Laika

Laika Studios

Laika is an animation studio in the ascendant. Both Coraline and ParaNorman, their first two features, were financially successful Oscar nominees. It would be shocking if The Boxtrolls didn’t follow suit, on both counts. The intricate detail of their animation is often witty, warm and breathtaking all in the same moment. No frame is left empty or drab, no opportunity for creativity left behind. That all of this is done using 3D stop-motion makes it seem all the more artful. This is not to say that what Pixar does on computers is any less creative than what Laika does with physical sets and models, but there is certainly a difference in the way the audience relates to the work. Pixar mimics the real world in many cases, focusing on the exact rendering of Princess Merida’s hair in Brave rather than venturing into abstraction. Laika creates universes that enchant through their artifice, rather than in spite of it. Besides, it wouldn’t be too controversial a position to state that all three of Laika’s films are better than all of the last three Pixar features. All of that said, take a second and imagine what a Laika film would be like if it were made using computer animation instead of stop-motion. At one point they were planning on a CG feature called Jack & Ben’s Animated Adventure but it was dropped in 2008 in the context of a major layoff of the company’s employees. When they were founded, all the way back in 2005, it wasn’t clear that stop-motion would become the primary product. At that point […]

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The Boxtrolls

Over the course of the past few weeks I’ve been reading more and more about Buddhism, or more appropriately the buddha dharma. It’s been a long time since I’ve been very interested in any religious system, but there is something I find fascinating about the teachings of Buddhism. Mostly, it’s hard to deny the effects of living in the moment. Being in the here-and-now and how that can improve one’s experience as we live our lives in a world obsessed with distraction. I find similarities in the micro-sense when it comes to the way we consume movies. Not only are we blessed with an abundance of choice, but we now consume cinema in a variety of environments, some quite distracting, and on a number of screen sizes. Imagine the man watching a movie on his iPad in a coffee shop. Sure, he’s got his fancy noise-canceling headphones on, but he’s easily distracted by push notifications at the top of his screen and life bustling about around him. That movie has no chance of being truly enjoyed as it was intended, regardless of its quality. These are imperfect moments in our moviegoing journey. Availability and access trump the search for that perfect, quiet, shared experience. One might ask whether all movies — especially the overwhelming majority of sequels, remakes and marketing-first fare — even deserve our full attention. They do, but that’s not the point. Plenty of movies don’t inspire us to be in the moment, so we watch them on […]

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Coraline

Stop-motion animation is a dying art of cinema. Fortunately, the good folks at Laika have been keeping the artistry alive for years. The Boxtrolls is their latest selection to come to theaters, but the process started with Coraline in 2009 and then ParaNorman in 2012. While these movies have not been a mega-money-makers that we see with the Pixar and DreamWorks films, Laika’s films have made enough money to justify making more of the movies, and that’s a great thing for cinema. Coraline, based on Neil Gaiman’s visionary book, started the Laika ball rolling, and at the helm was The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick. For the 2009 Blu-ray and DVD release of the film, Selick sat down to talk over the film and give some personal insight. Composer Bruno Coulais is also listed as one of the commentators, and he does show up over the final credits to talk about the music, but almost the entirety of the film features Selick’s commentary. This is where pretty much all the relevant information comes from.

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The Boxtrolls

When you watch The Boxtrolls trailer, you’ll notice a lot of connections. The most obvious are Coraline and ParaNorman because Laika has maintained a similar visual style throughout all of its young adult adventures. But it also feels slightly like Monsters, Inc. meets The Fraggles by way of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Or maybe like mutant Minions who raise a human child. You’ll also notice that this movie looks absolutely fantastic. Check out the trailer for yourself:

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boxtrolls

With the current cover of ‘The New Yorker’ sparking online debate as to whether or not it’s appropriate to teach our children about same sex couples, or at least at what age it’s appropriate to start introducing them to the concept, the new trailer for Laika’s next stop-animated motion picture, The Boxtrolls, seems to have come along at just the right time. It takes a stab at the issue itself, and serves as an important reminder that it’s possible to frame messages of tolerance to children in a way that doesn’t need to include addressing issues of sexuality that their tiny, under-formed brains can’t yet comprehend. But the heartwarming message that families come in all shapes and sizes isn’t the only thing The Boxtrolls has to offer. Oh, no. If you’ve seen the previous two features Laika has produced, Coraline and ParaNorman, then you know that they make beautiful pictures that are so visually dense and have such an attention to detail that they’re able to dazzle the eyeballs as well as reward multiple viewings. And from just this minute long vignette, it’s clear that their latest offering is going to be no different.

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Editor’s note: With FSR favorite ParaNorman opening today, we thought it was only appropriate to re-post our very special set visit from the film, originally posted on May 21, 2012. I recently visited a nondescript building outside Portland, Oregon that would feel right at home in any corporate office park in America. Nothing about the bland, uninteresting exterior even hinted at what to expect beyond the front doors. There’s no sign outside to tell you where you are. No iconic sculptures alluding to what they do inside. Nothing at all that even hints at the harmonious blend of magic and technology within. But make no mistake, what LAIKA Studios is hiding inside those four generic-looking walls is nothing short of a revolution in film production…a revolution 115 years in the making. LAIKA is the studio behind 2009’s critical and commercial hit, Coraline, a film that utilized creepy but beautiful stop-motion puppetry to tell Neil Gaiman’s dark childhood fable. Their follow-up feature is an original work called ParaNorman. It’s an Amblin-like tale of a small New England town, a very special boy who can see and talk with the dead, and a zombie uprising that threatens to destroy them all. And yes, it’s a comedy. Keep reading for a peek behind the scenes of LAIKA Studios’ upcoming production, ParaNorman, and their secret, high-tech weapon…Rapid Prototype 3D printers.

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“An episode of Scooby-Doo directed by Sam Raimi” is how directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell describe ParaNorman. Their horror-comedy wears its influences proudly. From the John Hughes-esque ensemble to Jon Brion‘s whimsical take on a John Carpenter score, it’s all obvious. Tonally, ParaNorman doesn’t share much in common with LAIKA Studio’s Coraline, a far darker movie. And not only is ParaNorman different from Henry Selick’s film in content, but also in terms of production. Butler and Fell didn’t want to approach ParaNorman as a stop-motion picture, as they saw the technical restrictions in going that route. Instead, they approached the film as if it was live-action, and it shows in the film’s scope and playful camerawork. According to Butler and Fell, they didn’t want to play by the rules of stop-motion. Here’s what ParaNorman directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell had to say about the film’s epic production, how The French Connection and Ronin influenced their zombie car chase, and the future of stop-motion:

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This contest is now closed. Thank you for entering! Laika Entertainment returns to screens with their first new film since their Academy Award-nominated Coraline with Sam Fell and Chris Butler‘s ParaNorman, a charming as all get-out 3D stop-motion comedy thriller about a boy with some very special (and very weird) capabilities. Young Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) doesn’t have a friend in the world – a living friend that is – because he can talk to ghosts and witches and, as it turns out, zombies. Those skills might not fly in the American middle school, but they certainly come in handy when his town (already saddled with a witch-hunting past) is overrun by the brain-eaters. To get you ready to battle whatever monsters who might wander into your town, we’re giving away one (1) prize packs from ParaNorman to one (that is 1) lucky winner. The grand prize pack includes: a $25 Visa gift card, a t-shirt, a keychain, a notebook, a pair of slippers (like Norman’s own), a toothbrush (also just like Norman’s!), and a backpack. To win one (1) prize pack from Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s ParaNorman, all you have to do is jump down into the comments section and let us know what your favorite old school horror film is (Norman is a big fan of classic thrillers and chillers). Please also provide your email address in your comment. This contest is only open to U.S. residents. The contest will close on Wednesday, August 15th, at […]

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The latest film from the makers of Coraline, Laika’s ParaNorman has a lot to live up to – fortunately, the studio’s next film looks to be just as sweet, funny, and damn dark as their first. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as the voice of Norman, he’s just not like other kids – he’s got wacky hair, his parents don’t understand him, he doesn’t really have a lot of friends. Oh, and he can see dead people. And he’s cool with it. “AbNorman,” as the mean kids at school call him, might be a little lonely, but with spirits swirling around him, he’s never alone. And hopefully, Norman’s prowess with the undead will work beyond just everyday ghosts, because his town is about to be besieged by zombies and witches. Oh, my. The film is one of our Most Anticipated Movies of the year, thanks to the strength of its first teaser and also, just how damn cute Norman is. The full trailer is finally here, and while it’s less atmospheric than the teaser, it does let us into Norman’s life, complete with a trainwreck pal, a cool sister, those parents who just don’t get him, the mean kids at school, and ghosts and zombies aplenty. Get hip to Norman’s lifestyle and watch the full trailer after the break.

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