The stop motion animated film that will be shown in Petersburg this weekend has a connection with Alaska’s Little Norway. A former Petersburg resident works with the artists behind the fantastic faces produced for Kubo and the Two Strings by the Portland Oregon company Laika.
“It’s set in ancient Japan,” says Maya Holmes.
Holmes grew up in Petersburg and worked on the new animated film Kubo and the Two Strings.
“It’s like an epic folk tale adventure,” says Holmes. “This little boy basically has to go on a quest to receive some pieces of armor from his long lost samurai father. There’s a lot of family history in it and he gets a couple sidekicks along the way and goes on this adventure. There’s monsters and beasts he has to battle. And has to pull himself together and prove himself at the end. It’s a really, really exciting story.”
Holmes works for Laika Entertainment, the company responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman and the Boxtrolls. She’s been with the company for almost three years, her first job in the film industry after graduating from Oregon State University in 2012. Holmes started as a production assistant in the visual effects department before moving to rapid prototyping where she was hired as the department’s production coordinator in January.
“I help wrangle all the artists and their work,” says Holmes. “Deadlines and priorities, and kind of keep making sure that we’re moving along a path and a track and hitting deadlines.”
She started out as a production assistant there, providing support for the artists. Her branch of the company is in charge of the heads of the puppets and the faces that attach to them. To create fluid motions and facial expressions, Holmes says the faces have to change. There is a lot that goes into that.
“We model these things in CG,” says Holmes. “Our rigging team adds in muscle and facial points to these faces in the computer. We have digital texture paint. We’ve got facial animators who work in the computer as well and pose the faces into various facial expressions and then they get printed on the printer and we’ve got whole team of people that clean off these faces and prep them and make sure they’re ready to go. And then these faces get attached to the head with magnets.”
The magnets allow them to pop the faces off and switch the facial expressions.
“If you’re moving the puppet just fractions of an inch and putting on a face that’s just a tiny bit different, if you do that enough it creates fluid motion when you see it,” says Holmes.
That printer she’s been talking about is a 3D printer.
“We have these amazing new printers that can print in lots of colors in plastic and we use powder as well,” says Holmes. “Really honing in on what these materials can do and pushing the limit as our team likes to say of what we can do and what’s possible.”
And it has paid off, the company won a scientific and engineering Oscar for their production work earlier this year. And so far, Kubo has received some high praise, with a 96 percent rating on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes. Holmes says seeing those positive reviews is like Christmas.
“It’s the best feeling in the world because you’re proud of the work that you did,” says Holmes. “You’re proud of your coworkers and your team and the magic that you made and the fact that somebody across the world can see it and love it. It’s so validating.”
After the puppets and faces were crafted, the film was made using stop motion animation, Laika’s specialty.
“It’s a fantastic art form that takes that takes entirely way too much time,” says Holmes. “But you get this beautiful warmth and handcrafted richness that I think you just don’t see any more in such other types of films.”
It all revolves around puppets.
“These puppets are anywhere from 2-15 inches tall,” says Holmes. “You pose them on a set, you take a picture, and then you pose them a tiny bit more, you move them and take another picture. And you do that enough times, speed it up, and it kind of just looks like they’re actually moving.”
It’s a sort of combination of old and new art forms.
“We do so seamlessly blend this really loving handcrafted art of stop motion with really advanced CG techniques,” says Holmes. “And they blend so beautifully and you can do so much more that you wouldn’t if it was just straight stop motion.”
Despite the uses of new technology, Holmes stresses that much of the production is still hand crafted.
“If there’s soup bubbling or any sort of stuff like that, it’s all by hand,” says Holmes. “I think people don’t really realize that all this stuff is posed by hand, it’s created by hand, its hand crafted at the most basic sense. Literally every single detail has been touched by someone’s hands.”
Movies like Kubo do not come together quickly. According to Holmes, they get about a minute of footage per week. It takes about a year and a half to film, with five to six months of post-production. And that’s not all.
“Development wise, there’s a couple years in front of that that nobody really sees as far as character designs, development and making the set so when you’re ready to go shooting can just pick up,” says Holmes. “I think all-in-all Kubo was about a five-year endeavor.”
Holmes says working with the artists is rewarding, even when the days are hard and long.
“I love my team, love the people that work there,” says Holmes, some of the most talented people in the world. And you can tell they’re so insanely good at what they do and have such a passion for their craft.”
It may be her first job in the biz, but Holmes has already grown within the company and hopes to continue working in the film industry.
Kubo and the Two Strings will play at the Northern Nights Theater September 23-25, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.