Laika, the award-winning animation studio nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, celebrates 10 years of bold and memorable filmmaking this month. For a company whose name means “little barker” in Russian, Portland, Oregon-based Laika has made quite a noise in the global film industry over a relatively short time. With its world-class filmmaking team, Laika pushes the boundaries of family entertainment and animated movies, redefining what stories can and should be told through the art form.
“When Laika began we had a simple goal: to make movies that matter,” says Travis Knight, Laika’s president and CEO, who also is lead animator and a producer on its films. “Laika is devoted to telling new and original stories in new and original ways.”
“We aspire to make films that are bold, distinctive, and enduring,” Knight continues. “We are committed to telling stories that are thematically challenging, aesthetically beautiful, emotionally resonant, and a wee bit subversive. By combining stop-motion animation with cutting-edge creative approaches, we’ve embraced the fusion of art and craft and technology, honoring tradition while looking toward the future. We invented new systems and technologies for liberating the camera, to make our films more cinematic. We created new techniques for building and animating our puppets, to make our characters more lifelike and to connect more immediately and intimately with audiences. We discovered new processes for integrating practical and digital visual effects, to make our worlds more authentic. But we’re never satisfied. There’s an inherent restlessness at Laika. We always want to challenge ourselves.”
Laika began its unconventional cinematic journey with Coraline in 2009, continuing with ParaNorman in 2012 and The Boxtrolls in 2014. All three films featured Laika’s unique and innovative 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid technique. Laika original distribution partners, Focus Features and Universal Pictures International, remain the studio’s collaborators to this day. “We have the bravest distributors in the world,” says Knight. “They are lionhearted souls who took a chance on a ragged band of misfits from Oregon. Together, we share an abiding love for original stories and inventive storytelling.”
In addition to numerous critics’ awards and multiple Annie Awards (the animation community’s Oscars equivalent), all three of Laika’s feature films have been nominated for Academy Awards, BAFTA, and PGA Awards. The Boxtrolls also received a Golden Globe nomination; ParaNorman was cited as the year’s best animated feature by more critics’ groups than any other film in 2012, and Coraline was named one of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the year. “These last ten years have been magical,” says Knight. “But as I look forward, I’m more excited for what the future holds. We’re just getting warmed up.”
Knight, who makes his directorial debut with Laika’s next film, Kubo and the Two Strings (release date: August 19, 2016) adds, “Stripping everything else away, we’re simple storytellers. We’re the heirs of flamboyant stage magicians, plainspoken raconteurs spinning yarns around a campfire, and knuckle-dragging troglodytes scrawling stick figures on a cave wall. We believe telling stories is one of the prime functions of the human mind and spirit. A good story can elicit empathy, opening us up to new possibilities, to new ways of thinking, to recognizing the shared humanity in which we all participate. And, in the end, that’s ultimately Laika’s reason for being.”