Production notes on Kubo and the Two Strings

Posted By Akiko Ashley on November 14, 2016 12:08 pm | Permalink
ALHAMBRA, CA - Nucleus Gallery & Art Store in Alhambra, California hosted the LAIKA's 10 Year Anniversary Party from October 29 - November 13 with an additional treat of hosting a panel & artist signing Saturday November 5th featuring the Production Artists involved in "Kubo and the Two Strings". 

The Artist Panel included: 
- Trevor Dalmer, Concept Artist
- Deborah Cook, Costume Designer
- Georgina Hayns, Head of Puppet Fabrication
- Alice Bird, Art Director

The panel and artist signing was completely sold out to a huge fan of LAIKA's work. The audience included up & coming artists who patiently admired the art work from LAIKA including films "Coraline", "ParaNorman", "Box Trolls" and "Kubo and the Two Strings".
When Georgina Hayns brought the puppets of Kubo, Monkey and his mother out for display the fans flocked to the front of the room to snap photos. Once the panel got started the room was packed, standing room only.

Trevor Dalmer started things off with a Presentation illustrating the process of his team's efforts in research and development on the Concept Design Process, as they wanted to keep the aesthetics of the wood blocking in the  Edo period aesthetic intact. One of his favorite shots was the water in the film. Trevor approached this concept of water as an origamist using folder paper that created a strong graphic collage effect. He demonstrated how the Woodblock master Katsushika Hokusai's print of "The Great Wave of Kanagawa" influenced their design of the waves. They used different approaches in tests including several pieces of glass, paper and fabric with a combined look to give the effect of water when shot by the camera. After the tests they went to their VFX Supervisor who recreated the feel of the practical tests with greater flexibility and nuance with CG simulations. 

Deborah Cook has worked in the international stop motion industry for 20 years. She has established herself as the Premiere Costume Designer. She showed several woodblock prints that would be used on the garments of the puppets in "Kubo and the Two Strings" and how the clothing pieces were linked to the internal state of the character. She did a lot of research on vintage clothing from the time period including how the fabric moved and flowed and designing kimono's which were observed for their folds and for their shifts as the garments age. Each piece of clothing in the production were made by hand. The garments had different types of insignia in emblems or flowers to designate seasons of the year. The insignias denoted the social status or activity of the characters. Kubo's eye patch was reminiscent of eye patches worn by historical figures like legendary warrior Date Masamuné and master swordsman Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi.

Georgina Hayns is the Puppet Fabrication Supervisor who has worked in the stop motion industry for 20 years, this is her fourth LAIKA film. Georgina explained the process of creating the puppets and the skeletons underneath that helped bring the puppets to life. The process was very complex. The Giant Skeleton is the largest stop-motion puppet ever built weighing 400 pounds, standing 16 feet from head to toe. This puppet was the first puppet rigged to a Hexapod that enables the torso to be moved on the XY and Z axis as well as pan, tilt and roll. It took 27 days to build the Hexapod while in production. Instead of ball joints for stop motion puppets, the arms and head were securely held together by a cluster of magnets to provide a better range of motion. She spoke about the feathered capes that the villainous sisters wore and how the skeleton of the wings worked and how many feathers were used in complimenting the skeleton to give it a certain realism, adding flexibility in the storytelling. 

Alice Bird, the Art Director on the Production spoke about how they tried to keep the art and culture of the production while choosing color palettes, lighting aesthetics with a portfolio of interior and exterior locations for Kubo's world. 80 unique sets spanning numerous landscapes were used. Kubo's journey had to be at the forefront of the story not dominated by the environments. The combination of full scale sets, miniatures with classic matte paintings and in some instances CG set extensions created these stunning pieces. Alice researched the environments keeping the Japanese aesthetic with an eye for what was beautiful. Woodblock printing was a key elements of design. Wood block prints requires you to simplify nature. These simplified shapes are imbued in the sets. Wood-grained textured that are in the inks were used and peppered those throughout the movie, so every surface including the armor was influenced by this art form. 

​After the panel, the artists spoke about their work on "Kubo and the Two Strings" they signed books, collectibles and art pieces for the fans​. I can tell you ​with certainty that the passion in which they describe their work, says a lot about working at LAIKA. It is a true art form creating projects at LAIKA. The environment ​in which people of different artistic backgrounds come together as one unit with a strong sense of collaboration, continuity and respect. More on LAIKA in the future, as I am sure that we are going to hear a lot about this production this awards season. 

For more information about Nucleus Gallery go to their website at: And for more information about LAIKA, go to ​