In the Studios
In the world of stop-motion animation, LAIKA Studios, which also created CORALINE, has emerged as a remarkable playground for imagination and talent.
Director Sam Fell reflects, “Making ParaNorman was an enormous task. To stave off tunnel vision, every now and then I would go on a tour of the LAIKA Studios and just walk around.
“That would be what I needed to remind myself of how beautiful our way of making this movie was. You look around and see so many different disciplines connecting, individual talents fitting their work together.”
Creative supervisor of character fabrication Georgina Hayns remarks, “At LAIKA, we all work as a proper team together.” Whether recruiting from local talent, which Hayns notes is “easy to find in Portland, a city that’s known for its arts and culture,” or bringing over artisans from other cities or countries, LAIKA is adding to the Portland arts and culture portfolio.
Just outside Portland, at LAIKA’s Hillsboro studios, the fantastical is everywhere – yet also human-scaled, and within reach. Fell remarks, “Ordinary and extraordinary things alike are being studied and created in immense detail.”
Producer Arianne Sutner offers, “There are a lot of moving parts in the art of stop-motion – in all senses of the term.”
The dozens of different stages and their nearby offices, workshops, and storage areas span 2.5 acres within building space. After creating an in-house visual effects unit, the company added additional space – just across the road – for the department while also basing administrative and human resources staffers there.
At the original building, development and story work can be found percolating upstairs. On the ground floor, the more tangible efforts are taking shape – and, taking shapes.
To a child, the workshops would seem to be the largest arts-and-crafts class imaginable, making use of everything from butter knives to wing nuts. Yet, what looks like a tool kit instead holds an array of RP Color Printer-generated replacement faces that have been painted and finished by hand, with each upper or lower portion – generally speaking, “mouth” or “brow” –nestled in its own compartment and separated by character. “Frown kits” or “smile kits,” containing variations on those respective facial expressions, can be brought over to the stages for a close-up that an animator is working on. There are several hundred options for each.
Everyone is working at once mere steps away from each other, albeit sometimes traversing the length of a football field indoors. What someone is preparing at a given moment could be needed on a stage a few feet away, a few minutes later. Replacement parts and/or costumes are everywhere. Swatches for costumes are kept handy as well.
Elevated work stations find workers perched atop rolling chairs as they perfect, repair, or distress – sometimes more than one at a time – elements of a puppet or a prop. Whether it’s a “Double Ball Joint” or “Swivel Blocks & Pins” that are needed, boxes of those and more are close at hand – for use by hand.
One might be put in mind of a science lab, though assemblage is the priority rather than dissection. Great care is taken with what is being painted and crafted; powder-free latex gloves and hand sanitizer are always within easy reach.
Per LAIKA tradition, if someone drops an object and it makes a noise on the floor while landing intact, there is a round of applause; if the object breaks, then there is silence.
Even that silence can be broken by music playing; with all the activity going on, musical accompaniment is sometimes seen as necessary to maintain work momentum. Disagreements over musical selections have been known to occur, so the solution is often to alternate days.