Laika Studios Takes Us Behind The Scenes Of ‘Missing Link’

Missing-Link-Laika-Stop-MotionLaika Studios’ next film, Missing Link, may not be as dark as Coraline or Corpse Bride, but it does feature sasquatch as the lead character.

Chris Butler, who directed and wrote ParaNorman for Laika, said he first came up with this idea about 15 years ago. Though he’d “occasionally dip back into it,” he returned to the project in earnest four and a half years ago and really dug into creating the world and its characters. When he approached studio head Travis Knight with three story pitches, Missing Link was chosen as Laika’s next feature film.

Mr. Link Missing Link Laika

Everything about Missing Link evolved from a singular sketch of Mr. Link Butler drew years ago. While the character has a sophisticated look now that required the input of multiple teams, he described his initial sketch as a “hairy avocado with legs” that everyone seemed to love.

The avocado motif was mentioned multiple times throughout the day by the film’s creative team. John Craney, the creative lead on Missing Link, referred to the lead character as a “sophisticated avocado” and talked about the importance of retaining the integrity of his unique profile. To help keep the puppet’s shape, the creative team engineered a soft foam with slits in it that helps with the character’s unique stretch while maintaining his silhouette.

The foam may help keep each puppet’s shape, but materials like urethane and silicon that are used in production, don’t keep the puppets safe from animation related troubles. Every time an animator holds a puppet, there’s a risk that something can be damaged. The wire-made hands are especially susceptible to harm, so each hero puppet has about 9-12 pairs in case a finger breaks on set. To minimize the potential damage, grip blocks made of harder plastics like climbing resin are inserted at key points so animators can more firmly grip each puppet.

“We look to those kind of materials and put them in our characters whenever we can,” Craney explained.

According to Laika’s director of Rapid Prototyping Brian McClean, Mr. Link was “one of the most challenging puppets” they’ve ever done due to his odd shape and the relatively small amount of space between the characters neck and his face, making it difficult to alter his expressions. Between frames, the puppets have their eyes poked with exacto blades and faces swapped out to make their changing expressions appear more seamless. Each puppet has a series of magnetized driver rings that help lock the 106,000 individual facial expressions created for Missing Link into the proper position quicker on set.

Mr. Link himself, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, is a sasquatch from the Pacific Northwest. Butler describes the character as “lonely,” so he enlists the aid of a grand adventurer, Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), to travel around the world and discover a rumored pack of Yetis he thinks are his distant cousins.

Calling Missing Link “an attempt to step out of the shadows,” Butler doesn’t want stop-motion animation to only be associated with creepy stories. As for his the tone of this film, he compared it to an amalgamation of Raiders of the Lost Arc, Sherlock Holmes and Mighty Joe Young.

Missing Link Laika Setting

A common refrain heard throughout the day revolved around the importance of the animators, the people who physically interact with the puppets and prepare them for each shot. As visual effects supervisor Steve Emerson put it, “the animator is always the number one priority.” Since the puppet performances are “the most important thing,” a lot of work goes in to make sure the animators are able to work comfortably.

So animators aren’t constantly hunched over, each set piece is built at the “standard animator height,” roughly 42.25 to 42.5 inches tall. Additionally, the sets are created in grids so certain sections can easily be removed or opened up so animators can get closer to the puppets without actually stepping on anything that will appear in the movie.

Emerson, who’s been with Laika for 11 years and worked on all five of their features, comes from a live-action background and prefers creating and filming everything in house. But, if Laika is unable to build a set, prop or puppet, then Emerson is happy to “use technology and leverage it in a way that honors stop-motion.” Emerson and the visual effects team are a part of the entire planning process of the movie, including the character design stages.

“We want to make sure that digital versions of puppets have the same limitations,” he explained. “That way our animators work with the same limitations and we end up with uniform movements.”

Missing Link Laika

In addition to creating 182 digital puppets, “more than double what [they] did with Kubo,” rendering green screen backgrounds and editing away blemishes and small separations on the puppets, the visual effects team digitally removed more than 1000 rigs.

“That’s the sadness and happiness of a riggers life,” said Ollie Jones, head of rigging on Missing Link.

The rig systems allow the animators to “defy gravity” and move the puppets incrementally for each new shot. In addition to supporting the puppets, rigs are used on props, sets and even fabric to make sure things move or tear in controlled ways.

According to executive producer Arianne Sutner, who produced ParaNorman alongside Butler, the physical shooting takes about two years with post-production lating roughly three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half months. Due to slow-nature of filming stop-motion, the team is creating about 4.3 seconds of film a week, roughly 100 frames.

As for what’s next at the studio, Sutner stated they “want to make every genre.”

“People call animation a genre, it’s not. It’s a medium,” Butler said, reiterating that they can tell any type of story they want through stop-motion.

When pressed about the possibility of sasquatches or yetis wandering around in the wild, Butler played it coy.

“Oh no! What if I say no?” he said chuckling. “I wish they were walking around out there.”

Laika’s Missing Link arrives on April 12, 2019.

Top Actors To Replace Ben Affleck In Matt Reeves’ ‘The Batman’

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Batman Ben Affleck Matt ReevesBen Affleck is officially out as Batman and it's a pretty sad day.

Words cannot describe how sad I am to see Ben Affleck announce that he's no longer Batman. His Batman is why I do what I do. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I fell in love with his comic book-accurate interpretation of the Caped Crusader. It was a breath of fresh air and it felt like we finally had the one true Batman.

Three years have quickly sped by and we're officially going to receive a new Batman for his next movie. Last night, Ben Affleck announced that he will not return as the Dark Knight in Matt Reeves' The Batman and now everyone's attention has moved towards wanting to know who the next Bruce Wayne will be. Matt Reeves is said to want an actor that's around 20 years younger than Affleck while Warner Bros. wants someone older. My guess is that Reeves wants a fresh start while the studio wants an older actor for crossover potential.

In this list, I will discuss the actors I think can replace Ben Affleck as Batman using the parameters that Matt Reeves and Warner Bros. want. Hit Next to see our picks to play the Batman.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender X-Men

Michael Fassbender is an X-Men alum and no stranger to comic book franchises. The actor has shown multiple levels of range and could definitely handle the Batman/Bruce Wayne personality. If they go with the older range for the next Dark Knight, then Fassbender is probably one of the best choices to take over the role.

Ben Barnes

The Punisher Ben Barnes Billy Russo Jigsaw Marvel

Ben Barnes is out of a job after The Punisher season 2 and he's one of the best actors in that series. The second season tied up Barnes' arc on The Punisher and the actor has already told us that that he'd love to play the Caped Crusader. Barnes definitely has the pretty boy look going on for him and I wonder what his take on Bruce Wayne could be.

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling Blade Runner 2049

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Ryan Gosling needs to star in a superhero movie. I've always thought Gosling would make a great Batman. Every role that he's done has shown us his capability and he could crush it as Bruce Wayne.

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm Mad Men

Jon Hamm is my top choice for an older Batman. If Warner Bros. wants to cast an older actor for crossover potential, Jon Hamm is the studio's best bet. He has a similar look to Ben Affleck, and c'mon, the guy's look just screams Bruce Wayne.

Armie Hammer

Armie Hammer The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Armie Hammer is 32 years old and was cast as the Caped Crusader in George Miller's Justice League: Mortal. That film will never see the light of day, but that doesn’t mean that Hammer doesn't deserve a second shot at being the Batman. He's charming, broody and will probably give his all for this role. Armie Hammer is a great option because he's young enough for Matt Reeves and Warner Bros. could work in a way for him to crossover with the rest of the DC Extended Universe.

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