The stop-motion animation house Laika is well on its way to becoming one of the strongest, most consistent studios in in the movie industry. Founded by Travis Knight, the son of Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight, the company has only made two features thus far - Coraline and ParaNorman - but both earned incredible critical praise and even Academy Award nominations. The future is bright for Laika, particularly because their next film, The Boxtrolls, looks to continue the studio tradition of mixing beautiful animation with powerful storytelling.
Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi and based on the novel "Here Be Monsters" by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls is set in a "Charles Dickens meets Monty Python" type world where a young orphan boy named Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) lives underground with his family – who happen to be a bunch of trolls who live in and wear cardboard boxes. While things are all fine and good, trouble begins to brew when Eggs begins to question where he actually came from, and must deal with the rise of Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a disgusting, awful exterminator who believes that getting rid of the Boxtrolls is his ticket to the upper class.
We’ve been excited to see more from The Boxtrolls for months, but late last year we got a very special behind the scenes look at the movie. Along with a small group of other journalists, I took a quick flight up to Laika headquarters in Oregon where we got to tour the facility and various departments, talk to the team of animators building the movie, and watch some filming in action. Over the course of the day, I learned some fascinating things about the upcoming movie, and I’m beyond excited to share the experience.
How A Mistake On ParaNorman Led To Better Animation In The BoxtrollsEven if you’ve only read a limited amount about the animation process, you’re still probably familiar with the phrase "squash and stretch." Basically, when things move around, their shape changes as a result, and it’s within the single frames of an animated work that those varied shapes are revealed. By its nature, stop-motion is at a disadvantage in this regard, because it’s much more of a challenge in a medium that requires physical sculptures. With the help of 3D printers and a fortunate mistake on ParaNorman, however, Laika is quickly leaping over that hurdle.
While Laika is famous for using 3D printers to create entire archives of replaceable faces for all of their characters (each face having a slightly different emotion, mouth shape, etc.), it was a bad print job on the company’s last movie that helped make the artists think about their work in a completely new way.
Talking about the special effects used on the witch character Aggie on ParaNorman, Travis Knight told us, "We took it really far and it was actually a kind of a mistake. We sent two files to the printer at the same time and the printing overlapped on each other. It just looked like a smear. We started to kind of explore that idea and we were able to get really great cartoony expressions and a lot of squash and stretch out of that character."
Of course, that idea has only been developed further since, and it made a sizable difference in the way the studio and the animators thought about The Boxtrolls’ aesthetic.
"Leaping off that, we've been able to incorporate it into the expressions of our characters, making them that much more alive, which is really exciting to see," Knight said.