The Animation of Disney’s Moana: An Interview with Marlon West #MoanaEvent #MoanaArtistTour

water in moana

I recently had a chance to interview Marlon West, the head of Effects Animation for Disney’s Moana, when he visited Minneapolis earlier this month.

If you know me at all you know that Disney will always hold my interest. I’ll take any opportunity to learn more about my favorite source of entertainment!

Even though I don’t live in the Twin Cities area anymore, I didn’t hesitate to take a little road trip to meet with a key animator from Disney’s newest film!

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Interviewing Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson for KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS #KuboMovie

blogger press trip Kubo and the Two Strings

Last month I traveled to Los Angeles for the Kubo and the Two Strings press junket.

In addition to screening the movie (read my parent’s review of Kubo and the Two Strings and see why I was enthralled with the Kubo end credits) I was mesmerized by origami and Japanese amezaiku candy art AND I got to interview Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Art Parkinson, the stars who voice key characters in the movie!

I’ve been a blogger for a long time, and I’ve interviewed several celebrities. Even so, I never get tired of hearing an actor’s perspective on the movie he or she has made, and how it ties into his or her everyday life.  This Kubo and the Two Strings interview definitely didn’t disappoint!

blogger press trip Kubo and the Two Strings

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KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Shinobu Ichiyanagi Candy Art Demonstrations #KuboMovie

Amezaiku Candy Craft with Shinobu Ichiyanagi for kubo and the two strings

It’s hard to believe I was sitting in a conference room in Los Angeles during the Kubo and the Two Strings junket just a few weeks ago, waiting for these two people to fill their seats:

blogger press trip kubo and the two strings

It was pretty exciting to think that I was going to interview Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron later that day!

blogger press trip kubo and the two strings

My group of bloggers at the Kubo and the Two Strings press conference had some time in between our interview with the director and the interview with the talent from the film. Luckily, Focus Features had some great entertainment set up for us to take in while we waited.

Origami plays a key part in Kubo and the Two Strings, and a brilliant origami artist was there showing us his talents:

Kubo and the Two Strings origami

But it was another exhibit that I couldn’t tear myself away from: Shinobu “Shin” Ichiyanagi was demonstrating the art of amezaiku, or Japanese candy craft. It was incredible!

Shin Shinobu Ichiyangi amezaiku candy for Kubo and the two strings

I took home this amazing dragon lollipop that Ichiyanagi had made earlier:

amezaiku candy dragon by Shin Ichiyanagi

I was also lucky enough to get this video of Ichiyanagi demonstrating the amezaiku craft while making a delicate candy hummingbird. Believe me, it’s a must watch. He is so talented!

After spending a morning taking in all things related to Kubo and the Two Strings I’m even more excited for the movie to be released in theaters!

Kubo and the Two Strings secrets

See the rest of our Kubo and the Two Strings coverage:

Kubo and the Two Strings arrives in theaters on August 19, 2016.

About Kubo and the Two Strings:

An epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA.

Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Akihiro (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and Kameyo (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro).

But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta.

Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.

With the help of his shamisen, a magical musical instrument, Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara), to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family, and fulfill his heroic destiny.

Find out where Kubo and the Two Strings will be showing at a theater near you!

Disclosure: Travel and most expenses were covered to facilitate the trip and learn more about Kubo And The Two Strings.  All opinions are my own.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS at LAIKA Meeting the Production Team #KuboMovie

kubo and the two strings secrets

It isn’t every day that you get to meet the brilliant production team members behind a beautiful movie such as Kubo and the Two Strings.

While in Portland touring LAIKA and the Kubo and the Two Strings set, however, I got to meet several of them from all different departments.  Each of these areas work closely together to bring you brilliant stop-motion animation films.

LAIKA Tour Dan Pascall

We were taken back into the Executive Screening Room to meet with Steven Emerson, the VFX Supervisor, for a presentation on the Visual Effects.

Then Dan Pascall, the Production Manager, took us on a tour of the different stages.  He introduced us to more of the production team.

LAIKA Tour Deborah Cook

Deborah Cook is a Costumer Designer.

In addition to making the puppets look good, Cook has to pick fabrics that will move properly on camera.  When a puppet is running, that fabric has to flow in just the right direction.  It is also important that small details are followed, such as the proper way to tie a kimono.

LAIKA Tour Georgina Hayns

Georgina Hayns is the Puppet Fabrication Supervisor.

Hayns told us that there are actually several smaller departments within the puppet department that all work together to create lifelike puppets: sculpting, mold making, casting, armature, hair, paint, and costume.

LAIKA Tour Brian McLean

Brian McLean is the Supervisor of Rapid Prototype.

LAIKA has been a trendsetter in the world of 3D printing when it comes to being used in a stop-motion film.  In fact, they won a Technical Oscar for pioneering this technique.

Fun fact: when LAIKA was working on their previous films ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, they were the #1 consumer of color 3D printer material in the world!

LAIKA Tour Phil Brotheron

Phil Brotherton is the Assistant Art Director.

Brotherton showed us a couple of the art boards that they work off of during the movie.  Every detail has to be paid attention to, such as the color palette they work off of, the texture of the material that they use, and they also have to make sure that everything looks lifelike on screen.

LAIKA Tour Animation Rigging

Oliver Jones is the Animation Rigging Supervisor.

Jones showed us a pretty cool contraption that they invented to animate one of the monsters in the movie that had a huge eyeball.  They actually rigged up a bowling ball so that when they move the bowling ball with their hand, the eyeball on the monster moves too.  This helps animators get the perfect movements for their scenes.

The production team at LAIKA is really remarkable.  It is a small group that all share the same vision and desire to produce high quality films.  It was an honor to tour their studio and meet some of them!

Kubo and the Two Strings arrives in theaters on August 19, 2016.  Keep checking back here for more details, including lots of behind-the-scene photos from the set visit to LAIKA and mind-blowing facts on how the movie was made!

About Kubo and the Two Strings:

An epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA.

Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Akihiro (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and Kameyo (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro).

But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta.

Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.

With the help of his shamisen, a magical musical instrument, Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara), to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family, and fulfill his heroic destiny.

Find out where Kubo and the Two Strings will be showing at a theater near you!

Disclosure: Travel and most expenses were covered to facilitate the trip to LAIKA and learn more about Kubo And The Two Strings.  All opinions are my own.

A Hilarious Interview with the Cast of Ghostbusters #Ghostbloggers #Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Press Conference

Just last week Sony flew me to LA for a special Ghostbusters press junket. They scheduled three days full of Ghostbusters amazingness for us, and I’m excited to share all the details with all of you!

Ghostbusters is in theaters everywhere on July 15th. Get your tickets now

Ghostbusters Press Conference

What happens when you get Ivan Reitman, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Paul Feig, and Katie Dippold together in a room?  You get some awesome insider info on the new Ghostbusters movie and a press conference that feels more like a live comedy show.

I can’t even find a way to truly express how much fun these interviews were!

Ghostbusters Press Conference

Paul Feig, the director of Ghostbusters, assembled a “comedy dream team” for this movie and the cast was more than eager to be a part of it.

“This is a pretty good deal,” Melissa McCarthy recalls thinking when approached with the film.  Kate McKinnon described the experience as “A carnival ride, or a hoedown or any number of fun things. The funnest thing you could imagine,” while Leslie Jones said it felt like “summer camp” on set.

Ghostbusters Press Conference

Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig (who wasn’t at the press conference due to illness) have worked together before, but debated on hazing the “newbies”.

McCarthy thought about increasing the weight of Leslie Jones’ proton pack incrementally over the shoot but ultimately decided not to.

Ghostbusters Kate McKinnon

Kate McKinnon’s character has to pronounce a lot of really tough science words in the film, but it wasn’t a challenge at all for the star who genuinely enjoys science in real life.  “Physics is fun,” said McKinnon, who also brought a soldering kit to set because she “got bored on the weekend” and wanted to brush up on her skills.

Ghostbusters Leslie Jones

If they were able to turn into ghosts and haunt someone, Paul Feig said that he would haunt all of the trolls on the Internet, which got a huge round of applause and laughter from the cast and the audience.

Speaking of trolls, the cast encourages everyone, especially those who are skeptical of the new Ghostbusters, to “Just go see the movie.”  Leslie Jones said just to buy yourself some Twizzlers so at least you can enjoy those if you really don’t like the movie – but I think you’ll be surprised.

When asked how they would embrace the ghost forms of themselves, Kate McKinnon joked that she would use her ghost-abilities to audit adult education classes, while Leslie Jones would haunt handsome male celebrities.  Melissa McCarthy would turn herself into a ghost tabby cat and live with McKinnon who reportedly really spoils her cats.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth Questions

Although he wasn’t there, Chris Hemsworth even got in on the press junket action.  He sent in a few hilarious questions during the interview.

By the way, if you’re a Chris Hemsworth fan, stick around to the very end of the movie.  Stay for the credits. You’ll see a side of Chris that you’ve never seen before and it will totally be worth it!

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy

A ton of laughs were shared during this press conference, but some important topics were discussed, too. Like the fact that the female Ghostbusters are awesome role models.

“Every time we put something out in the world where I think my daughters can see themselves and they won’t even have the realization of, Why wouldn’t it be me? Why wouldn’t I be the ghostbuster? I think that’s such an incredibly important thing.” said McCarthy.

Los Angeles, Ca-- July 8,2016: Bloggers attend a Press Conference at the Press Junket for Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Follow along with our coverage of the new Ghostbusters movie by searching for the hashtags #Ghostbloggers and #Ghostbusters on social media!

Ghostbusters Poster

Ghostbusters opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, July 15th. See theater showtimes and get your tickets now!

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS at LAIKA How a Stop-Motion Film is Made #KuboMovie

kubo and the two strings secrets

Have you ever stopped to think about what goes into the stop-motion animated films that are so enjoyable to watch?  I hadn’t, until my visit to LAIKA and my behind-the-scenes look at the new movie, Kubo and the Two Strings.

Kubo and the Two Strings secrets

I had no idea that there were so many crew members working long hours all week to capture just a few seconds of footage for this stop-motion animated film.  With so many moving parts, working together and being on the same page is crucial.

KUBO and the Two Strings Movie Poster

I’ll introduce you to some of the amazing crew behind this new movie next time, but for now I wanted to share some really cool photos that I took on my set visit to show you a few of the many things that has gone into Kubo and the Two Strings.

KUBO Costume Board

Z miniature version of one of the boards that the Costume Department works with when developing costumes for the characters in the film. They use photographs that inspire them, along with real samples of fabric and other materials.

Planning in a Stop-Motion Animated Film

A TON of planning had to be done long before anything could be filmed for Kubo and the Two Strings.  Not only have the scenes been scripted, but the costumes, facial expressions, words, and movements of the characters have also been planned out.

A week’s worth of work usually produces just a few seconds of footage and having to go back and re-shoot something costs a lot of time and money.

Having a detailed storyboard, a continuity department to keep track of facial expressions, “character bibles” housing all of the information about a character (such as the way that they walk, the way that they run, etc.), and costumer boards all help them be as efficient as possible when they are finally ready to shoot.

"Monkey" is voiced by Charlize Theron in the film. This is one of the Monkey puppets they have on set. Fun fact: Monkey is the favorite character of Travis Knight.

“Monkey” is voiced by Charlize Theron in the film. This is one of the Monkey puppets they have on set. Fun fact: Monkey is the favorite character of Travis Knight.

Puppets in a Stop-Motion Animated Film

I think it is really unique that physical puppets are used in these films.  These puppets are way more advanced that what I usually think of as puppets.

They are constructed of heavy duty material to withstand months and months of filming, and there are usually 20-30 or more of each puppet around.

When puppets get damaged, they get sent to the “Puppet ER.” These puppets look SO lifelike in person!

Rigging Mechanisms in Stop-Motion Animation

Stop-motion is shot at 24 frames per second with lots of teeny tiny movements.  All of the puppets have framing inside and are rigged up on the outside by mechanisms that can help the animators control the movements.

The rigging is edited out with computers later, but it is really neat to think about.  Some of the puppets also had features on them such as fur or capes that needed to blow in the wind – and the animators wanted it to be real.  So, the capes that some characters wear in the movie have wiring built into them so that it can be controlled very precisely.

The Monkey character has a silicone covered fur for a more realistic look.  There are so many little details involved in animating the puppets–it blows me away!

3D printing was used to create the different facial expressions for the puppets. They are cataloged and the animators will request certain pieces per scene and then physically change the out.

3D printing was used to create the different facial expressions for the puppets. They are cataloged and the animators will request certain pieces per scene and then physically change the out.

3D Printing for a Stop-Motion Animated Film

Laika was the first studio to use 3D printing to make their animated faces.  They started doing this back when they filmed Coraline and their techniques and processes just keep getting better and better. They’re at the top of their game with Kubo and the Two Strings!

They took the idea of replacement animation and combined it with modern techniques.  LAIKA models and animates the faces in the computer, then sends the faces to a 3D printer rather than hand-sculpting them all.

In fact, Laika won a Technical Oscar just a few months ago for pioneering the technique of 3D printing for stop-motion films!

Although this looks like a real room, it is actually a miniature version of one. It is one of the sets of the movie!

Although this looks like a real room, it is actually a miniature version of one. It is one of the sets of the movie!

Sets in a Stop-Motion Animated film

The sets were so cool to see!  All of the Kubo and the Two Strings sets are placed up on blocks or lifts to be about waist high and they all break apart so that the animators don’t have to crawl all over the set when they are animating.

Sometimes an animator can spend weeks using the same set so it is critical that everything stays in place.  Do you see the papers in the left-hand corner?  All of those are glued down to make sure they don’t blow away while filming.

Here is a view of one of the prop boards used in the movie. There is a lot of attention to detail with the props such as color, texture, and more.

Here is a view of one of the prop boards used in the movie. There is a lot of attention to detail with the props such as color, texture, and more.

Props in a Stop-Motion Animated Film

Every single prop in Kubo and the Two Strings looks incredibly lifelike, but shrunken down in size.  There are lots of prop boards that the crew works off of to make sure the texture is right, the color is right, and that the material they use to create the prop looks right under the studio lights and can hold up under the heat generated from those lights.

Do you see the orange,yellow and red leaves toward the right-hand side of the above image?  Those are not hand cut but they ARE hand-glued to a boat for one scene in the movie.  They had to make three of the boats, and even the pattern of the leaves are identical on all three of the boats.  Talk about attention to detail!

LAIKA Hall of Bones

This character lives in the Hall of Bones and is 16 feet tall when assembled. There is a lot of rigging on him because he has to physically handle some of the puppets in one of the action sequences.

Computer Imaging in a Stop-Motion Animated Film

While most of what you see in Kubo and the Two Strings really exists in the physical world, computer imaging is used to fill in some gaps and save a little bit of time and resources.

Some of the items that were put into the film via computer really surprised me because they looked so lifelike!  This is because a lot of research goes into every graphic created.  The animators base all computer images off of something physical.  They take a physical sample and put it under the stage lights to make sure the computer image has the right lighting and shadows and movement.

The main characters and any other character with a speaking role are all physical puppets, and all of the sets are real – they’re just sometimes extended with computers.  For example, you’ll see The Hall of Bones in the movie which is home to a large 16-foot tall puppet.  There was no way they could build a set big enough for this puppet so instead they built one physical wall and then extended it out with a green screen.

Check out this short video with some more behind-the-scenes footage:

The Kubo puppet on one of the sets of the movie.

The Kubo puppet on one of the sets of the movie.

Kubo and the Two Strings arrives in theaters on August 19, 2016.  Keep checking back here for more details, including lots of behind-the-scene photos from the set visit to LAIKA and mind-blowing facts on how the movie was made!

About Kubo and the Two Strings:

An epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA.

Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Akihiro (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and Kameyo (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro).

But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta.

Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.

With the help of his shamisen, a magical musical instrument, Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara), to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family, and fulfill his heroic destiny.

Find out where Kubo and the Two Strings will be showing at a theater near you!

Disclosure: Travel and most expenses were covered to facilitate the trip to LAIKA and learn more about Kubo And The Two Strings.  All opinions are my own.