Details, details. While Laika studio’s Kubo and the Two Strings might come across as a simple story of a hero on a quest, the detail that went into making it is epic.
The film is set in ancient Japan. Our hero, Kubo, is a storyteller who uses a magical guitar-like instrument called a shamisen, together with amazing origami to make his stories come to life. He spins wild tales of monsters and heroes that keep the townsfolk entranced. But one day he accidentally summons an evil sprit that wants to wreak havoc on the town, so he needs to set things right.
Movie studio Laika, while relatively young, has never shied away from a big challenge. Its first movie hit was the otherworldly (and frankly terrifying) Coraline, followed by ParaNorman, and just recently The Boxtrolls. Laika CEO Travis Knight was looking for something more challenging than his previous work, and Kubo fitted the brief.
It’s hard to make a big fantasy movie in stop motion. The sets need depth and scope, so it can’t be shot on a table top as most of this kind of film is. But while many producers would look to CGI to create their fantasy beasts and make life easier, Laika decided to make theirs IRL.
This meant making puppets of the all the characters, including the massive monsters. That was no small task – pun intended. The full-sized Giant Skeleton is one of the largest stop-motion puppets ever built, weighing 181kg and standing almost 5 metres tall. Each of its hands alone weighed just under 3 kilograms, and its head was big enough for 17 swords to have been stabbed into it by heroes who had come before.
It wasn’t the only puppet to worry Director of Prototyping Brian McLean. “We also had to make a 100 per cent – full size! – Moon Beast hand that grabs onto Kubo for a few shots. That hand was [more than 1m] long.”
The Moon Beast, a sort of snakey, dragon-like thing, is Laika’s first fully 3D-printed puppet. It was made of 881 individual parts. It was only made to one-fifth scale because if it was made full-size it would have been more than five metres long.
Of course, some special effects had to be used. Spoiler alert! While the Garden of Eyes in the film looks as you might imagine, there was only one “eye puppet”. The ball itself was only the size of a beach ball, but the whole puppet including its stalk was slightly taller than 3 metres.
Getting the monsters to move was also tough. Rigging supervisor Ollie Jones and his unit “came up with three very different solutions for our three monsters. For the Giant Skeleton, we used an incredibly intricate cable system that elevated its arms. For the giant eyeballs in the Garden of Eyes, we used an automated robot and a bowling ball. For the Moon Beast, we ... [had] extensive rigging to support the very long creature.”
And they all had to work together like magic. Find out for yourself if they do.
Kubo opens on Thursday.