“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, LAIKA. Coraline, 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.
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:
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:
You’re growing stronger
Kubo LAUGHS. He feels it.
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.
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.
Monkey, do you ever say anything encouraging?
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.
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.
What’s happening now?
The zombie is eating her head, Grandma.
That’s not very nice. What’s he doing that for?
Because he’s a zombie. That’s what they do.
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: