Epic and action-packed, Kubo and the Two Strings is an animated adventure movie with human and animal characters, magic, monsters, and an emotional family story at its core. And Laika, the studio behind the film, made it entirely using 3-D-printed puppets and the latest CG.
If that sounds like a massive undertaking, it is. The work the stop-motion studio did on Kubo was incredibly ambitious, even for the outfit behind critically-acclaimed movies like ParaNorman and Coraline. Not only did Laika take on the always-tricky challenge of animating water, the team also had to integrate that with practical puppets and sets.
The results of Laika’s ambition are evident right away in the movie’s opening scene, in which a woman on a small boat makes her way through violently stormy seas and the voiceover tells you to “pay careful attention to everything you see, and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem.”
And the sweeping story, about a boy on a quest, is full of the unusual. The biggest challenge of making Kubo, says producer Arianne Sutner, “is the sheer scope of it.” Unlike the studio’s previous films, this one is almost all exteriors and many outdoor locations, from the opening scene in the boat to the public square, into the woods, and under the sea. “It’s a big, exterior, road movie,” says Sutner. “An outdoor adventure with David Lean proportions. And we wanted it to be really cinematic, even in stop-motion animation on, you know, tabletops.”
We talked to Kubo’s director, Travis Knight, who is also Laika’s president and CEO, about what, exactly, went in to animating the film’s powerful opening.