Features and Columns · Movies

How Studio Laika Seeds Their Stories with Invisible Labor

Ah yes, the unseen magical realm to just-out-of-frame animators pipeline.
Studio Laika: Kubo And The Strings
By  · Published on May 6th, 2022

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)

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.