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How does Laika produce stop motion animation?

With its exciting productions and unique artisanal aesthetic, the critically acclaimed Laika animation studio delivers some outstandingly fresh stories and compelling experiences. The studio’s approach to stop motion animation, which includes implementing advanced technologies that mix the physical and digital aspects, has invigorated the industry as a whole.

Laika’s commitment to innovation in stop motion animation

Laika’s ethos

When Laika was founded in the early 2000s, stop motion animation had lost its popular appeal. With digital effects being more budget-friendly and time-saving than stop motion animation, most animators at that time are more inclined to the available technology. Hence, the vintage art form was gradually rendered obsolete, or as Laika Animation Studios’ CEO Travis Knight said: “[It was] basically taking its last, dying breath”.

As a matter of survival in this context, Laika animation studio had to carry a meaningful mission with this medium. Specifically, the studio aimed to open a new era, to invigorate stop motion animation. To do this, Laika has integrated new technologies and innovations into the 120-year-old technique of making stop-motion animation movies. This idea has allowed the animators to explore new territories and create ‘movies that matter.’

Stop motion animation - Laika's ethos

How Laika pushed stop motion animation with technology innovations

Practical magic meets old school charm

Although stop motion animated movies date back to the dawn of cinema, Laika has been the company that innovated the art form the most significantly over the course of a decade. Throughout its catalog, Laika’s marks of innovation are apparent in a range of components, especially the seamless fusion of the “new” and the “old” in its animation techniques.

The studio’s most obvious breakthrough lies in the expressiveness of its puppet faces. To animate the expressions of a character, Laika creates thousands of individual faces with 3D printing, which is meticulously tracked during the design, fabrication as well as animation stages. Starting in 2009 with the movie ‘Coraline’, this practice became increasingly developed within Laika’s systems, with the number of faces continually increasing and the machinery advancing: from Objet Eden 260 to Stratasys J750 and stop motion animation software.

stop motion animation - How Laika pushed stop motion animation with technology innovations

Laika further refines and cleans up its puppet faces by harnessing AI for rotoscoping. This is a lot of work; however, the process would help create more realistic-looking puppets and ultimately help the audience to have a better emotional connection to the stop motion animated movies. Similarly, in the quest for perfection, Laika also utilizes VFX in puppet making. Hence, the VFX will have the same handmade quality as the characters.

The company’s high-tech approach to stop motion animation also appears in the increasing reliance on CGI, especially evident in ‘Kubo and the two strings’. In scenes with water effects or crowd scenes where the Kubo character tells a story, a large proportion of elements are digital creations instead of physical ones.

However, the company addresses the physical elements of stop motion animation in the same aesthetic-driven and hands-on manner that it deals with the hi-tech ones. Every character goes through the same time-consuming handmade, artisanal design process. For example, because a single "hero puppet" can take anywhere from 4 to 9 months to design and create, the fabrication crew begins work 12 to 18 months before the shoot. Then, the animators would directly move the characters around on set, shooting every single tiny movement, at a rate of 24 individual photo/every second.

Therefore, the process of making stop motion animation is extremely collaborative and labor-intensive. A telling example is ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016), where more than 25 animators worked simultaneously on the scenes. Each of them was trying to achieve Laika studio’s goal of 4.3 seconds/ week, and only often finished about 3 seconds/week.

The alchemy of all those technologies together has helped Laika produce some of the most breathtaking animation films ever created, which received not only commercial successes but also critical acclaims. As recognition for its constant innovation in stop motion animation, the Laika team has won accolades at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual Scientific and Technical Awards. Beyond that, in 2016, Kubo was the first animated film to garner a Visual Effects Academy Award nomination in over twenty years, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

stop motion animation - How Laika pushed stop motion animation with technology innovations

Laika Studios’ significant impacts

Laika’s innovations have effectively changed how to make stop motion animation, helping animators recognize the limitless scope of the art form. Following Coraline (2009) pioneering 3D printing for puppet creation, Aardman’s 2012 animation “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” integrated the technology for smoother and more versatile puppet face replacements.

stop-motion-animation - Laika Studio' significant impacts

Likewise, in “Anomalisa” (2015), directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson employed a basic version of the Laika rapid-prototyping system. However, this system is less refined than Laika’s, lacking the digital seam-hiding features.

stop motion animation - Laika Studios’ significant impacts

Most importantly, Laika studio has propelled stop motion animation forward in a way that the industry has never seen before. With innovations and persistence, the studio has successfully blown into the art form a breath of fresh air. As we continue into the 21st century, stop motion animated ovies are thriving, bringing their charm to a wider audience. From “Shaun the Sheep” movie to ‘The Missing Link’ or ‘Wendall and Wild’, stop motion and stop motion animation techniques have never been so in vogue.

How Laika produces “movies that matter”

Along with these exciting innovations, Laika’s stop motion animation also stands out thanks to the depth of the storytelling. Not only do the films bring people together with the ‘importance of family’ at their core but they also pique people’s imagination and encourage them to dream.

For example, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016) is a fairy tale for all ages about the "precarious journey of youth," which is "a patchwork of dreams and nightmares underpinned by the experience of childhood.”

stop motion animation - How Laika produces “movies that matter”

Coraline (2009) emphasizes the irreplaceable values of family. Even though the family dynamics are far from perfect, it still establishes a strong foundation of love, respect, and the pursuit of what is right.

stop motion animation - How Laika produces “movies that matter”

Beyond that, Laika’s stop motion animated films also address darker issues in nuanced, sophisticated, and non-patronizing ways. Specifically, in terms of these matters, the films never speak down to children. In Paranorman (2012), the subject of death and alienation are directly tackled with the simple concept that the protagonist Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the only one who can see and communicate with dead people in his neighborhood.

stop motion animation - How Laika produces “movies that matter”

Similarly, before raising the theme of family appreciation, Coraline (2009) mentioned the themes of alienation and death by attaching them with everyday childhood boredom and fears.

stop motion animation - How Laika produces “movies that matter”

Or with Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), Kubo’s journey of self-discovery and self-actualization partly comes from his grief over his mother’s death. Ultimately, the stop motion animated movie teaches both children and adults about learning through loss.

stop motion animation - How Laika produces “movies that matter”

For these reasons, Laika’s stop motion cartoons offer adults a moment to contemplate and children a place to learn about several inevitable aspects of existence, notably life and death, in a delicate way. People may notice Laika’s films because of the thrilling innovations, but it is the meaningful and universal messages that capture their hearts, giving the movies a broad appeal.

References:, Laika animation: Meditations on Alienation and Death…for Kids, Inside Laika studio, where stop-motion animation goes high-tech


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