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Laika Studios takes stop-motion animation to 'places it's never been'




"The Boxtrolls" international trailer
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The stop-motion animation film "The Boxtrolls," with its strange, mischievous creatures and their orphan human boy Eggs, charmed moviegoers last weekend. 

It was created by Laika Studios, which also put out similar stop-motion animations like the Oscar-nominated "Coraline," and "Paranorman."

Lead animator on the film and Laika CEO Travis Knight credits the studio's success to its indie mentality and the "different prism" that the studio brings to filmmaking. 

"We want to aspire to be the bravest animation studio in the world," he says.

So far, that philosophy has paid off. After last weekend’s successful Boxtrolls release, Focus Features has decided to extend their partnership with Laika Studios for three more films. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On why he finds stop-motion animation so appealing:

It’s almost like, you know when you were a kid and you were playing with your dolls or your action figures, or whatever, and you have this whole imagined world in your head about what’s going on in the inner-life that these things have. When you see stop-motion, it’s almost that kind of feeling. It’s that primal, magical feeling of a child’s plaything somehow being brought to life.

On reintroducing the world to stop-motion animation, adapting to new technology:

Stop-motion has been around essentially since the dawn of film. It’s over a hundred years old. When filmmaking was first beginning, a lot of the earliest filmmakers were stage magicians who were looking for new ways to bring their illusions to life. And one of the ways they were able to do that was the advent of film. And so, stop-motion as a film technique has been around as long as film has…and the process essentially is unchanged since then in that hundred years.

But with the rise of technology and with the computer, anything that stop-motion could do, the creature effects and that sort of thing, the computer could do better.

And so, when technology usurped the role of the artist, it was a tricky thing for those of us who were involved in stop-motion. It was like, ‘what can we do now?...We have to find a way to take this medium and bring it into a new era.’

And the way we did that at Laika is that we combined the craft with the technology. We essentially were like Luddites who embraced the loom. It’s like we have cavemen and astronauts living in the same place. You know, people who have nothing to do with technology, don’t even understand it, working side-by-side with people who are inventing new technologies. And so, by doing that, we can take the medium into places where it’s never been before.

On where Laika fits in with the big animation studios:

We’re an independent studio, and I think we bring an indie mentality to our filmmaking. You know, we want to aspire to be the bravest animation studio in the world, to make films that are bold and distinctive and enduring, to make films that have a lot of dynamism in the storytelling, that have an artful balance of darkness and light, of intensity and warmth. We think that kind of philosophy, that kind of approach to filmmaking just gives you richer, stronger stories.

I think over the last twenty years or so, we’ve seen a gradual middling out of a lot of the themes and the tones and the storytelling that you see in animated film. I mean, animation is more popular now than it’s ever been, but I also think, unfortunately, as just a fan of animation, there’s a generic sameness to so much of it.

I think because you have to appeal to every possible demographic, these stories end of being calculatingly populous in their approach. You can’t really take provocative chances. You can’t say anything that’s even remotely controversial within the telling of the story for fear of alienating an audience.

I think that comes at a cost of really rich storytelling. And so, because we have a different perspective [at Laika], and a different prism that we bring to our filmmaking, it means that our films have a different feel, a different vibe.