×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Kubo and the Two Strings’: 3D Printer Key to Puppetry

When the Oscar nominations were announced on Jan. 24, some may have been surprised to find “Kubo and the Two Strings” among the visual-effects nominees. But it wasn’t a shock to those who had carefully looked at the work Oregon-based Laika had done for its latest release.

Long known as a technological and artistic pioneer for its combination of traditional stop motion and puppeteering with CG, the studio was already home to a team that pushed boundaries with such previous stop-motion releases as “Coraline.”

One member of the staff, Brian McLean, was also recognized with a Sci-Tech Award by the Academy just last year for his work in rapid prototyping.

The last time an animated film was nominated in the vfx category was 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Since then, the rise of Laika has advanced stop motion in all kinds of ways.

“When we started work on ‘Kubo’ we found ourselves in a place where we would either have to ask for a small tweak on one of the characters or we would have to find a new way to do things,” says McLean, who is director of rapid prototyping and part of the team nommed for a vfx Oscar for “Kubo.”

The team at Laika reached out to Stratasys to find out if it might have something that could help with the project. The 3D printer was still developing the technology for its new Connex3 printer. That became the tool that could help Laika create such characters as Monkey for what helmer Travis Knight has described as “an animated film about death.”

“Kubo” also features massive amounts of water and smoke or mist and skies that tie in with the overall action of the film, something that can be notoriously tricky even in a film not featuring stop-motion animation. There’s also a lot of clean-up work to be done on the puppets to make them look as seamless as possible. VFX supervisor Steve Emerson and his team used VUE and Photoshop for some of these processes and then comped them in Nuke.

“We worked very closely with the art department and the production designer Nelson Lowry,” Emerson says. “We ended up using things like garbage bags for the in-camera tests for water and the art department will create clouds from things like tulle netting.”

The film also required the team to build a 16-foot tall skeleton puppet with a 22-foot arm span.

It’s not every day that this happens and Oliver Jones, head of rigging, and his team collaborated to create a system of pulleys so the animators were able to move the creature easily and then lock it into place for each shot. The result was a monstrous being who dwarfed the 6-inch Kubo when the two battled on screen.

“Moving a giant skeleton around like that can be complicated,” says Jones. “But what you get on screen is certainly worth everything that you put into developing that process and it’s also fun.”

More Film

  • Corey Stoll Brian dArcy James

    'West Side Story' Remake Adds Corey Stoll, Brian d'Arcy James as Cops

    Steven Spielberg has cast Corey Stoll and Brian d’Arcy James as police officers in his movie adaptation of “West Side Story.” Stoll will take on the role of Lieutenant Schrank, the New York City detective charged with quelling civic unrest in his racially-torn precinct. James will play Sergeant Krupke, a veteran cop whose beat includes [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Will Smith Bright - Japan premiere

    Three Six Zero Acquires Will Smith and Miguel Melendez's Westbrook Entertainment

    International entertainment and music management company Three Six Zero has acquired Westbrook Entertainment, the talent management company which represents Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden Smith, Willow Smith, Kenna and Crespo. “Bringing Miguel, his clients and his management team to Three Six Zero is an exciting next step on our journey to expand our entertainment [...]

  • Chris Cooper

    Chris Cooper Joins, Focus Features Boards Jon Stewart's Political Comedy 'Irresistible'

    Focus Features is partnering with Plan B Entertainment to produce and distribute Jon Stewart’s political comedy “Irresistible,” with Chris Cooper joining stars Steve Carell and Rose Byrne. Variety first reported in October that Stewart and Carell had boarded the project, with Stewart directing and producing with Plan B. Stewart has kept a low profile since [...]

  • Woody and Buzz Lightyear Hit the

    'Toy Story 4': Woody and Buzz Lightyear Hit the Road in New Trailer

    Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Bo Peep, and a strange new toy named Forky have returned in the new trailer for “Toy Story 4” that sends the gang out on the road. Disney unveiled the footage Tuesday with Woody telling the other toys that Forky — a craft-project-turned-toy — is the most important toy to Bonnie. He [...]

  • Warner Bros. HQ LA

    Warner Bros. CFO Kim Williams Tapped for Interim Leadership Team (EXCLUSIVE)

    Warner Bros. Entertainment is setting an interim leadership team to lead the Hollywood studio following the abrupt dismissal of CEO Kevin Tsujihara on Monday. As Variety first reported, the team will consist of Warner Bros. motion pictures group chairman Toby Emmerich and Warner Bros. television group president and CCO Peter Roth. It will also include [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content