Stop Motion Has Never Looked Better Thanks To 3D Printing

Technology, animation, and CGI get bigger and more exciting every year, and with the help of the small American stop motion animation studio Laika, the quaint, old-fashioned style of stop motion is throwing its name in the ring, too.

Stop motion is a slow, gruelling process that has resulted in some of the most beautiful films of our time. ParaNorman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Fantastic Mr. Fox… it’s pretty hard to think of a stop motion film that wasn’t great. And it’s been around for a long time—Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has been a vital component of the holiday season since the ’60s. But like any other peddlers of media and entertainment, stop motion animation studios have been embracing modern technology to add a little oomph to everything they produce. Take a look at how Laika are integrating 3D printing into their animation process:

When a movie is made using stop motion, each character needs a boatload of different heads to be created for each tiny change in expression. In The Nightmare Before Christmas, more than 700 different Jack Skellington heads needed to be sculpted by hand to give him a full range of emotion.

It was Laika’s first feature film, Coraline, which finally broke the mould and completely revamped the entire stop motion process. Laika had the genius idea of integrating 3D printing into the sculpting process. With the option of printing huge libraries of expressions in a fraction of the time it took for artisans to sculpt them by hand, Laika was able to  create hundreds of thousands of minute facial expressions for each character, giving them vastly more depth and range than previously possible. 20,000 heads were created for the character of Coraline alone.

Since Coraline, Laika has been pushing the boundaries of technology to create characters and expressions with even more detail and subtlety. Their newest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, required special state-of-the-art 3D printers to get the detail and particular aesthetic that was required. Some may see it as the old world of analog charm competing with modern technology, but Laika has the two worlds working beautifully together. Jack Skellington would approve.