Monday, August 08, 2016

Raising the Bar for Stop Motion

An animation studio in Portland keeps pushing envelopes.

How LAIKA 3-D Printed an Animated World

... LAIKA is a studio that’s unique in the worlds of animation and filmmaking because everything about a LAIKA production is massive, even when things are in miniature. A LAIKA film is the product of an army of people — costume designers, puppet fabricators, 3D-printing experts, visual effects teams, animators, set decorators, model makers, painters — coming together to solve problems and create worlds that feel real, even and especially in their extreme stylization. ...

LAIKA’s been using a unique approach to 3D printing for replacement animation (for which it was recently awarded a Scientific and Technical Oscar) since Coraline.

“We realized that we had really pushed the performance of a stop motion character into a whole new realm,” McLean said of the work on Coraline, “something that was never achievable before, but the technique of having to hand-paint each individual face was pretty laborious and time-consuming. So between Coraline and our next film, ParaNorman, we tried to build off of what we had sort of pioneered and we worked towards using a different type of printer, which was a color 3D printer.”

... With Kubo, the character designs of Kubo, Monkey and Beetle were more complex and the scale of the film demanded that McLean and his team find a way to mass produce colored 3D printed components for these characters. Needing to find a way to fine-tune the process without sacrificing speed of production and the quality of the colored components, McLean set to work trying to find a 3D printing solution that fit LAIKA’s needs for Kubo.

Eventually, he found it in a very new printer from Stratasys, one of the leading makers of 3D printers. ...

The Rapid Prototyping team, which made up of 70 people, prints character faces in two main sections (the brow section and the mouth section), but also prints all of the elements that go inside of a character’s head (think eyeballs, eyelids, ears). This allows animators to use pieces to create more combinations to make characters more expressive. ...

Stop motion animation is an old and respected art form, but it hasn't enjoyed the boffo box office that CG animated features regularly pull down, though the two are close cousins.

Maybe it's the technology. Maybe audiences really are more comfortable and in tune with CG animation. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a well-loved film, but the love didn't translate into monster grosses. LAIKA's Corlaine, the studio's first release, collected $124,596,398 in worldwide ticket sales, but that's a fraction of what Frozen or Zootopia have raked in. And by the end of its run, Coraline had the same domestic box office that Nightmare did.

Or maybe it's the quality of story-telling, and not the screen technique, to which audiences respond. Maybe Toy Story and Finding Dory just happen to click better with movie-goers.

Kubo gets released on August 19th. It's LAIKA's most ambitious feature to date. It's got a pretty high want-to-see quotient on Rotten Tomatoes. By Sunday night of its first weekend the entertainment industry should have a pretty good fix on how the picture is going to do in the domestic gross department.

One thing is dead-bang certain: LAIKA is sure as hell giving stop motion features the old college try.

"From the Grapevine" has its own piece on LAIKA's 3-D printing here.


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