Stop-Motion ‘Missing Link’s’ Connection to ‘King Kong’

In some countries, animation is appreciated as serious art, but in the West, it’s often viewed as the domain of kids. Similarly, stop-motion animation is often dismissed as clunky but charming, thanks to TV’s “Gumby,” “Davey and Goliath” and Rankin/Bass specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Luckily, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences animation branch know better. Since the Oscar category was created in 2001, they’ve nominated a wide range of sophisticated films, including hand-drawn, CG and oil-painted animation— and, of course, stop-motion.

Laika Studios has been Oscar-nominated for its first four films, all stop-motion — “Coraline” (2009), “ParaNorman” (2012) “The Boxtrolls” (2014) and “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). Their track record is likely to continue with the 2019 “Missing Link.”

The film, set in 1886, centers on adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) who is trying to help Mr. Link (Zack Galifianakis) find others of his species. Writer-director Chris Butler says of Mr. Link, “He’s the latest in a long line of soulful primates, including ‘King Kong’ and ‘Mighty Joe Young.’”

Though “Kong” was a huge box office hit, it received zero Oscar-nominations; however, “Mighty Joe Young” won the 1949 Academy Award for special effects.

Popular on Variety

Growing up in England, Butler says, “I was a huge Ray Harryhausen fan,” citing “Clash of the Titans” and “Jason and the Argonauts” in particular.

Butler wanted to be an animator, assuming it would be in 2D. But after years of creating storyboards, he changed career goals while working on “Corpse Bride.” He realized stop-motion was the perfect way to express his creativity, saying, “It was such a great experience that I never looked back.”

Missing Link” is beautiful, heartfelt and ambitious. “Every time we make a stop-motion movie at Laika, we try to do things that haven’t been done before,” says Butler. Every scene in “Link” featured a new locale, with 110 sets covering 65 locations, including the Himalayas, a jungle in India and the Pacific Northwest. That’s a lot for a 93-minute movie: It’s by far the biggest stop-motion film ever.

Some people think stop-motion is a rarefied art form, but it’s as old as film itself: Georges Méliès experimented with it. Butler adds, “The movies that I grew up with have stop motion; one of my favorites is ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ Look at those Walkers — that’s the magic of moviemaking, with audiences being compelled and not even questioning how it’s done.” (The film won a special Oscar for its visual effects.) Butler praises the 450 artists who worked on “Missing Link.” It was a five-year journey, with one year each of planning, preproduction and post — and a whopping two years of production.

There seems to be a 21st century boom in stop motion. When the 2005 “Corpse Bride” was Oscar-nominated, the other two animation contenders were “Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (which won) and “Howl’s Moving Castle.” In other words, two of the three were stop motion.

That was bested by 2012, when Oscar’s list of five nominees included three in stop-motion: “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”

More Artisans

  • Joker Movie

    Make-Up Artist Nicki Ledermann on the Stages of 'Joker' Face

    When “Joker” make-up artist Nicki Ledermann came on board, she had some ideas in mind for the film and presented mock-ups to director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix — and both Phillips and Phoenix had already played around with ideas and showed Ledermann photos. “I had to take the design and it was up [...]

  • Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California,

    Alison Small Set to Lead Training for Netflix in U.K. (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alison Small, CEO of The Production Guild of Great Britain, is in discussions to join Netflix as head of its training initiatives out of the U.K., Variety has learned. The Production Guild, whose members include line producers, production managers and location managers, among others, advertised for a new CEO last week. Its chair is Alex [...]

  • The Gentlemen Costume Design

    How Costume, Production Pros Used Class Style to Define Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’

    For Guy Ritchie’s newest crime-meets-action film “The Gentlemen,” about an American drug kingpin living in Britain and trying to sell his business, the director turned to his “Aladdin” team of costume designer Michael Wilkinson and production designer Gemma Jackson. But the backgrounds and looks they created had less to do with Arabian Nights than with [...]

  • Frozen 2 Rocketman Avengers Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Frozen 2,' 'Rocketman' Take Top Honors at Lumiere Awards

    “Frozen 2” led the Advanced Imaging Society’s Lumiere Awards on Wednesday. The hit Disney sequel was honored with three Lumieres for immersive animated feature film, original song and use of HDR. Director Jennifer Lee was on hand to accept the prizes during a ceremony at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. The Advanced Imaging Society [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    How the '1917' Special Effects Makeup Team Created Realistic Dead Bodies

    Prior to working on “1917,” special effects artist Tristan Versluis had designed no more than five or six corpses. But Sam Mendes, director of the WWI drama, which has garnered 10 Oscar nominations, needed Versluis, who picked up one of those noms in the hair and makeup category, to create 30 corpses and dead horses, [...]

  • The Irishman

    Editor Thelma Schoonmaker on Cutting Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman'

    When Thelma Schoonmaker heard about her Oscar nomination for “The Irishman,” she had just stepped off a plane from England. Martin Scorsese’s assistant had texted her about the news, one of the first people to do so. “The Irishman” received a total of ten nominations and was unlike anything Scorsese had done before. “He wanted [...]

  • David O. Russell

    David O. Russell Looks at 'Three Kings' 20 Years Later

    When David O. Russell made “Three Kings” in 1999, it was one of the most definitive films on the Gulf War. At the time, the director had worked on shorts “Hairway to the Stars” and “Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions.” He had also worked on features “Spanking the Monkey” and “Flirting with Disaster.” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content