In recent years, it seems that stop-motion animation in the traditional sense has died off. Today, computer animation technology can do everything that traditional stop-motion creators can, and many times it can do it better, faster and at a significantly lower cost and reduced production timeline.
However, the new stop-motion animated film Kubo and the Two Strings is proving that the two forms of animation don’t need to be pitted against each other. In fact, beautiful and amazing animation feats can be accomplished when creators combine the best of the two techniques.
The film unfolds around the story of Kubo, a young Japanese boy who tells captivating stories with his magical guitar that brings the characters to life in origami form. (It’s also an ode to what animators do everyday as a profession.)
Instead of pitting traditional animation against computer animation, Travis Knight, the film’s director and CEO of Laika Entertainment━the animation studio behind Kubo and The Two Strings as well as Coraline, Boxtrolls and ParaNorman━took the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach.
Background characters were created with digital animation technology.
Building characters for stop-motion is an incredibly laborious challenge. One character could have hundreds of identical models produced. Now, 3D printing and digital technology can help simplify and accelerate the process.
For example, in the animated film scenes where there were many villagers, the team would model a select few as physical puppets in the same style as Kubo. However, in order to save time and minimize costs on creating hundreds of puppets, computer animation technology was used to create background villagers that blended seamlessly into the rest of the crowd.
They 3D modeled thousands of facial expressions.
Creating expressive facial animations, especially when it comes to paper origami style characters may seem practically impossible. But, the film pulled it off. Although the creators of the Samurai-inspired film built most main characters by hand using traditional techniques, they used digital animation tech and 3D printers to produce many of the facial parts.
Each individual character in stop-motion can have thousands of eyes, mouths, eyebrow and other pieces produced in order to animate them and create fluid facial animations. Before, it would take whole teams and years to produce all the necessary parts required to animate a stop-motion character. To overcome this challenge, but still preserve the traditional stop-motion look, the animators modeled the parts digitally and used 3D printers to manufacture them.
In a report by FXGuide, creators behind the impressive stop-motion film said that,
“The Kubo character has 11,007 unique mouth expressions and 4,429 brow expressions, allowing for over 48 million possible facial expressions.”
Imagine how much time and how many people it would have taken to create that amount without the help of digital technology?