Travis Knight, the president and CEO of the animation house Laika, runs a company which has garnered many awards, including Oscar nominations for its first three animated feature films — “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.”
Yet Knight, who is making his directorial debut with Laika’s fourth release, “Kubo and the Two Strings,” says that his company uses an antiquated form of animation that “was dying, withering on the vine.”
That’s because the process of stop-motion animation practiced by Laika, is extraordinarily time consuming.
Dolls are filmed frame by frame, with animators moving them incrementally, like what you’d see in the Ray Harryhausen movies of old such as “Clash of the Titans.”
“It’s probably the worst way to make a movie,” Knight says. “What is it about it that I love? So I tried to figure out the psychology of it, and I think it dawned on me a couple of years ago when I saw my kids and specifically youngest son.”
Knight recounts seeing his 2-year-old son playing with action figures, and he was “making noises” and “telling stories.”
“It’s just this imaginative play where he’s imagining this whole world of these characters that he loves, and he’s creating stories,” he says. “Nobody taught him that. That’s just something that comes naturally to who we are.
“I think we’re all natural storytellers. And I think that there’s something about stop-motion that has that primal quality; it’s evocative of imaginative play, of when we were kids bringing our imaginative playthings to life.”
“Kubo and the Two Strings” tells the story of a young Japanese boy who is joined by a talking monkey and beetle on a quest to find his family.
Much like the previous Laika films, “Kubo” is a visual feast, drawing on Japanese aesthetics and a very slick use of origami.
Knight says a lot of it was inspired by a trip he took to Japan when he was 8.
“I grew up in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, and Japan was unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” he says. “It was so unlike anything I had ever experienced before, the art and the architecture and the music, the movies, the style of dress, the food, the comic books, it was really something of a revelation and I was utterly in its thrall. What this film does for me is it combines all these things that I’ve loved deeply as a kid — stop motion, samurai stories, epic fantasies and the transcendent art of Japan in a way that really kind of spoke to me in a meaningful way.”
You will ‘Laika’ these animated films
‘Coraline’ (2009): Laika’s first feature film, based on a book by Neil Gaiman and directed by Henry Selick, tells the story of a young girl who travels through a strange door to a dark, alternative world.
‘ParaNorman’ (2012): Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler, this horror comedy follows a young boy named Norman who has the ability to talk to ghosts and has to save his town from a grave threat.
‘The Boxtrolls’ (2014): In this film, based on the book “Here Be Monsters!” by Alan Snow and directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, a boy is raised by trolls in a town of cheese lovers.