Take the family behind the curtain of film-making when you see MoPOP’s new exhibit, Hidden Worlds: the Films of LAIKA. After two years of planning and collaboration between museum curators and the Portland-based stop-motion animation studio, the exhibition opened to members on March 17 and the general public the following day. Here’s a little preview of what you can look forward to based on our tour led by LAIKA studio executives.
Begin with Coraline
Ascending to the museum’s second level, you’ll wind through rooms devoted to each of LAIKA’s five current films in chronological order. I confess that I’m not a film buff and had only seen Coraline, LAIKA’s first movie that debuted in 2009. Luckily, you don’t have to intimately know the synopses to appreciate the incredibly intricate details involved in making stop-motion films.
As scenes from Coraline play on a screen, take a close look at the case of miniature life-like faces and clothing. LAIKA was the first studio to use 3D printing (versus hand carving) to create models, but it was for art, not efficiency. Brian McLean, Director of Rapid Prototype for LAIKA, jokingly described the tiny pieces on display as a stop-motion Mr. Potato Head. The innovative 3D printing technique allows interchangeable individual components like eyebrows and teeth to add nuance and depth to character expressions. Make sure you check out the mittens, too — they were hand knit for the film!
Human-size exhibit props make you feel as if you’ve entered a new world as you weave your way through — a lit tunnel looks like one from Coraline, while spiky walls in the ParaNorman area bring you right into Salem, Massachusetts (on which the film’s town is based).
Designing with authentic detail
Parents of budding artists and mathematicians rejoice — this exhibit is basically a career day for your kids. Nelson Lowry, Production Designer for LAIKA, talked about growing up as a creative kid and translating those skills into designing the look and feel of film backgrounds and set pieces. In ParaNorman, for example, pieces intentionally look well-worn and scrappy to match the aesthetic of an old Northeastern town, but they also have to fit perfectly together so that the viewer’s eye focuses on the characters rather than the background.
This attention to detail is pervasive. LAIKA Costume Designer, Deborah Cook, described traveling to Japan and doing endless research to bring out authentic details in the costumes for Kubo and the Two Strings. The Sisters characters sport hakama pants that include the traditional seven folds (representing virtues like justice, courtesy and loyalty), while Kubo’s mother’s crimson robes reflect her noble status.
Interactive: Stop-motion film
Don’t forget to stop at interactive zones along your route to experience the process of stop-motion animation. Near the exhibit’s entrance, you can make your own stop-motion film using moveable characters or pose in front of a green screen as if you were the main character. Scan a QR code to download your creation to share with friends later.
Latest movie: Missing Link
Benoit Dubuc, Head of Facial Animation, shared how LAIKA transitioned to creating bespoke expressions for each frame in their latest film, Missing Link (2019). At 24 frames per second, that translates into approximately 106,000 individual faces that have to smoothly transition from frame to frame. If you want a taste of the skills required for this, head to the Box Trolls room where you can play an advanced game of Mirror as you try to match the facial expressions of a film character.
End of the exhibit: Camera-play and Wildwood
As you near the exhibit’s end, don’t miss the last interactive space. Move miniature cameras around to experience a puppet’s eye view of Missing Link character Adelina Fortnight’s home. Keep your eyes open for fun facts about the set that pop up as you explore and take turns standing at the end of the hall to spot your friends or family on camera.
A short sneak peek at LAIKA’s next film, Wildwood, greets you at your exit. Set in Portland and based on the novel by the Decemberists’ lead singer, Colin Meloy (and illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis), the film will bring audiences on an adventure into the enchanted Pacific Northwest woods.
Some parts of LAIKA films are spooky and there is an incredible amount of fascinating detail in the exhibition, so I would recommend it for slightly older children. Whether you’re a huge stop-motion fan or simply curious about LAIKA’s artistically entertaining films, the exhibit is well worth adding to your next MoPOP trip.
Before you go:
Where: MoPOP is located at 325 5th Ave N on the east side of Seattle Center.
Hours: MoPOP is open Thursday through Tuesday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (closed Wednesday). Hidden Worlds runs until Summer 2024.
Cost: MoPOP’s pricing is dynamic based on the day and time of your visit, but expect to budget $26-34 for adults and $18-25 for youth (ages 5-12 years old), plus approximately $6 per person for Hidden Worlds.