‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ Blends Animation and Origami
Laika Studios/Focus Features
“Kubo and the Two Strings” (in theaters Aug. 19) may be the most ambitious film the stop-motion animation company Laika has made. It is a sweeping tale of a young Japanese boy’s adventures, featuring fierce samurai warriors battling evil spirits and journeys across oceans and harsh winter landscapes.
But the adventures begin with a little origami. The paper-folding art form is the centerpiece of a storytelling show that Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) performs for his village.
“If you must blink, do it now,” he says as he begins. Then, using a guitar and a little magic, he brings sheets of paper to life as characters that act out a story. That narrative is a miniature version of the movie’s plot, which is the first of Laika’s films to be directed by its president and chief executive, Travis Knight.
|By LAIKA Studios/FOCUS FEATURES on Publish Date August 10, 2016. Photo by Laika Studios/Focus Features.|
Using one frame from the film, here is a closer look at how the origami sequence came together, including commentary from Mr. Knight and one of the animators, Kevin Parry.
Kubo’s design stands in sharp contrast to the perfect geometric shapes of the fantasy paper figures. For the design of Kubo and the other human characters, the filmmakers were inspired by dolls from the late Edo period in Japan; the period ran from the early 1600s to the mid-1800s.
Those dolls were historically made from cloth, wood, lacquer paper and human hair. So the animators used human hair on Kubo, with a silicon coat combed through it for durability.
2. As Kubo starts his show, his characters are conjured from flat pieces of paper that fly into the sky and magically fold into characters and objects. Stop-motion origami is something new for a Laika film and presented animators with a challenge.
“They would just leave me with a bunch of sheets of paper and say, ‘Go figure it out,’” Mr. Parry recalled. He eventually decided to use cinefoil, a kind of malleable aluminum material. That was covered with paper towels and painted.
The folding of the paper had to look real only from the camera’s point of view, so the animators, rather than creating real origami, cut out shapes and discreet bits of folded paper that would appear to form out of a single sheet.
3. Kubo’s stories concern his heroic samurai father, Hanzo. Here, Hanzo fights a paper-spewing chicken, a figure based on the basan, a fire-breathing creature from Japanese folk tales. Both of these origami characters are puppets and are not made of paper because it would deteriorate quickly under an animator’s hand.
“The puppets have to stand up to a lot of abuse with our big, greasy sausage fingers,” Mr. Knight said.
But it was essential that the figures looked as if they were made of paper. The filmmakers used Tyvek, a durable, synthetic paper-like material that is difficult to tear. To be posed, the puppets needed a metal skeleton, whose joints were hidden under paper folds.
4. In the scene, a mass of villagers are watching Kubo’s show. While the filmmakers wanted the scenes to look bustling, the challenge was creating crowds without spending too much time and resources makinghundreds of background puppets.
In the end, they created puppets for “a portion of the village,” Mr. Knight said. While Kubo and “some key hero villagers” were physical puppets, he said, most of the background characters are computer-generated ones. The digital villagers went through the same character and costume design, but then the visual-effects team took over, generating figures that blend in with the others.