“K ubo and the Two Strings” was realized in August of this year and it is impossible to ignore it. If you have not seen the movie I really advise you to see it. What a trully masterpiece! This movie is from the animation studio LAIKA, author of other movies like Coraline, ParaNorman and Boxtrolls. Those three films were nominated for Oscars in the animated-film category but “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the best of all, in my opinion.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” trailer
Many people do not want to know how a product was made, and only have interest in the end result. But I believe that if they know all that is behind a production, they will not be indiferente. Take a look at his making of and get your conclusions.
Kubo and the Two Strings is stop motion movie. In stop motion, animators move around real figures in mini sets, shooting a movement one frame at a time with high definition cameras just close enough to make tiny things seem huge. So, it is all about illusion. As if that was not already ambitious enough, the movie is full of action scenes, monsters and complex visual effects.
The full cycle of the film take about 5 years to create. The shooting process take 2 years. Of course stop motion is a time-consuming and dificult process but as you can see, the results can be amazing and extremely detailed.
Animator moving around Monkey from the battle in boat scene
The most important is to tell a story in the best way possible and for that is important to take advantage of the technology. In fact, LAIKA blends traditional animation with modern tools, using the technology to help expand their handcrafted worlds. They appealed to the computer, stereoscopic photography, laser-cutting, 3D printing and rapid prototyping to create ever more sophisticated models in ever shorter times.
“There are some shots that are entirely practical. There are shots that are almost entirely CG. And then there are some shots that are blended.” – Travis Knight, Director of “Kubo and the Two Strings”.
For example, they used CGI to hide the armatures that support the puppets and to erase the seams in the puppets 3D printed faces. But most of their effects work is done practically in front of the camera.
But it is not all. The monster of the ocean had special needs. In fact, it is a robot. So, they applied science and technology to make it works.
It’s an amazing combination of the old and the new.
The Models and the Costumes
Each puppet is handcrafter and some of them were a really big challenge. The studio needed to build the model skeleton for each character at first in order to allow the puppet to be posed several times. LAIKA made around 200 puppets for this movie.
Monkey and Beetle characters
Beetle was one of the most dificult puppets to make which 30 and 40 differentball-and-socket joints, hinges and swivels. Also, because the fact that the character is covered in armor and it needs to move, it was needed 85 external parts just to him, involving several prototypes.
The Monkey was not easy too. The studio had never attempted a fully furred animal before. The fur would be strong enough to resist to being touched and manipulated several times. The design team wound up coding fur fabric with silicone rubber. Her body was combed into several fur layers. hey used a similar technique on Kubo and his mother who have real human hair on their heads coated with silicon.
Detail of fur placement of Monkey character
At the feathered cape of the villainous sister it was used 183 individual feathers glued onto plastic, laser and cut, then woven together with piano wire.
The costumes involved a lot of research and design. It is impressive that the clothes are full of wires and tiny weights that hold each fold in place.
The studio prints its puppets faces and sometimes breaks them into multiple parts to create thousands of possibilities. In this way, animators can choose the perfect expression for each shot.
“A lead character like Kubo has 22,000 faces, but we bisect the faces into two different phases, eyebrow and mouth, so the animator can independently replace one or the other. If you multiply the number of eyebrow expressions and the number of mouth expressions for Kubo, he has something ridiculous like 48 million possible facial expressions.” – Brian McLean, director of rapid prototyping.
Several faces of Kubo character
The human characters were 3D printed with powder paint on plastic, like in the movie ParaNorman. But for Monkey, Beetle and the Moon Monster, they worked with a color plastic printer still in beta testing.
Kubo and the Two Strings has a lot of different sets and it means for a production perspective, a nightmare. Each supervisor department breaks down into teams that work simulnanealy on a variety of production aspects at once across 72 different sets. We can found for example, a snow storm, beaches, over water and under water or even a bamboo forest. The buildings of the sets can break apart so animators can access any part of the set and reach the characters.
Village Set. Animators could walk around on there.
“They look like nice little dollhouses, but they have to function for stop motion. They all have to sit roughly 42 inches high, so animators can walk up and reach the puppets. And they have to be modular and break apart, so we can get our cameras, our puppets and our animator where the action is taking place.” – Phil Brotherton, Art assistant director.
One of the challenges of shooting on this small scale is to make this tiny world so powerful that makes the spectator believe and feel that place ir real. The huge sailboat is just amazing, it appears to be made of tiny leaves.
Cemetery set with Kubo character on there
The Master Challenges
The monsters of the movie were highlighted with their scale. They produced a couple of motion control puppets slightly larger then a very tall human that are completely controlled remotely.
The Skeleton monster.
They made a sixteen feet tall and weighing 400 pounds skeleton. It is considered by the studio the largest stop motion puppet ever made. The skeleton needed to do agressive movements so it was not easy. The animator standed on an elevated platform to animate the giant skeleton puppet using a combination of pulley systemns and moving platforms. The puppet is so massive they actually could only build the upper torso of the character since it would require a cherry picker lift for the animator to work from.
The undersea creature is a giant robot with shine eyeballs emerging for the shadows. They are beautiful and to control and build them they needed a lot of engineering and thought. One of the controllers that moved the eye is a trackball which actually uses a bowling ball as it’s remote surface.
Under sea monster
Finally, the water was a big challenge for “Kubo” movie. Stop motion and water are things that is not easy to put together… but in their previous movies like Caroline, they already had water rcenes. They used rapid prototype 3D printers to create each physical frame of the water animation. But in “Kubo and the two String” they needed to recreate an ocean. In fact, the opening scene is a big storm at the ocean. So, this time they used a computer generated solution. But it needed to be in the same style and look of the traditional stop motion animation LAIKA is known for. To help with that, they did a lot of physical tests and so, created a kind of iron grid that they covered with different types of fabrics and materials. The grid moved them around in an undulating way to see how that would simulate water.
Effects from the opening scene
A Final Comment
I am really impressed with “Kubo and the two Strings”. To know how it was made turn it even more fantastic. No doubt that “Kubo and the two Strings” is a masterpiece but the competition for the Oscars in the category Best Animated Feature will be very close. Movies like Moana, Zootopia, The Little Prince or The Red Turtle are really good opponents. That’s how I like it. A year full of such fantastic animations that it is difficult to choose a winner.