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Kubo Innovates Stop Motion Animation

FILM A TREAT FOR EYES, HEARTSTRINGS

Kubo and the Two Strings entered theaters in mid-August with a fanfare of critical acclaim. It won international praise for its immaculate stop motion animation, and the thoughtful plot had audiences both cheering and crying in the theaters.

The animated film follows the adventures of Kubo (Art Parkinson), a one-eyed Japanese boy who makes a living for himself and his disabled mother by strumming his magical shamisen guitar and making origami samurai perform adventures in the village marketplace. One day, during a festival honoring dead loved ones, Kubo stays out past sunset and discovers a terrible family secret. Aided by the no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the forgetful, happy-go-lucky Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo sets out on a quest to find his father’s armor, resolve the awful secret, and discover his place in the world.

“Memories are powerful things, Kubo. Never lose them.” So says Monkey, and Kubo plays with the idea that memory channels identity. As Kubo discovers more of his family’s past, his own magical power to manipulate his surroundings increases, presumably in response to his family’s legacy of memories. His origami figures tell the stories of his parents’ meeting and his father’s many adventures as Kubo takes on the full weight of his family’s history. His quest permanently shapes his identity as he absorbs their memories.

Alongside a bittersweet coming-of-age story that couples family loyalties and self-sacrifice, Kubo and the Two Strings pioneers a revolution in stop motion animation. Stop motion animation is a slow, painstaking process that most animation studios avoid, but Laika—Kubo’s creator studio—embraced the challenge. Layers of scenes and characters were separately captured, frame by frame, and then blended digitally. Each scene was crafted by an animator working alone, and together Laika’s team of animators produced about 4.3 seconds of digitally composited material each week over a period of two years.

Given the immense visual scape that the movie plot required, Kubo’s animation team fused stop motion animation with CGI, stereoscopic photography, laser-cutting, 3D printing, and rapid prototyping to create a highly-effective blend of traditional puppetry with cutting-edge animation technologies. The resulting mosaic technique provides the film with a distinctive, textured aesthetic, and Kubo is magnificent in the sheer scale of its motion rendering.

Kubo boasts an immense series of landscapes and complicated motion sequences that move as smoothly as computer-generation animation. From Beetle’s expressive mustache to the waving hair of Kubo’s mother, the complex fusion of animation styles in Kubo is dazzling. Lavish scenes of Japanese forests, vast sculptures of fallen samurai that glow in the light, and surreal underwater landscapes give Kubo an intimate, handmade feel. The richly-grained detail in the film is immaculate, from the great pocked head of the Skull Giant to the fallen-leaf ship that Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle use to sail across a great ocean.

Stop motion animation has come a long way from the charming, stilted affect of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Wallace and Grommit. Tim Burton’s 2005 film Corpse Bride employed a revamped, puppeteer take on stop motion animation, but Kubo and the Two Strings completely reinvents the classic animation technique by fusing it with innovative animation trends. The gripping result thrills the watcher’s eyes with the textured scenes and touches hearts with the story of a boy searching for his family.

Elsa Peterson

Elsa Peterson

Elsa Peterson is a senior at CU Denver. She has a pet rhododendron named Count Frederick and enough books to bolster the Great Wall of China.
Elsa Peterson

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