Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that takes a look at how the stop motion studio Laika seeds themes of invisible labor into their filmography.
Founded in 2005, Oregon-based Laika studios is currently one of the biggest names out there when it comes to stop-motion animation. Unlike hand-drawn or digitally-rendered animation, stop-motion exists in the real world, with sets and characters tediously puppeteered by the artists charged with breathing life into inanimate models. Because the labor required to realize feature-length stop-motion animation is so intense, these days, Laika has very few competitors. If you saw and enjoyed a stop-motion film in the last 15 or so years, there’s a good chance Laika was pulling the strings … or manipulating the metal skeletons. You get the idea.
As the video essay below notes, almost all of Laika’s output follows young protagonists whose coming of age quests take them through mystical hidden lands, from the uncanny, doppelgänger-filled Other Wold of 2009’s Coraline to the secretive subterranean realm of 2014’s The Boxtrolls to the spiritual plane of 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings. As the essay remarks, there is arguably a link between these unseen, magical spaces and the invisible labor of the animators themselves. While trolls and ghosts may lie beyond the barrier of Laika’s fictional worlds, the animators’ touch haunts these spaces too; their tireless bodies and hands lingering just outside the threshold of the frame.
While these self-reflexible narrative threads are somewhat complicated by the studio’s increasing reliance on CGI elements, it’s a fascinating thesis to consider nonetheless: that Laika’s emphasis on the labor behind their work isn’t just a marketing strategy or the backbone of a public identity … but a core thematic concern.
Watch “Studio Laika and the Ghosts of Invisible Labor”:
Who made this?
This video essay on the self-reflexive industrial allegory of Laika studios is written and directed by Mihaela Mihailova. It is produced by Alla Gadassik and edited by Gil Goletski, with Jacqueline Turner providing the narration. The end of the video credits the Vancouver-based Emily Carr University of Art and Design for support. Mihailova is Assistant Professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University. 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 heck of a lot of behind the scenes footage? Well, they do! Here’s a video about the creation of the hand-crafted world of 2012’s ParaNorman.
- Here’s a video from BBC Click showcasing a variety of goodies from Kubo and the Two Strings, including that massive blood-red skeleton puppet, which, and I cannot stress this enough, I would put in my front lawn every Halloween, given the chance.
- If you’re still a little fuzzy on how modern stop-motion animation works, exactly, here’s a video essay from Insider with a look at Laika studio’s more recent effort Missing Link that goes back to the basics.
- And finally, here’s AT&T Developer Program, of all YouTube accounts, with a TED Talk-like behind the curtain peek at the art and science of Laika studio. If the other videos I’ve recommended so far felt a bit terse, this 45-minute bad boy should satisfy you.