LAIKA – Stop-motion and Storytelling magic

“If you must blink, do it now!”  That opening line of Travis Knight’s BAFTA nominated directing debut, Kubo and the Two Strings, could be advice for watching any of the animated films made by his company, LAIKACoraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls were all Oscar and BAFTA nominated for Best Animated Feature.  Full of stop-motion brilliance, rich visuals and captivating story-telling.  You don’t want to miss a second.

kubo_sunset_laika_focus-0
Kubo and the Two Strings Dir. Travis Knight

It was a treat to hear director, animator and LAIKA CEO, Travis Knight and producer Arianne Sutner talk about the company and the making of Kubo and the Two Strings at a recent National Film & Television School (NFTS) Masterclass.  Conveying the creativity and magic of the animation studio, Travis described LAIKA as, “kind of like Santa’s workshop.  If all the elves had body piercings and neck tattoos.”

And they brought some friends along:

Monkey and Beetle - puppets from Kubo and the Two Strings
Monkey and Beetle – puppets from Kubo and the Two Strings

There’s a feature about LAIKA’s NFTS visit here.

In the run up to the BAFTA and Academy Awards, scripts are freely available online.  It’s a masterclass in storytelling to read those for LAIKA’s films.

Links to PDFs of LAIKA’s scripts:

Coraline script (2009. Dir. Henry Selick. Screenplay Henry Selick from Neil Gaiman’s book)

ParaNorman script (2012. Dirs Chris Butler & Sam Fell.  Screenplay Chris Butler)

The Boxtrolls script (2014.  Dirs Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi.  Screenplay Irina Brignull & Adam Pava)

Kubo and the Two Strings script (2016. Dir. Travis Knight. Screenplay Chris Butler & Marc Haimes, from a story by Shannon Tindle & Marc Haimes)

Stories bold enough to have properly scary bits, like the Other Mother from Coraline with her button eyes.

On the page you can see the complex, fully rounded characters, that yet leave room for the animators’ creative artistry.  In this short extract (below) from Kubo and the Two Strings, Monkey is stern & soft, serious & witty, fearsome & loving and all believable due to script and performance.

As guardian Monkey watches the young hero Kubo conjure origami birds:

MONKEY

You’re growing stronger

Kubo LAUGHS.  He feels it.

MONKEY (CONT’D)

You might not want to look quite so pleased about that.

She sits him up, ushering him onto his feet and brushing down his robe.

MONKEY (CONT’D)

We grow stronger.  The world grows, more dangerous.  Life has a way of keeping things balanced.

Kubo reacts to this cynical wisdom by making a face.

KUBO

Monkey, do you ever say anything encouraging?

MONKEY

I encourage you not to die.

Monkey licks her hand, smoothes down Kubo’s hair and walks away.

In the extract above the maternal actions – all meticulously animated frame by frame – of brushing down Kubo’s robe, smoothing his hair, subtly convey the caring and affection that underlie her seemingly tough words.  There is nothing accidental in animation actions.  They have purpose.  Sublime where those actions combine humour, character and storytelling.

ParaNorman

In ParaNorman this opening exchange (below) between Norman and his (dead) Grandmother as they watch TV, succinctly sets up the themes the film goes on to explore – don’t prejudge, be open to seeing things from a different view, talk things through to find out the real story.  A message of, and plea for, tolerance and understanding for everyone.  Even Zombies.

GRANDMA BABCOCK

What’s happening now?

NORMAN

The zombie is eating her head, Grandma.

GRANDMA BABCOCK

That’s not very nice. What’s he doing that for?

NORMAN

Because he’s a zombie. That’s what they do.

GRANDMA BABCOCK

Well he’s going to ruin his dinner.  I’m sure if they just bothered to sit down and talk it through it’d be a different story.

Norman CHUCKLES, as if the idea is absurd, then winces as he hears his father shout from the kitchen.

Even brief phyiscal decriptions richly convey character, as in this short introduction to Norman’s teacher, who is in charge of the school play. A job she is taking seriously.  Very seriously.

In a director’s chair far too small for the job is MRS HENSCHER, an imposing woman with spectacles and beret who looks like she smells of too-much perfume. Mrs Henscher’s knuckles clench white around her script.  She attempts an understanding smile, in the same way a shark might.

And that’s before they’ve recorded the actors’ voices and started on the animation.  Here’s a little gag from The Boxtrolls end credits, featuring Travis animating:

It was a delight to hear such talented and dedicated artists talk about their work.  Very much looking forward to whatever LAIKA makes next.  As Travis said, “Stories endure.  Art matters.”

And a joy to meet Monkey:

Meeting Monkey from Kubo and the Two Strings

 

Bruce Munro, Art in the Landscape & a Giant Prawn

“Sculpture gains by finding a setting that suits its mood and when that happens there is gain for both the sculpture and setting.” – Henry Moore

I was treated to a preview of Bruce Munro’s  ‘Winter Light’ exhibition in the grounds of Waddesdon Manor recently.  Flamboyant light installations in a formal Victorian garden.  So here’re some pictures from ‘Winter Light’ and a few other bits and pieces of art in the landscape that I happen to have enjoyed.

Winter Light

Beacon by Bruce Munro at Waddesdon Manor
Beacon by Bruce Munro at Waddesdon Manor

Beacon was originally constructed in 2013 on a hill at Long Knoll near the artist’s home, to raise money & awareness for breast cancer charity Cancerkin“This hill and surrounding countryside has long been my ‘canvas’,” Munro explained. “I lost a dear friend very young to breast cancer. By illuminating the night sky for a brief moment, I hope to send the message ‘you are not alone’.”

Bruce Munro’s Moon-Harvest at Waddesdon transforms hay-bales in their black plastic wrappers into a galaxy come to earth.

Moon-Harvest
Moon-Harvest
Enjoying the Moon-Harvest
Enjoying the Moon-Harvest

The exhibition is on till 4th January 2015, illuminating from 4pm.  Here’s my little piece about it in Buckinghamshire Life Magazine: Bruce Munro

Bruce Munro Buckinghamshire Life

The Crow Road

Fence-post crow guarding the path up to the ruins of Dinas Bran castle in North Wales, near Llangollen.  Dinas Bran has been translated as Crow Castle or The Hill of the Crow.

Dinas Bran

 The Great Storm

One of a series of sculptures by Jill Watson around the Berwickshire coastline, commemorating the Great Storm of 1881 in which 189 fishermen were shipwrecked.  This one is at Eyemouth, figures forever looking out to sea.

Eyemouth

Henry Moore

Loved the fantastic 2007 exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures at Kew Gardens.  Henry Moore is back at Kew, his Reclining Mother & Child in the gardens described by Kew as – “This bronze beauty will perfectly illustrate the clear synergy between Moore’s delight in the natural world and Kew’s celebration of nature.  Having his works perceived within a natural setting was crucial to Moore’s vision.”

Henry Moore at Kew 2007
Henry Moore at Kew 2007

RHS Wisely’s Henry Moore Arch is away as part of an exhibition, but his King and Queen have taken up extended residence over the winter.

“Landscape has been for me one of the sources of my energy… The whole of Nature is an endless demonstration of shape and form.” – Henry Moore

Prehistoric

“Bid men of battle build me a tomb fair after fire, on the foreland by the sea that shall stand as a reminder of me to my people, towering high over Hronesness so that ocean travellers shall afterwards name it Beowulf’s barrow, bending in the distance their masted ships through the mists upon the sea.” – Beowulf

Part of the charm, for me, of standing stones and burial chambers is the way they sit like ancient sculptures in the landscape.

Here’s an old article I wrote about Standing Stones for Pembrokeshire Life magazine – Romancing the Stones p 1 (B&W) & Romancing the Stones p 2 BW

Peacocks & Soldiers

Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe has annually changing sculptures in the grounds.  In 2014 commemorating its recently revealed secret history as a WWII map-making base, code-named ‘Operation Hillside’, with Watchmen – tree-trunk soldiers by Ed Elliott.

tree sculpture

The year before saw jigsaw-pieced mirrors of peacocks and red kites by Emile Jones.

peacock

Mud-Maid

The Lost Gardens of Heligan‘s Mud-Maid, a giantess asleep in the snow.

Mud-Maid-Snow

Bonus Material

And a few odds and ends, because what’s not to love about a giant prawn on the quay and a shark in a roof.

Christmas Ostrich

Autumn Delights

“The mellow autumn came, and with it came the promised party.” – Lord Byron, probably one thing you could trust him on was to spot an opportunity for a good time. And surely autumn is the best of times. Glowing leaves, crisp skies, bright berries urging us to get out there and snatch the last golden days before the winter dark. New England may have ‘leaf-peeping’ hotlines, but the beech-woods of Bucks have their own enchantments. Even when it rains.

I love autumn….   So was delighted to be asked to pick some places to enjoy autumn in Bucks (even if it rains) for Buckinghamshire Life magazine.

Here’s a PDF of the full article – Bucks Autumn or it’s on Buckinghamshire Life’s website

And here’re links to the places I wrote about –

Waddesdon

For fairy-tale grandeur and innovative art installations

Waddesdon Manor
Waddesdon Manor
Bruce Munro art installations for the 'Winter Light' trail through the grounds
Bruce Munro art installations for the ‘Winter Light’ trail through the grounds

Waddesdon website

Chiltern Open Air Museum

For being open at night-time on Halloween, harvest traditions and stories by the fire in the roundhouse

Halloween
Halloween

Chiltern Open Air Museum website

Hughenden Manor

For all things apple and for being a secret WWII map-making base, codename ‘Operation Hillside’

Apple Day - 57 varieties grown at Hughenden
Apple Day – 57 varieties grown at Hughenden
tree sculpture
One of Ed Elliott’s ‘Watchmen’ sculptures commemorating the top-secret WWII map-makers

Hughenden Manor

Stowe

For neoclassical elegance and for having a ‘Lust and Illicit Love’ path and a pumpkin hunting trail through the grounds

Autumn Colours at Stowe The Palladian Bridge at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire Chatham Island

Stowe

Wendover Woods

For the Rothschilds creating a trackway through the woods for their zebra & cart, but mainly for the Gruffalo….

lord-rothschild-zebra-carriage-490_107554_1

My niece making friends with the Gruffalo at Wendover Woods
My niece making friends with the Gruffalo at Wendover Woods

Wendover Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Colman

Enjoying How To Train Your Dragon the other day (currently on BBC iPlayer) seemed as good an excuse as any to share the work of the talented & lovely Sharon Colman, who was a story artist on the film.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Sharon when she was a student at the National Film and Television School and she stayed with me for a little while finishing her graduation film Badgered.

The utterly charming film, showcasing both her beautiful style of illustration and story-telling skills, went on to be nominated for an Oscar.

Sharon Colman at the Oscars
Sharon Colman at the Oscars

Here’s an article I wrote for the Telegraph about the NFTS and Sharon’s Oscar nomination.

Sharon Colman working on her Oscar nominated student film 'Badgered'
Sharon Colman working on her Oscar nominated student film ‘Badgered’

There’s a selection of her work on her website  including examples of her illustrations, a few of which I’m lucky enough to have as original watercolours.

And a teaser for a film she has in development, Tumbleweed, music by Peter Gosling who also created the music for Badgered.