Images courtesy of LAIKA

Fast facts on LAIKA's "Kubo and the Two Strings"

Last modification: 22 Feb, 2018
6 mins

The much-anticipated, stop-motion samurai adventure, Kubo and the Two Strings, is, according to LAIKA’s own Michael Laubach, "the most epic thing" the studio has ever done.

Laubach, Senior Technical Director-Lead Rigger, Rapid Prototyping Department, recently took part in Autodesk’s Vision Series at SIGGRAPH 2016, giving us a preview of just a fraction of the work that went into this ambitious and innovative film. A lot was covered, but here are a few fast facts worth knowing about the Travis Knight directed, Kubo and the Two Strings.

1/ Kubo’s head was more complicated than you think.


Over 70 (really teeny) parts went into it, in fact, and many were smaller than a penny. Some were created in a CNC system using Autodesk Inventor, some were 3D printed, and some are "plain old hardware and screws."

2/ And his face is absolutely extraordinary.

LAIKA's always working on increasing the subtlety of facial animation and they’ve definitely come a long, long way: For their circa 2009 character, Coraline, they printed 6,333 individual faces, split up between brows and mouth, affording over 207,000 possible face combinations. Kubo however, has a whopping 22,340 individual faces (also split between the brows and mouth), affording – drum roll, please – 45 million different facial poses.

3/ The Giant Skeleton is a truly massive achievement.

Machined in-house with 3D-printed parts made in Maya, he’s the largest stop-motion puppet ever created, standing over 18 feet tall with an incredible 24-foot wingspan. LAIKA also had a 1/6th scale version that was used for full-body animation.

4/ Moon Beast has a color that's no color at all.

The very first character made entirely in LAIKA’s Rapid Prototyping Department, Kubo’s primary antagonist, Moon Beast, is a puppet entirely 3D-printed on the Resin printer. His simple coloration is kept to mostly black and white but one color is actually not a color at all: translucent.

"We made red channel of the texture map to drive the material for the translucency so that when a texture artist was painting it, it would be very clear where the translucency would be. They did some fantastic post-processing in VFX also to amplify some of that – UV light paths and some pretty awesome imagery."

5/ Maya 2014 ultimately made making Kubo easier.

Calling it a "godsend," Michael claims that Maya 2014 changed the way they did things at LAIKA, paving the way for how they would go on to preview geometries exported to previs on Kubo.

"Maya 2014 came with a Boolean toolset that uses the Carve library and allows for fast and very reliable Boolean operations,” says Michael. So, when it came to previewing Kubo’s series of faces with changing topology – since Maya is well integrated with the Alembic System – they’d export each frame on a timeline, then use the Alembic stitch tool to stitch a series of Alembic files together. According to Michael, this was "a game changer.

Michael Laubach, Senior Technical Director-Lead Rigger in LAIKA’s Rapid Prototyping Department has worked in the entertainment industry for nearly twenty years as a character TD 
modeler and visual FX artist. His credits include 'Kubo and the Two Strings' (2016), 'Coraline' (2009), 'ParaNorman' (2012), and 'The Boxtrolls' (2014).

Fast fact about Michael: He says that one thing he loves about Maya is that, “I get to use all these strange little tools that I think are kind of forgotten and have a little dust on them – but man, they’ve saved our lives so many times.”

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