×
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

  • Night scenery of the Bund in

    Shanghai: Festivals Grapple With How to Stay Relevant in the Digital Era

    Festival organizers from around the world on Tuesday discussed the challenges of remaining relevant in a digital era at a Shanghai International Film Festival forum. The Festival do Rio’s executive director Ilda Santiago noted that online platforms are now an unavoidable part of the film business and creative process, and that “of course not all [...]

  • Kiernan Shipka and Ross LynchMTV Movie

    MTV Movie & TV Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    Many of the biggest stars in movies and television — including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kiernan Shipka, Sandra Bullock, Tessa Thompson and Brie Larson — came together to present and receive honors at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards, hosted by “Shazam!” star Zachary Levi. And while non-attendees are able to enjoy [...]

  • Johnny BananasMTV Movie & TV Awards,

    'The Challenge' Veteran Crashes MTV Awards Acceptance Speech; Cut From Broadcast

    Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio pulled a Kanye West at Saturday’s taping of the MTV Movie & TV awards when “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta” won over “The Challenge” in the Reality Royalty category. However, viewers didn’t get to see it. Producers of the show cut out Devenanzio’s speech from Monday’s airing, after the reality star took [...]

  • Zachary LeviMTV Movie & TV Awards,

    MTV Movie & TV Awards Winners: The Complete List

    The MTV Movie & TV Awards returned to television Monday, with host Zachary Levi and a number of pop culture favorites. Dominating this year’s nominations with four apiece were front runners “Avengers: Endgame,” which took home the evening’s best movie award, and “Game of Thrones,” which won best show. The Oscar-nominated documentary “RBG” also scored [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Jon Ham Richard Jewell

    Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm Join Clint Eastwood's 'Richard Jewell' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Olivia Wilde and Jon Hamm have joined the cast of Clint Eastwood’s already star-studded drama “Richard Jewell.” Paul Walter Hauser is set to star as the titular Jewell in Warner Bros.’ pic alongside Sam Rockwell as Jewell’s attorney and Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother. The drama is based on Marie Brenner’s article in Vanity Fair [...]

  • Where the Wind Blows

    Hong Kong's 'Where the Wind Blows' Sidesteps Protests For China Promo

    Hong Kong film director Philip Yung and his cast were in Shanghai on Monday to promote their upcoming film “Where the Wind Blows.” They revealed new details while cautiously sidestepping — for the most part — the awkward issue of last week’s massive civil protests in Hong Kong against a controversial bill that would have [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content