My family and I try to have a movie night every other week or so. During this time, we pick a movie together and watch it as a family. Sometimes, we’ll talk about it afterwards and Sofia’s questions usually involve a “how was that made?” The films she is most curious about are films like Para-Norman and Coraline, from LAIKA studios, and that’s when I get to tell her all about what I learned while visiting the set of The Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls is the upcoming release from the small, independent Portland based LAIKA studios which specializes in unique stories done in stop motion animation.
Stop motion animation is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s the process of animating movement by movement. One tiny millimeter per frame, for each individual piece and within each set. In other words… wow. I learned a few fun facts from the set of The Boxtrolls to share with you all, so read on for more
More than 20,000 props were handmade for the movie
That’s right… TWENTY THOUSAND! For most movies, you can just buy a prop and add it in, but since this was a world of puppets, essentially, not only did every set have to made for each shot, but all the clothes, props, and well, everything, had to be handmade. 55 different sculpts of prop cheeses alone were created for the film and the movie’s smallest prop was a tiny sewing thread and needle. Imagine losing that needle!
LAIKA only has about 30 animators or so
You know how I said each piece has to be manually manipulated? Well, each animator is assigned a “scene” to work on every week which can totaled 3.7 seconds worth of footage, which is just under 90 individual frames. Most other animation studios would try to have teams do each scene, but that’s one of the many ways LAIKA is different. Says Travis Knight, CEO and Lead Animator, of the process, “We felt that by letting animators own entire chunks of the film and sequences, they can really wrap their minds around what the scene is about.”
3D Printers played a huge role in the making of the film
Over the past couple years or so, I have observed a kind of “rise” in 3D printing. I mean, my local Staples has a Do It Yourself 3D printing station! I always wondered what kind of use a 3D printer could have. I got to see one of it’s best uses right there at LAIKA. LAIKA uses 3D printers for “rapid prototyping”the many different heads of the puppets. Each head would then be swapped out as needed, for say, a character breaking into a smile, or the many movements that it takes for an eyebrow to pop up. Each movement was programmed into a computer, which then fed it to the 3D printer to produce each head. We got to watch one printer go to work as it laid down layer after layer of a very fine powder to create the model. It was pretty awesome to watch.
The Sets Are Built On Platforms
You would think that because an animator has to manipulate each movement that the sets would all be ground level so that they could walk around it. Not true. Each set we visited was on a platform about 3-4 feet off the ground. But each platform was in square sections, to be easily moved off so the animator could get in and manuever as needed. We actually saw a few sets taken down, which was kinda sad considering how much work went into each one but still very very cool to witness. We saw one set which “tricked” us into believing there was reflecting water, when really it was just brilliant lighting and camera work.
The Boxtrolls opens September 26th and is rated PG