In San Diego

Thursday 27th July 2017 by Natalie Kipper

LAIKA, the cinema wizards behind film favorites Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings, set up a gallery in San Diego’s Gaslamp District for this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. I had the pleasure of touring the facility this morning and the experience was downright enchanting.

Even before I entered the door, I was welcomed by Norman and Kubo! These characters could be found roaming the Gaslamp near the gallery and were available for pictures. I was soon ushered into the gallery and was given a guided tour through the exhibit’s structures.

The first area was dedicated to the haunting film, Coraline. One of the most impressive pieces in this portion was the set seen above. I was able to get up close and view it from the angle seen in the film as well. Check it out:

It turns out parts of sets can be made from everyday household objects like popcorn or even dog chew toys, whatever works best to get the needed texture and effect. LAIKA was the first studio to utilize 3D printing.

Here we can see some of the skeletal structure of the puppets used in LAIKA’s stop-motion animation films. While the facial expressions may be 3D printed, the innards are made of metal, allowing for easier manipulation from frame to frame.

The next section of the gallery was all about ParaNorman, a movie very near and dear to my heart. The exhibit set-up had many of the models used in the film. There were several figures of Norman in the displays, which makes sense because each one of Norman’s outfit has its own doll. It is less time-consuming than painstaking changing the clothes on a single doll after different scenes.

Like the Coraline section, sets from ParaNorman were also available for viewing. This time, we got a peek at Norman’s family home as well as a hallway in his school. The hallway scene was particularly fun, with so much detail to pick out. It felt like you were sneaking into the movie’s world.

The second to last area was all about The Boxtrolls. The film was a huge production, involving 79 sets, over 20,000 handmade props, and the largest stop-motion puppet built up until that time.

And here that puppet is: the Mecha-Drill. Weighing in at 75 pounds and measuring an impressive five feet tall, this masterpiece of imagination consists of 600 metal, plastic, and steel pieces.

The final displays in the exhibit were dedicated to the LAIKA’s latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings. There were several big set-ups in this area but what caught my eye the most was the diorama that housed Kubo and his friends in a Japanese backdrop.

Kubo and the Two Strings‘ Moon Beast puppet is special for several reasons. One being that it is the first of LAIKA’s puppets to consist entirely of 3D-printed parts (881 of them, to be exact). Another is that unlike the majority of their puppets, which utilize a metal armature skeleton (like the one we saw in the puppet from the Coraline section earlier), the Moon Beast’s innards are made up to the a long posable tube, like the kind found on microphone stands and desk lamps.

Okay, so you know how I mentioned earlier how The Boxtroll‘s Mecha-Drill puppet was, at one point, the largest puppet built? Well, the Hall of Bones Skeleton stole that title once Kubo and the Two Strings was released. The puppet showcased at the gallery was actually a 1/6th-scale version of a much, much larger one. How large? Try 16 feet tall! It’s size was necessary for scenes with both the Skeleton and Kubo (or other puppets or that smaller scale). If Kubo were any smaller, his puppet would not be able to be manipulated at the same level of detail.

If you want to see the giant version of the Skeleton, it will be for viewing, along with other LAIKA displays, at the Portland Art Museum. From October 5, 2017 through May 18, 2018, the museum will host a special LAIKA exhibition. Be sure to check it out if you are in the area!