A special screening is being planned in Klamath Falls, part of a multi-city tour in celebration of the first film created by a revolutionary Oregon-based film studio — Laika Studios.
“Coraline” was released in 2009, four years after Laika was first founded. The film entered a genre of animation — rich in tradition of film history but rarely touched today — stop-motion. It is a painstakingly slow filmmaking process, where puppets are posed for a single photo then moved slightly for another photo. Known as frames, when strung together the images recreate movement. There are as many as 60 frames for a single second of film, a process so slow and meticulous in nature that it has become a largely abandoned art.
An analog film-making process in a digital world, “Coraline” revolutionized animation. While previous recent stop-motion films such as “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Corpse Bride,” and “James and the Giant Peach,” had found an audience, stop-motion was considered too arduous to undertake when it could be created much faster and simpler on computers.
Based on a popular book by Neil Gaiman, and directed by Henry Selick, Laika Studios believed they had something special with the project, but no major film studio wanted any part of it. Eventually, Laika was able to partner with Focus Features and Universal after being denied Hollywood-affiliation for months, many studios shying away because the content was considered too scary for children and too childish for adults to enjoy.
The film, set in Ashland, carries a spooky aura throughout, matched with quirky characters, told through the perspective of an unfortunately rare trend in film stories — a female protagonist.
Showered with awards
“Coraline” struck a nerve with audiences, earning seven film awards including Movie of the Year at the AFI Awards and Best Feature Film at the BAFTA Children’s Awards. It was even nominated for best animated feature at the 2010 Academy Awards, but lost to Pixar’s ”Up.”
With Laika now ready to release its fifth feature-length film this spring, the Oregon studio that has changed modern film-making is honoring the film that got it all started with a special 10th anniversary tour. Six Oregon cities have been selected for a special screening of “Coraline,” including a stop in Klamath Falls.
There was a time that stop-motion was considered revolutionary in special effects. When King Kong was released in 1933, the images of a mountainous gorilla terrorizing Skull Island and New York were done mostly with small 18-inch puppets and stop-motion. Kong and the other monsters in the film appeared so life-like on screen with the use of stop-motion as well as other tools like miniatures, rear-projection and matte paintings that the film is today considered one of the greatest of all-time, the greatest horror film ever made, and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The stop-motion work of effects guru Ray Harryhausen starting in the 1950s brought monsters to life in a way never before seen on screen in iconic films such as “Jason and the Argonauts,” “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad,” and “Clash of the Titans.” His works become iconic for the drive-in theater culture of the era, and influenced many future filmmakers. Yet as computers became a more prominent tool in film-making, many considered the physically-demanding process of frame-by-frame puppet posing an archaic and unnecessary method.
Tossing the computer
Laika Studios sought to buck that trend towards computer graphics. First established as Will Vinton Studios, a legend of animation who popularized claymation with work on commercials such as the California Raisins and M&Ms and films like Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker,” former Nike CEO Phil Knight bought controlling interest in the studio in 2002.
In 2005 the company was rebranded as Laika, and is now overseen by his son — Travis Knight. Based in Hillsboro, the studio spent several years not only creating Coraline, but recreating the stop-motion film process as a viable 21st century tool.
The movie would be the first feature-length film to utilize 3-D printing to recreate faces for character puppets — around 15,000 in all being made for “Coraline.”
Each character’s puppet took 3-4 months to complete, all of which were hand-sanded and hand-painted. A total of 35 stop-motion animators worked on the film, creating around 2-6 seconds of usable film total per week through the lengthy stop-motion process.
While the process may have taken years, the finished product astounded critics and audiences alike. “Coraline” pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible in stop-motion, making miniature puppets appear as realistic and fluid in movement as that of the computer-based animation studios.
In the time since “Coraline,” Laika has produced additional short films and feature-length productions, each pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible through animation.
If Pixar is considered the premiere studio today for digital animated films, Laika have proven themselves as kings of stop-motion. Laika released “Paranorman” in 2012, followed by “The Boxtrolls” in 2014 and “Kubo and the Two Strings” in 2016. Kubo was their most ambitious work yet, with sets that took 18 months to build and puppets capable of over 250 facial expressions.
Their newest film, “Missing Link,” will be released this spring. It tells the story of a Sasquatch tired of living in solitude in the Pacific Northwest who recruits an explorer to help him find long-lost relatives in the Himalayan Mountains.
First though, Laika will honor its past with its six-city tour of “Coraline” to celebrate film-making in Oregon. Stops are planned at the Hollywood Theater in Portland on Monday, Feb. 11, the Egyptian Theater in Coos Bay on Saturday, Feb. 16, the Liberty Theater in Astoria on Sunday, Feb. 17, at McMenamins St. Francis in Bend on Monday, Feb. 18, the Ross Ragland Theater in Klamath Falls on Friday, March 1, and at the Varsity Theater in Ashland on Saturday, March 2.
All screenings will be at 7 p.m., tickets are $10. The Klamath Falls event is presented in partnership with the Klamath Independent Film Festival. Each event screening will include a special introduction by Laika Studios, and proceeds will benefit wildfire relief efforts in Southern Oregon.