Stop motion can be an incredible filmmaking tool, and many of our spooky childhood favourites such as A Nightmare Before Christmas and Mad Monster Party used the technique. Laika are keeping the format alive in a CGI dominated industry, with films like Paranorman and Coraline.
Perhaps the most awesome thing about their newest stop-motion animated adventure, Kubo and the Two Strings. Sixteen feet tall and weighing 400 pounds, the skeleton is considered by the studio to be the largest stop motion puppet ever made. It required extensive planning, design, build, and animation phases—even a giant mechanical robot was considered to operate it—plus a major visual effects effort to place the skeleton in its home, the Hall of Bones.
“It was by far the largest puppet we ever created,” VFX supervisor Steve Emerson told the SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival, where the filmmakers offered a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie. “It seemed insane, so of course we did it.”
“We were initially going to build a small, manageable skeleton,” said camera and motion control engineer Steve Switaj, but that created a problem of scale since it had to appear alongside the other puppets. After considering such options as separately building the hands and other parts of the skeleton that would be needed at large scale, the team concluded they would need to build an entire oversized puppet. Photographing the puppet frame by frame resulted in just one second of animation after a week’s work.
The arms, held aloft by metal wires and balanced out by counterweights, have an impressive wingspan of 22 feet. And the skull, with its jagged teeth, bright yellow eyes, and dozens of swords stuck in the top, stares down with a strange combination of menace and glee.
To get the torso to move, they took a full month to build a hexapod motion base (much like the one that sits underneath virtual reality rides at amusement parks) that allowed Greenfield to make it pitch and roll. The arms, meanwhile, were moved by the marionette-like rigging, and kept locked into the shoulder by a cluster of high-powered magnets.
Watch the entire process of creating the skeleton sped up in the video below.