×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New 3D-Printing Technology Was ‘Missing Link’ for Laika’s Latest Stop-Motion Project

For the upcoming animated comedy adventure “Missing Link,” stop-motion studio Laika set the bar very high. To execute the designs created by director and writer Chris Butler, artists would have to speed up their 3D printing of character faces — and those faces would have to be the most complex they’d ever created.

Missing Link” centers on Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a self-styled investigator of myths and monsters whose skill is not acknowledged by his small-minded high-society peers. So Frost travels to the Pacific Northwest to prove the existence of the legendary Missing Link (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). Other voice actors include Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant and Emma Thompson.

Laika, based in Portland, Ore., brought to “Link” its signature handcrafted stop-motion animation, which it couldn’t have developed without the speed of 3D-printing technology. While the concepts of hand crafting and digital printing may seem at odds with each other, their combination is the main ingredient of Laika’s creative secret sauce.

The studio began the process of 3D printing of faces to painstakingly fashion expressions for the stop-motion characters in 2009’s “Coraline.” That project was completed with about 20,000 unique faces. For 2016’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” the number of expressions jumped to 64,000. “Missing Link,” to be released April 12, will feature a whopping 106,000.

“In the past, a lot of our process was based on reusing facial expressions,” says Brian McLean, director of rapid prototyping at Laika. “Now, with this technology and everything that we’ve learned, we’ve gotten to the point where we actually could be producing shot-specific animation.”

The process requires several steps, notes McLean. “A CG animator sits at a computer working in Maya [software], listening to a line of dialogue that the director has approved. They’re seeing the storyboards and exactly what the action needs to be, and they’re building a customized facial performance in the computer. It gets sent to editorial, where the director will review it and give specific notes. CG will then go in and change the performance. And when the director approves it, we take that CG performance and we export the geometry to the 3D printer.”

Even though dialing in the geometry created by a CG artist made it possible to create highly specific expressions, some designs were still hard on the printers — specifically those for Lionel.

“When it came time to try to figure out a way to print Lionel’s nose — this pointy little triangle — we knew this technology was not going to suffice,” explains McLean. But Laika had a long relationship with 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys dating back to “Coraline.” “Stratasys had just started to play around with color resin, and they let us have a new printer about a year before it was available to the public,” McLean says. “The hardware was amazing, but the software was pretty limited. So we had to take hardware from one company and software from another.”

McLean and his team selected Cuttlefish software that could handle the high demands of 3D color printing, and the new cutting-edge printer was able to make Lionel’s nose a reality. 

Says McLean of the requirements in meeting both the demands for specialty work and the sheer number of more than 100,000 expressions: “It’s scary and exciting to get to solve these challenges.” 

More Artisans

  • Home Again Trinidad and Tobago

    Trinidad and Tobago Attracts Producers by Adding Hefty Cash Incentive to Visual Lures

    A dual-island Caribbean nation that fits fulfills the all visual requirements of a tropical paradise, Trinidad and Tobago offers a striking variety of shooting locales ranging from azure waters, white sands, thick jungle, sprawling savannahs and – on the urban side – bustling cities. Though the islands have predominantly housed local films, they are now [...]

  • Netflix Our Planet Sophie Darlington

    Netflix's 'Our Planet' Roars to Life With Work by Top Wildlife Cinematographers

    In terms of scope, production time and — very likely — budget, Netflix’s “Our Planet” is one of the most ambitious projects from the streaming service to date. Narrated by David Attenborough and made available worldwide on April 5, the goal of the eight-part series is to capture diverse habitats across the globe and highlight [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

  • Marsai Martin Little Movie

    How the 'Little' Production Team Created Look of Marsai Martin-Regina Hall Comedy

    What if you could return to a time in your childhood and relive your life from that point knowing what you know now? That’s the fantasy at the core of Universal’s “Little,” released April 12, in which Regina Hall’s Jordan Sanders, a character overwhelmed by the pressures of adulthood, gets the chance to relive the [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8 BTS

    How 'Game of Thrones'' Locations Have Expanded With the Series

    When the eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” debuts on April 14, the show’s millions of followers will once again be transported to the exotic lands and sweeping landscapes where the saga is set. From King’s Landing to The Wall, stunning locations have been woven into the fabric of “Thrones” since its [...]

  • In The Dark CW

    How 'In the Dark' Trained a Regular Dog to Act as a Guide Dog

    There used to be an adage in show business about never working with animals or children, but for Violetta Hessing, there’s nothing more fulfilling than finding a dog that wants to be on set and training it to deliver just as much emotion as its human scene partners. Hessing owns and is the head trainer [...]

  • Ryan Higa Youtube Star

    YouTube Star Ryan Higa Shows the Way to Maintain Independence With DIY Studio

    Hollywood creatives have always dreamed of having total control of their work. For most of them, it has been just that: a dream.  But that doesn’t hold true for a new breed of content creators: YouTube influencers. These individuals, with no corporate boss to answer to, and whose work is growing in scope and impact, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content