Kubo Puppets

I am lucky to have LAIKA Studios practically in my backyard. Seriously, it’s about 3 miles from my home, so close that I  can visit for a few hours while the kids are in school. Which is exactly what I did last month.

Kubo Set Visit

LAIKA’s latest featured film is Kubo and the Two Strings, in theaters August 5th. It tells the story of a boy named Kubo, a storyteller who has the power of bringing origami to life. Kubo finds himself with some unexpected allies – Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), and Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron). Sidenote – keep an eye on my site for exclusive interviews with both stars! Although LAIKA has been around for only 11 years, an infant in the entertainment industry, it has been the powerhouse behind such films as Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls. all successful in their releases.

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My visit to LAIKA included conversations with costume designer Deborah Cook, Creative Supervisor Georgina Haynes, Production Manager Daniel Pascall, Art Director Rob DeSue, President & CEO Travis Knight, Producer Arianne Sutner, and Lead Fabricator Morgan Hay.

Designing the Characters of Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo Costuming
Costume Designer Deborah Cook demonstrates how costuming affects movement in Kubo’s arm. photo: Carol Jones/Allmommywants

Deborah Cook took a lot of consideration of the Japanese culture when creating the costumes for the characters in Kubo. She started out with origami, creating some clothing pieces that folded and hung as paper would, but would still read as fabric.

kubo kimonos

Deborah also took into account the global use of Japanese Block Printing which is echoed throughout the film. Block prints have a very distinct way of have a cross-hatched look. Almost every element of Kubo and the Two Strings has this effect, either subtle or prominent, to give the overall feel of being in a Japanese print.

Kubo Costume Board

Other highlights of the costuming included use of traditional Japanese garments and layering, which is shown heavily in all of the clothed characters. One of my favorite pieces is The Sisters’ cape. The tailoring on the leaves in incredibly detailed.

Kubo Sisters Cape

Creative Supervisor Georgina Haynes showed how the cape moved and molded – fabricators used piano wiring along with hinge elements for the cape to appear to flow.

The Sisters Cape Demo

Creative Director Georgina Haynes shows how each character was brought to life.
Creative Director Georgina Haynes shows how each character was brought to life.

Georgina also talked about how the origami characters were built and moved. Monkey’s fur was created by a fabricator by layering foam “tufts of fur” onto fur material, making Monkey appear to have a bit of fluffiness in her movement while still maintaining the integrity of the movie.

Kubo Monkey

Facial features are made by the team of modelers at LAIKA, headed by Lead Fabricator Morgan Hay. Each character has removable face plates in one or two pieces, allowing animators to pick and choose the expression needed for each moment in each scene. Each piece is designed on a computer and then printed out on one of 4 3D printers in the studio.

Mogran Hay, Lead Fabricator at LAIKA Studios
Morgan Hay, Lead Fabricator at LAIKA Studios

Kubo Faces

Each face consists of over 60 pieces, as seen in this model from Paranorman. Pieces include ears, eyelids, “blinkers”, and more to make each character have lifelike movement and expression.

Kubo Facial Structure

The Sets of Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo set

Kuob Set Detail

The sets.. well… the sets are AMAZING. And my favorite part of the entire visit. Each set is painstakingly crafted with every minute detail taken into account. I visited each one and they are all vastly different.

Rob DeSue was my guide for part of the set journey, discussing the detailing in props. Consider that each of the props I was shown were about 4-6 inches, many much smaller than that. Each piece was scaled down to fit in with the puppet characters of Kubo.

Kubo Set Design

set detailing

One of the more magnificent sets I visited was The Graveyard. This set was MASSIVE and breathtaking.

Kubo Graveyard


Kubo graveyard Detail

Kubo Set Marketplace

Kubo Snow

Note – each set piece has that rough cross-hatch to mimic block printing.

Kubo Set Fire

Kubo Skeleton

The visit was truly inspiring and I learned so much about the making of Kubo and the Two Strings from the crew. I am so excited for the film release – look for it in theaters everywhere August 19th 2016! Check out this cool inside look at how Kubo is made: