How Studio Laika sows its stories with Invisible Labor

Ah yes, from the unseen magical realm to the channeling of newly out-of-frame animators.

in a moment

By Meg Shields Published May 6, 2022

Welcome to The Queue – your daily distraction from curated video content from across the web. Today, we are looking at a video essay that looks at how stop motion studio Laika introduces themes of invisible work into their filmography.

Founded in 2005, Oregon-based Laika Studios is currently one of the biggest names when it comes to stop-motion animation. Unlike hand-drawn or digitally rendered animation, stop-motion exists in the real world, with settings and characters tediously manipulated by the artists tasked with bringing inanimate models to life. Because the labor required to make feature-length stop-motion animation is so intense, Laika has very few competitors these days. If you’ve seen and enjoyed a stop-motion movie in the last 15 years, there’s a good chance that Laika was pulling the strings…or manipulating the metal skeletons. You get the idea.

As the video essay below points out, almost all of Laika’s production follows young protagonists whose coming-of-age quests take them through mystical hidden lands, all the way back to the mysterious doppelgänger-filled Otherworld of 2009. coraline to the secret underground kingdom of 2014 the boxtrolls to the spiritual plane of 2016 Kubo and the two strings. As the essay points out, there is arguably a link between these magical, invisible spaces and the invisible work of the animators themselves. While trolls and ghosts may be beyond the barrier of Laika’s fictional worlds, the animators’ touch haunts these spaces as well; their tireless bodies and their hands lingering just outside the threshold of the frame.

While these self-reflexive narrative threads are somewhat complicated by the studio’s increasing reliance on CGI elements, it’s a fascinating thesis to consider: that Laika’s emphasis on the work behind her work is not single a marketing strategy or the backbone of a public identity… but a central thematic concern.

Watch “Studio Laika and the ghosts of invisible work”:

Who did this?

This video essay on the self-reflexive industrial allegory of the Laika studios is written and directed by Mihaela Mihailova. It is produced by Alla Gadassik and edited by Gil Goletski, with Jacqueline Turner providing narration. The end of the video credits support from the Vancouver-based Emily Carr University of Art and Design. Mihailova is an assistant professor at the San Francisco State University School of Film. She is the editor of the essay collection. Coraline: A closer look at Studio LAIKA’s stop-motion witchcraft (Bloomsbury, 2021)

More videos like this

  • Did you know that Laika studios have a YouTube account that posts a lot of behind-the-scenes footage? Well, they do! Here is a video about the creation of the 2012 handmade world for Norman.
  • Here is a video from BBC Click showing a variety of treats from Kubo and the two strings, including that huge blood red skeleton puppet, which, and I can’t stress this enough, I would put up in my front yard every Halloween, if I had the chance.
  • If you’re still a bit confused about exactly how modern stop-motion animation works, here’s an Insider video essay with a look at studio Laika’s latest effort. missing link which goes back to basics.
  • And finally, here’s the AT&T Developer Program, from all YouTube accounts, with a TED Talk-style behind-the-scenes look at the art and science of studio Laika. If the other videos I’ve recommended so far have felt a bit short, this 45-minute bad boy should satisfy you.

Related Topics: Animation, Laika, The Tail

Meg Shields is the humble farmer of your dreams and a main contributor to Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How’d They Do That? and Horrorscope. She is also the curator of One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found yelling about John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’ on Twitter here: @TheWorstMonja. (She she).

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