Kubo and The Two Strings: How the Film Combined Origami, Digital Animation & Stop-Motion

clock September 5, 2016 11:14 by author EliciaT


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?

Which Animated Feature Film Will Win the 2016 Academy Award?

clock February 28, 2016 16:49 by author EliciaT


The Oscars show is this weekend, and everyone has their own opinions as to which nominees will take home awards. The animated feature film is one of the younger categories in the Oscars. It was established in 2001, with Shrek becoming the first winner. This year, the group of nominees is more diverse and unpredictable than many before.

There are nominees from different studios all over the world. Below are the nominations for this year’s animated feature category and winner predictions for Sunday night.


Anomalisa is not your traditional animated film. For instance, it is the only R-rated movie in the category, making it one of the few animated movies that is intended for adult audiences. Although the story could be told in live-action, there is something to be said for the stop-motion. The characters were created using 3D printers in a style that is uniquely realistic.

Also, the film has some humble beginnings, in comparison to some of the other nominees. Writers Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson funded the project with a Kickstarter campaign and had additional support from the production studio Starburns Industries.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

From Aardman Animations, Shaun the Sheep may seem simple in comparison to its contenders. However, the film and its characters seem to be loved by both audiences and critics. The movie is inspired by the British TV series of the same name, and it follows the quirky misadventures of the charismatic sheep, Shaun. It has a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it highlights the best of the stop-motion animation style that has made Aardman famous.

Boy and the World

An unusual pick for the Academy, Boy and the World is a Brazilian released animated film that is devoid of dialogue. There are some intelligible noises from characters, but it relies almost  completely on the beautiful animations to tell the story.  If it were to win the Oscar, it would be a first for the South America region.

When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There, is said to be the last film that will be created by famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. The anime movie is based on the story of a girl that forms a strong relationship to her neighbor, who may or may not be a real person. It is the fifth film from Studio Ghibli to be nominated for an award, and would make the second win if chosen.

Inside Out

Inside Out is a 3D animated film from Disney’s Pixar. The film is unlike any other Pixar releases before and it’s story is original, which is why it has also landed a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Some of the main characters are based on the basic human emotions that we all experience━Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. If history is any indication, Disney will most likely take home the prize. Since 2001, the company has claimed nine of the fourteen awards.

Even though Inside Out is the popular pick for this year’s winner, the diversity of nominations and animation styles may surprise viewers. The Oscars premieres on February, 28 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. If you plan on tuning in, which animated film do you think will win on Sunday night?

Latest Natural Front Intuitive Pro 3.1 Animation Software Released

clock January 4, 2015 21:51 by author christpaul

It's not that long since we released the last version of Natural Front, but we are never inclined to rest on our laurels in terms of providing the best possible service to our customers. So we have already taking feedback from our valued users to help create the next version of Natural Front Intuitive Pro, which we are naming the 3.1 version of the software.

We are quite pleased with the new improvements that we have included in this already powerful software package. Updates that have been made to the Natural Front Intuitive Pro 3.1 program include the ability for users to play a captured video directly from the software.

This particular innovation was strongly requested by users in feedback, so we were keen to deliver this particular form of animation support as quickly as possible. We are delighted to announce that it is now fully in place for the 3.1 version of the animation software, and we are extremely confident about the robustness of this feature.

Users downloading the 3.1 version of Natural Front Intuitive Pro will find that they can use any captured videos as a reference for 3-D facial animation. It is possible to place the video and any animation produced side-by-side, which greatly facilitates the process of creating 3-D animation. Already Natural Front Intuitive Pro was a massively slick and powerful animation program, but we're confident that this feature takes it to the next level.

We have also addressed several bugs which existed in the 3.0 version of the software. Of course, we work diligently to ensure that there are no errors in our Natural Front program, but it is almost impossible to eliminate these completely even with diligent testing. But after a lot of work from our engineers, we're now confident that the animation will be even more consistent when different levels of abstraction are used in the same animation process.

This means that animating different parts of a face individually, or animating the whole face based on a few primary expressions, will become even more easy, user-friendly and efficient than before. We are extremely proud of the animation capabilities of Natural Front Intuitive Pro, and equally proud of the fact that animation studios all over the world have used this powerful program to create absorbing 3-D animations.

Finally, Natural Front Intuitive Pro also benefits from a new user-friendly user interface. We were already happy with the ease-of-use of the program, but believe that we have bettered it with this new interface.

All in all, this is another excellent Natural Front Intuitive Pro release, and we can't wait to see what professional animators are able to produce with it.

Chairman Mao is unlikely subject of new 3D animation

clock October 29, 2013 14:02 by author christpaul

With the 3D animation market becoming increasingly popular, we have seen all manner of characters, settings and storylines hitting the silver screen as animators attempt to take advantage of the popularity of the genre. But a new movie from China is introducing an animated character that few outside of the world’s second largest economy would ever have expected to see in the cinema.

China has recently announced a new animated film which is intended to bring to life and celebrate the life of the infamous Communist leader Mao Zedung (often known Mao Tse-tung in the West). The South China Morning Post reports that the animated film will depict the former Chinese leader in his teenage years, with early footage from the film showing an adolescent Mao wearing his hair in a traditional braid.

The animated film has been made with the intention of enhancing Mao’s reputation and image with China’s young people, with the former leader of the nation having had a profound influence on the nation’s culture, having been in power in China for several decades.

The animated film will cost an estimated 30 million yuan, which equates to approximately $4.5 million, and will be a 3D animation once it is finished. The 3D version of the movie is expected to be released some time in 2014.


Given the fact that the Mao film will require a particularly distinctive 3D modelling and animation solution, in order to satisfactorily create a young Mao that audiences could recognise, the animators would be well advised to opt for Natural Front’s curved controlled modelling, especially as our unique animation system is particularly designed to produce high-quality 3D facial animations.

Natural Front would be a real boon to the production of the Mao movie, as not only can it deliver the highest quality of 3D facial animation, but also does so in a way which is convenient and intuitive for professional animators and that save the production money.

While 3D animators are used to utilising laborious and time consuming methods of animation, such as 3D rigging, Natural Front renders such painstaking procedures redundant, at least with regard to 3D facial modelling. Instead of a professional animation modeller being forced to create a 3D animated character by binding to a system of joints, Natural Front enables the professional animator to shelve the rigging process completely. Natural Front ensures that animators will no longer have to slave over complex and intricate systems of joints in order to create world-class 3D facial animations.

With Natural Front as part of their portfolio, the Mao animators could produce the best 3D facial animation available, and probably trim their $4.5 million animation budget. So if you’re a professional animator, get in touch with Natural Front today, and begin to learn how our unique, state-of-the-art technology can assist with your animation projects.

3D Tarzan movie shows the importance of high-class animation

clock October 29, 2013 13:55 by author christpaul

All professional animators, and even many accomplished animators, know that 3D animation can be an expensive and demanding process. In every respect, it remains a labour-intensive and laborious process, even with the advent of massive computing power, which has made the technical aspect of 3D animation to be a little more manageable. But there is one thing potentially more costly that the 3D animation process itself for professional animators, and that’s having a lousy product once you’ve finished the animation process.

As if to prove the point, a recently released trailer of a forthcoming 3D film fully underlines just how even the most expensive productions can fail to deliver if the 3D animation process is insufficient for the needs of the animator.

The film in question is the motion-captured animated adaptation of Tarzan 3D, which is being made by Constantin Fims. This is a serious commercial movie, which has enlisted Twilight star Kellan Lutz to play the eponymous hero of the movie, with Spencer Locke of Detention fame taking the part of Jane.



Initial reports from the animation process of this movie did not reflect favourably on the 3D animators efforts, but one year on, and with the trailer out, some of the reaction to it has been distinctly underwhelming. And this is for a movie that has already been released in Germany and Russia, and is essentially completed. 

This just shows that you can pour a stack of cash into producing an animated movie, and still get substandard results if you don’t use the right 3D animation system. There can surely be nothing worse for the professional animator than going through all of the rigmarole which 3D animation entails, and still finding that the end product is less than ideal.

Thankfully, with Natural Front’s intuitive and innovative new approach to 3D animation, dubbed ‘Curve Controlled Modelling’, there is no need to worry about your professional animations failing to impress audiences. The approach of Natural Front to 3D character animation enables animators to confine some traditional 3D modelling techniques to the dustbin, and makes the process as fluid as possible for professional animators.

With Natural Front, traditional 3D modelling techniques such as 3D rigging, morphing targets and blending shapes can be jettisoned, as Natural Front’s cheaper, faster, unique animation technology makes 3D modelling better, quicker and cheaper. Natural Front is particularly proficient at creating 3D facial animations; notoriously the hardest and most time consuming part of 3D animation.

In summary, Natural Front enables an animator to produce the highest quality work, at the lowest possible price point, and with the minimum amount of effort. This is a package that will attract the attention of all animators, particularly as its beta status means that you can contribute to the development of the program as you utilise it.

Don’t be like the makers of Tarzan; check out Natural Front and be at the cutting edge of 3D animation today!

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