How Laika blends 3D printing and CGI to make mesmerizing stop-motion movies

Laika Studios does animation differently.

That’s been readily apparent from the moment its extraordinary first movie, Coraline, hit theaters in 2009. In fact, the Portland, Oregon-based animation studio is a bona fide pioneer of its craft, creating an entirely new way to meld state-of-the-art technology with the relatively ancient art of stop-motion animation to create films that look and feel utterly unique. In the video above, we take you behind the curtain at Laika’s headquarters for a peek at the studio’s new film, Missing Link, and to check out the latest innovations from this groundbreaking studio.

As you roam the grounds at Laika’s massive, 20,000-square-foot staging hall, you’ll hear one word over and over: Hybrid. That’s because Laika melds together a fascinating combination of arts — from costume curation and design to set building and rigging to advanced computer-animated effects — for an aesthetic all its own.

how laika used advanced 3d printing and movie magic to create missing link mrlink replacement edit
Steve Wong Jr./Laika Studios

One of the most intriguing elements of Laika’s ever-expanding toolkit is its growing collection of 3D printers. Using the cutting-edge technique of rapid prototyping, Laika has revolutionized stop-motion animation, using advanced handmade puppets with incredibly expressive faces to walk an intriguing line between realism and fantasy.

It’s a painstaking process that involves taking dozens of snapshots for every second of film.

For those unfamiliar with stop-motion animation, it’s a painstaking process that involves taking dozens of snapshots for every second of film. The animators create tiny movements in the characters and their surroundings for each shot, which, when combined, create the illusion of motion.

Traditionally, animators have employed a relatively limited collection of replaceable facial expressions for their on-screen characters so that they display the illusion of movement, speech, and emotion. With its use of 3D printers, Laika revolutionized this process for Coraline, printing hundreds of thousands of removable faceplates for the puppets that star in its film, each with a different expression.

Since then, Laika has worked with prominent 3D-printer manufacturers like Stratasys to expand its techniques. That has resulted in the ability to print millions of different facial expressions, which, when mixed with other modern techniques like computer-generated effects, creates a new level of vitality in its characters. The result expands the limits of what stop-motion animators could do using practical effects alone.

With each film, Laika pushes the bar higher, and Missing Link is no exception. Follow us in the video above as we explore Laika’s latest techniques for its new adventure, which the studio calls a “Kaleidoscopic travelogue” that’s “part Indiana Jones, part Sherlock Holmes, and part Around the World in 80 Days — but with monsters.”

Missing Link lands in theaters April 12, 2019.

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