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EXCLUSIVE: Laika Chief Travis Knight Reveals Future Plans For Studio

Last Thursday at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, Laika president and CEO Travis Knight revealed future plans for his Portland-based stop motion studio.

Knight, who directed the studio’s newly released Kubo and the Two Strings, explained during a conversation with filmmaker and historian John Canemaker that Laika is not only ramping up feature film production, but will begin to explore a broader ranger of subject matter than the studio’s first four feature films, which have all featured child protagonists.

Cartoon Brew received an exclusive transcript of the discussion between Knight and Canemaker. Below, we present some highlights of the conversation about where Laika is headed, beginning with a discussion about a shift in the studio’s subject matter:

John Canemaker: You’ve said Kubo is a final culmination of the four features you’ve done that focus on childhood. Where are you and Laika going next?

Travis Knight: Adulthood. This film is a good bye in a number of different ways. The themes that it deals with – loss and grief. But it also deals with healing, compassion, forgiveness and empathy. And so, it is, effectively, the end of this first cycle of films that we’ve done at the studio. The things we’ve got coming are completely different. Our next film does not feature a child protagonist. I don’t even know that there are any children in it at all. I wouldn’t say it’s adult-oriented. But it’s a different kind of a film for us. It’s still intended for families, but it’s a different kind of a story.

John Canemaker: Is it a genre film, like film noir or science fiction, or a western?

Travis Knight: It’s a blend of things we haven’t really tackled before. We’ll probably announce before the end of the year. It’s really interesting aesthetically, tonally. Completely different from what we’ve done before. The thing that excites me is that I know that the handful of films we’ve got coming down the road and they’re so totally different from what we’ve done. The film following the next one, it’s just so unusual, so interesting.

Knight also said that he aims to ramp up production to the point where the studio is releasing a film annually instead of one every two years as it currently does:

Travis Knight: Right now we’re on a cycle where films come out every two years. In large measure, that limitation is a function of space. Because, unlike CG, you need real estate, a place to build these sets, these puppets…On Kubo, this is the first time we were shooting two films concurrently. While finishing up on Kubo, we started our next production, so we’re shooting out shooting two films at once for the first time. You only have so much time on this planet. The way we make films, there’s only so many films you can do in that time that you have. And I want to tell so many different kinds of stories, in so many genres. So we have to figure out a way to overlap these productions. Ultimately, the goal is to be on an annual cycle – releasing a film every year. That’s where we want to be. We are a ways from that but we are shrinking the period between releases.

As for sequels, don’t expect them from Laika anytime soon:

Travis Knight: I take a firm stand against sequels. My industry brethren are a little shocked at how firmly I’m committed to not doing sequels. Of course there are great sequels. Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back. But I think if you look at where our industry is going, it’s dominated by franchises and brands, re-dos, re-makes, sequels and prequels, where all these old presents are re-wrapped and offered up as new gifts. The pendulum has gone so far in that one direction. We used to go to movies to see stories about ourselves. It would transport us to new worlds and we’d see aspects of ourselves reflected back. As TV has become more like movies, movies have become more like TV. It’s gone the other way. There are these serials, these continuing stories that are a regurgitation of the same things we’ve seen over and over again. And I have no interest in doing that.

You know how hard it is to make these things. You put so much of yourselves into these movies. It does come at a cost. You give and give and give to these movies. If we’re going to do that, it needs to matter; it has to mean something. I don’t want to tell the same stories over and over again. The way we approach our stories is we imagine each film as if it’s the most meaningful experience of our protagonist’s life. If that’s your point of view, your sequel is automatically either going to be (A) a diminishment of that – is it the second most important experience of your protagonist’s life? Or, (B) you’ve got to crank up the volume so much, everything’s sensory overload, and becomes comical how much you have to ratchet it up to justify its existence. I’m not interested in that. I don’t want to do that. I want to tell new and original stories.

And what about making a hand-drawn feature, an idea that Knight first floated in 2014? He’s still enthused by the idea, though it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon:

Travis Knight: I hope within the fullness of time, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I absolutely hope that we do a 2-D film. They’ve always been a part of what we’ve done. I guess I just have a fixation for moribund art forms. Because nobody is working meaningfully in 2-D feature films anymore. [S]ome of the most beautiful animation ever in existence was done in 2-D. As I was telling you earlier, that’s effectively how I learned to animate. By studying the great 2-D animation. It’s a real shame for me to see this beautiful art form that gets neglected, when you could still so beautifully tell a story. We just don’t see it done very often. I would love to take the same prism that we apply to stop motion—take what we love about this medium, and try to do find a way to do something new with it. In the fullness of time, I would absolutely love to do that.

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I had the privilege to attend Laika’s 3-D Film celebration, Laika brought some on screen figures and prints from each on their films for viewing. It was amazing to be able to see the attention to detail that goes into every piece up close. #Photography is Important 

raemickey & viciouslola 

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LAIKA Moving Forward With 2D Film, Adding 150 New Jobs (x)

“In July 2014, we learned that LAIKA’s CEO Travis Knight hoped to make a hand-drawn animated film at some point in the future when he spoke at San Diego Comic-Con. Today, Knight has revealed that future to be sooner than expected.

The studio has created critically-acclaimed and visually stunning stop motion films including ParaNorman and Coraline, and is currently releasing its fourth film Kubo and the Two Strings on August 19.

Knight explained in an interview with Variety that LAIKA will begin adding more than 150 new jobs over this year to prepare for the hand-drawn film. He also mentioned that the film’s script will be written by Chris Applehans, a concept artist who has worked closely with the studio on their previous films.

You can expect to see new postings on LAIKA’s career page within the coming weeks.”

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“From Coraline to Kubo: A Magical Laika Experience”

Open to the public, August 5-14, 2016
Universal Studios Hollywood

Reshuffled my hours at work yesterday to check out this exhibit through ASIFA, which also dubbed as a Kubo and the Two Strings press event. I was shocked to see there was no glass between the guests and puppets! You could get right up in there to see the amazing craftsmanship. Part of the event was an early screening of Kubo, which was fantastic! Got to meet Travis Knight, and congratulated him on the beautiful film.

slashfilm.com
Travis Knight Wants Laika Hand-Drawn Animation Feature Film

Slashfilm:

Laika has made a name for themselves with their hand-crafted stop-motion animated feature films like Coraline, ParaNorman and the upcoming movie Boxtrolls. But the Portland-based animation studio wants to help hand-drawn animation make a comeback. During the Boxtrolls Hall H presentation at 2014 San Diego Comic Con International, Laika head Travis Knight would like to do a 2D hand-drawn animated feature film. Find out more about a possible Laika hand-drawn animation feature film, after the jump.

'Kubo and the Two Strings' Review: Drawing Out the Emotion in Stop-Motion

‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (Focus Features)

In Kubo and the Two Strings, a brave, one-eyed Japanese boy is faced with divergent paths to immortality: Either he can surrender his remaining eye to his supernatural grandfather, the greedy Moon King, in exchange for eternal life, or he can stand up to the magical old-timer in a manner so courageous that his story will become the stuff of legend, never to be forgotten.

Kubo, who hides his eye patch behind long black bangs, chooses the latter option, of course, which makes perfect sense for the hero of the latest stop-motion marvel from Laika, the formula-averse animation studio responsible for such breathtakingly detailed movies as Coraline and ParaNorman. Expanding upon the charms of those director-driven projects, Kubo offers another ominous mission for a lucky young misfit, this one a dark, yet thrilling adventure quest that stands as the crowning achievement in Laika’s already impressive oeuvre — though its Asian setting, handicapped hero, and relaxed pace will make it an even tougher sell than the studio’s previous modest-grossing toons.

Related: Matthew McConaughey Ponders Life in Trailer for Gus Van Sant’s Divisive ‘Sea of Trees’

As it happens, audiences get two epics for the price of one in Kubo. The first, shot in exquisite stereoscopic 3D, is a meticulously constructed hero’s journey that blends the lessons of Western mythology, à la Joseph Campbell, with the Eastern tradition of great samurai tales. It’s as if screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler studied Star Wars and decided to trace certain aspects of that pop space opera back to their Akira Kurosawa-inspired roots. The second takes place entirely behind the scenes, a decade-plus effort by which stop-motion enthusiast Travis Knight helped resuscitate the labor-intensive art form, taking over what remained of Will Vinton Studios (the outfit responsible for the California Raisins), and working his way up to this film as a feature directing debut. It’s the power of what we see on screen that makes both of these sagas great — and it stands to reason that Kubo, like Knight, ultimately finds himself fighting for the right to tell great stories.

Watch a Yahoo Movies exclusive clip from ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’:

Armed with a long, square-bodied lute-like instrument called a shamisen and a stack of origami paper, Kubo (Art Parkinson, whose voice sounds ready for adventure) spends his days spinning elaborate tales in a remote village. The son of the legendary samurai Hanzo (modeled after Kurosawa muse Toshiro Mifune), the boy rocks the shamisen as if it were a surf guitar, which in turn causes the colored origami sheets to swirl around, magically folding themselves in sync with his stories — the animated pages helping to illustrate embellished versions of the tales his over-protective if absent-minded mother tells him before bedtime back in the cave they call home.

No stranger to magic and quite powerful in her own right, Kubo’s mom has raised him alone since he was an infant, hiding him from his grandfather, the Moon King. While the boy’s vaguely Harry Potter-like backstory isn’t immediately clear (for manga fans, this could be Lone Wolf and Cub told from the lone kid’s p.o.v.), the mystery is effectively the point in a film whose pleasure is in discovering Kubo’s gifts — as well as a great raft of family secrets and surprises — as he sets out to gather the three artifacts his long-gone father sought to try to defeat the Moon King: the Sword Unbreakable, the Armor Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable.

Related: Why Everybody’s a Winner at the TCA Awards

Kubo is aided in his quest by two of Laika’s most memorable characters to date: the surly, ultra-serious Monkey (Charlize Theron, whose deadpan delivery garners laughs) and a goofy insect-human hybrid known as Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, whose throwaway quips don’t). In addition to boasting memorable voices and well-written personalities, both are wonders of design, the former a snow monkey whose fur convincingly appears to ripple as she contorts her bulbous, pitaya-pink face, the latter a giant, six-limbed stag beetle whose oversized mandibles suggest the horned helmets worn by ancient samurai warriors. When this colorful duo aren’t quarreling, they dutifully serve as surrogate parents for our now-orphaned hero, since his birth mother spent her last bit of magic defending Kubo from her two sisters (Rooney Mara). Those persistently sinister aunties resurface soon enough as a pair of levitating spirits wearing creepy smiling Japanese Noh masks and wielding a chained blade reminiscent of China’s infamous flying guillotine.

Although it’s rare to see an American movie that borrows so heavily from Asian storytelling traditions, Kubo and the Two Strings incorporates its many exotic influences in a way that feels deceptively familiar, even logical, driven by Dario Marianelli’s score, richly elaborated from Kubo’s plucky shamisen theme. “If you must blink, do it now,” Kubo advises his rapt audience at the outset, though the film relies on clever trickery throughout, using much-desired revelations — especially pertaining to Kubo’s parents — to distract the viewer from the troubling consequences of certain twists the dream-like narrative presents along the way. It’s not every children’s movie that has the courage to kill off so many of its principal characters. Indeed, no one would accuse Knight and his Laika cohorts of talking down to viewers.

Watch a ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ clip featuring Charlize Theron as Monkey:

Laika’s distinctive animation style involves a complex mix of cutting-edge technology and painstaking human labor so fine that it’s easily and often mistaken for pure computer-generated images (whereas 3D printers produce the facial expressions, the component parts of which animators manually replace as they reposition the puppets frame-by-frame). While each of the studio’s films boasts a creative look entirely its own, certain common elements have clearly emerged by this fourth feature — from the eccentric look of certain characters (with their asymmetrical faces) to the scary, supernatural dimension favored in each of the movies.

Related: Fleetwood Mac, Matthew McConaughey, Arsenio Hall Honor Vin Scully at Blue Diamond Gala

Endings have always been the weak point in Laika’s previous narratives, which inevitably build to unwieldy confrontations between a young outsider and some giant phosphorescent menace. Knight and his screenwriting team not only acknowledge this problem (in town, Kubo’s audience complains that “people like an ending”), they even come up with a powerful emotional solution — albeit one that follows an absurd and unnecessary showdown between Kubo and a giant glow-worm known as the Moon Beast (Ralph Fiennes, sounding his most Voldemortian).

It’s the fifth big fight scene in a movie that remarkably finds a way to make these limited-range puppets jump and kick as dynamically as their CG cartoon competition. While Kung Fu Panda has spoiled us in that regard, one shouldn’t take for granted the skill required to create exciting action sequences in a stop-motion film. Yet, the finale really is the least of things here, in a project that’s otherwise so consistently spectacular, and ultimately saved by the sincerity of its denouement.

With such awe-inspiring artistry, designed so as to never distract from the material it serves, Kubo and the Two Strings stands as the sort of film that feels richer with each successive viewing, from the paper-folded Laika logo at the beginning (an early taste of the stunning origami sequences to follow) to the emotional resonance of its final shot. In his first project at the helm, Knight has delivered a tale that touches on immortality.

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‘Kubo and the Two Strings’: Watch the trailer:

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Throwback feat. Travis Knight, Derek Fisher & Kobe Bryant

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Animation directors round table with Bonnie Arnold (How To Train Your Dragon 2), Jorge Gutierrez (The Book of Life), Travis Knight (The Boxtrolls), Tomm Moore (Song of the Sea), Dan Lin (The Lego Movie) and Don Hall (Big Hero 6)

‘BOXTROLLS’ LEAD ANIMATOR TRAVIS KNIGHT ON BRINGING A BIG, MAD, BEAUTIFUL WORLD TO LIFE [INTERVIEW]

By Patrick A. Reed

This week, Laika and Focus Features release their stop-motion animated feature The Boxtrolls in theaters nationwide, and it seems poised to stand alongside Laika’s previous films Coraline and ParaNorman in the ranks of offbeat, slightly spooky, perennial family favorites.

ComicsAlliance got the chance to speak with some of the film’s creative team at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and today we present our conversation with acclaimed animator and Laika CEO Travis Knight.

ComicsAlliance: This film is based on Alan Snow’s book Here Be Monsters. How did you end up with this property, and what changes did you make, aside from the title?

Travis Knight: The Boxtrolls is something that we started developing at basically the same time that the company formed, nearly ten years ago. We had two things that we were developing at the time. We had Here Be Monsters, and we had Coraline. And we were just getting going, so we didn’t really have a proper development department. There were only a handful of us, we didn’t have a vast army of people, and so we devoted most of our energies to developing Coraline, and Here Be Monsters was kind of on a slow burn.

I loved the book the first time I read it. It had shadings of a lot of great classic children’s literature, the stuff that I loved growing up, things like Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl. It had this absurdist perspective on the world, which was kind of consistent with Monty Python, and that sort of thing. It was this big, mad, beautiful book, filled with ideas. And the trick was, how can you distill the essence of this 500-550 page novel down to a ninety minute film, and that’s what took so much time.

It was a handful of us working on it over almost a decade, trying to get that story down to a beautiful core film story – and in the end, we found something that we thought was kind of meaningful on a personal level, but also had something to say about the larger society.

READ MORE

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Vinyl Rips & Basketball Clips III feat. Allen Iverson

Song: Mad Skillz “Conceited Bastard (Instrumental)”

I think that right now when you look at what defines the film industry, it’s largely reboots and sequels and prequels and remakes and all that sort of thing where old presents are rewrapped and offered up as new gifts. I think in the short term that can be beneficial for the corporation, but in the long term we’re really damaging ourselves as an industry and to the future of film. That’s why I think we, as individual filmmakers and independent companies, have to push really hard to try and tell unique, interesting, and individual stories and really champion individual voices.

We talk with Laika CEO Travis Knight about the future of animation, marketing The Boxtrolls, and more.

LAIKA (studio behind creepy greats ParaNorman and Coraline) has been getting some love lately as animation fans eagerly await the fall 2014 premier of The Boxtrolls. San Diego Comic Con provided some more excitement around this “hand-crafted” storyteller when LAIKA president/CEO Travis Knight revealed interest in a fully traditional animated film in the future.

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According to SlashFilm.com, LAIKA’s current films have all had aspects of hand-drawn animation in them, so switching from stop motion to traditional may not be so out of reach for the incredibly detailed work the studio is already producing.

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Look at the storyboard samples at the top of this post, originally posted on their nearly brand-new Facebook page — seriously, I was the 100th page follower, which is unbelievable to me because they deserve so many more fans! — but look at David Vandervoort’s storyboard above and you can see the depth and beauty this studio would bring to traditional animation.

“Just do it, son,” I imagine is what Knight’s dad, a founder of athletics brand Nike, would have to say on the matter. 

- Courtney (HarmonicaCave)