“Typically people, when they think about animated films, they don’t think of them in a live action context,”” divulges visual effects supervisor Steve Emerson during our recent webcam chat (watch above) when asked about his Oscar nomination for “Kubo and the Two Strings.” The Laika Entertainment production is the first stop motion animated film to be nominated for Best Visual Effects since “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993). “The reality of the work we’re doing here is it’s live action film production, we’re doing live action visual effects. It just so happens that we’re doing it one frame at a time, with actors that happen to be very small, and that are being brought to life with human hands.”
Directed by Travis Knight, the film centers on a young boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) who must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. The voice cast includes Charlie Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro, and George Takei. In addition to its Visual Effects bid, the film also competes for Best Animated Feature.
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“We have a team of the greatest stop motion animators in the world right now,” adds animation supervisor Brad Schiff, “who have the uncanny ability to bring these characters to life so realistically that you forget that you’re watching puppets.”
“Really, from the get-go, everything we’re doing is about the oldest form of special effects out there, stop motion,” states Brian McLean, the films director of rapid prototyping. “We have been doing this now for ten years at Laika, and every film we continue to push the the boundaries, and push the limits, of what anyone thought this medium of stop motion is capable of.”
They’re also pushing the boundaries of animated storytelling, moving into darker territory thematically. “We all grew up with a lot of darkness in the movies,” explains animation rigging supervisor Oliver Jones. Those films, “didn’t pander. They gave the audience a lot of worth, a lot of praise in what they could accept as entertainment.” At Laika, they’re trying to do the same thing.
“Kubo” recently won the VES prize for Best Visual Effects in an Animated Feature. It competes at the Oscars against “Deepwater Horizon,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Rogue One.”
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