To mark the release of Kubo and the two strings on DVD, the latest animation from Laika studios who made Coraline and Boxtrolls, we were invited to an animation workshop run by Chocolate Films in central London – which showed us just how painstaking and time-consuming animation actually is.
First we made origami paper birds – these were to be our puppets. Then we were given a ready made set – about the size of a TV – with a camera rigged up in front of it and instructions on how to press the button, work the software and view the shot you had just taken on the computer before taking another. ( They did try to break us in gently). The puppets could only make small movements between each shot – or frame – or the animation would look jerky when speeded up.
In the end, after Mr Darcy had insisted we take defined roles as director, first AD, animators and, er button pusher, and that we decide on the story ( the fight between Clinton and Trump represented by the red bird and the purple bird – as decided by the youngest crew member Alexander! No I promise it really was his idea!) it took us about an hour and 20 minutes to make a film that lasted a few seconds ( 16 to be precise!) And you can watch Hillary vs Trump here! We at the Austen/Darcy studio are very proud of our animation debut of course. But surely this can’t be the technique real animators use – when it takes so long?!? Yes readers. It is! Mr Darcy and I can testify to the truth that this really is the stop motion technique by which animated films such as Kubo are made. And if it’s hand drawn animation you’re after, then each drawing is photographed with a slight change made each time. Fortunately they didn’t suggest that or we might still be there.
Though the experts at Chocolate Films made it as easy as they could for us, the labour-intensive process certainly gave us all renewed respect for the animations we have watched – particularly Kubo and the two strings, which also features origami figures ( they are not exactly child’s play to make either!)
Set in a magical Japan, Kubo (Art Parkinson), is the story of a boy with supernatural gifts who accidentally summons up vengeful spirits from his past. During the day, one -eyed Kubo supports his sick mother by telling stories which are acted out by bewitched origami figures that fold and unfold themselves into different shapes , charmed into action by the music from Kubo’s magical lute – also called a shamisen.
At night though, his mother tells him he must stay hidden in the mountains as his evil aunts and his grandfather,the Moon King are after him and his other eye! One day Kubo stays out despite his mother’s warnings ( yep he is a child!) and his scary, witchy aunts, pounce. Kubo’s mum – also a sorceress – sacrifices herself to save him, sending him on a journey accompanied by a crotchety monkey (Charlize Theron) and a samurai turned stag beetle (Matthew McConaughey). They need to locate a magical suit of armour worn by Kubo’s missing father in order to defeat the vengeful spirit. Well it is fantasy after all.
The film was loved by critics and parents when it came out in September – but having experienced only a little of what it must have taken to make it I was ready to like it all the more – while still not quite believing that anyone has the patience top do this for years on end. As the Variety film critic noted: “one shouldn’t take for granted the skill required to create exciting action sequences in a stop-motion film” – trust me – we won’t!
Kubo and the Two Strings is out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms now, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK)