Thursday, May 17, 2018

Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA Exhibit at The Portland Art Museum is Not to Be Missed!

Since October 14th of last year The Portland Art Museum has been showcasing the awe inspiring art of stop-motion animation in their Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA exhibit. This exhibit will close on the 20th of May and, in my opinion, should not be missed.

LAIKA Studios is an animation studio that has become a local fixture of Portland Oregon since 2005. They are not just any animation studio, however. They use stop-motion animation, a technique where the animator has to physically manipulate the object so it appears to move on its own. You might have seen one of their 4 award-winning films: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The BoxTrolls (2014), or Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). Just by watching you don't feel of the real scope of these movies, but the characters are brought to life by animators painstakingly moving them 24 times for every second of screen time. The Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA exhibit gives you an up close and first hand look at the meticulous artistry that goes into each one of their films. Visitors to this exhibit are immersed in LAIKA's wonderful imaginative world. Museum-goers get to explore production design, sets, props, puppets, costumes, and world-building that have become the studio’s hallmarks.

Here is a sneak peek at what is in store for you if you go...

My son, Jaedan, and I went to the Portland Art Museum on April 27th. We started the day out at Voodoo Doughnut. I had a Mango Tango and my son had an Apple Fritter. Then we went out to lunch at some of the food trucks in the Pearl District. Jaedan had seafood curry noodles and I had a Gyro. We just couldn't visit Portland and not partake in these delectable treats. Going to Voodoo Doughnut and eating from food carts is part of the experience of the of the City of Roses.

Eating Voodoo Doughnuts and Food Cart Food are a must while in Portland.

After our meals we headed towards the Portland Art Museum (PAM). As we had never been there before we tried to partake of what all the museum had to offer before diving into the LAIKA exhibit. We looked around first at the art that was part of the permanent and private collections. Of the Museum’s collection of 42,000 objects, we saw only a representative few, of which my favorites were: Isa Genzken's Two Orchids, Claude Monet Nymphéas (Waterlilies), Nude in Sunlit Wood by Childe Hassam, Joseph M. Raphael's Cottage Garden, Uccle, Belgium; Gabriele Münter's In The Village Chamonix, Frank Stella's Newell's Hawaiian Shearwater (Exotic Bird), Sonya Clark's Penny Loafers, and Dale Chihuly's L'arbre rouge.

Just some of the lovely art we saw at the PAM.

Then we headed to the exhibit we had been anticipating all day. When you go through the doors to the Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA exhibit you are automatically drawn to a towering skeleton puppet looming over the room. This was used for the film Kubo and the Two Strings. This piece is over 18 feet tall and the largest stop-motion puppet ever made. It is jaw dropping with its impressive lighting and glowing eyes to make it look even more menacing. It was fun to learn that LAIKA's studio is too small to house this giant beast all put together and they had to film it in two pieces: legs and torso, for Kubo. For this exhibit it is the first time this puppet has been in one piece.

Skeleton puppet used in Kubo and the Two Strings.

Beside this massive creature you can see the puppets of Beetle, Monkey, Kubo, and the Origami Samurai Warrior for reference of size. On the far wall you can see the "Wall of Faces", which features the rapid-prototype face replacement 3-D printing that LAIKA won a scientific and engineering Oscar in 2016 for. This technology, used first in ParaNorman, is astounding to me because each tiny expression and movement of the face is captured in individual faces that LAIKA snaps off and on the puppets to make them seem far more lifelike than other stop-motion animations.

Jaedan looking at Coraline's "Other World" House.

Next we migrated to a room with Coraline's "Other World" House in it. We saw first hand how LAIKA animators could go behind it so they could manipulate the puppets. This was a piece of the actual set! It was like a large doll house and it was intricately designed...all the way down to tiny plants hanging from the porch and lights that actually glow. The attention to detail is mind-boggling!

Back into the skeleton room and through a corridor of Asian art we come to the main LAIKA exhibit. Before you enter it warns, "This exhibition contains a zoetrope that produces a strobing effect and may trigger visitors with photosensitivity or epilepsy. Staff are happy to direct you to another entrance or answer questions." The room has a darker ambience and there is so much to take in and see. We saw many LAIKA artifacts, including: original sketches, small models called maquettes, puppets, sets, costumes, rigging, storyboards, etc.

Some of the LAIKA sets we saw at the exhibit.

The sets are amazing! As you go in you can see the set of Kubo's childhood home to the left with Beetle and Monkey inside. We saw some of the sets for The BoxTrolls: one scene of the verminator puppets chasing down Eggs and some BoxTrolls in the hill top town of Cheesebridge, Norvenia and another set of the ballroom dance scene. Coraline's Garden set took up almost a whole room by itself and when seen from above you can clearly see Coraline's face in the garden itself. There were also some neat sets from ParaNorman.

Jaedan looking at the Kubo and the Two Strings Giant Eye Monster.

There are also things you can touch and manipulate too! Inside there is a 11 foot Giant Eye Monster from Kubo and the Two Strings that you could go behind to see the robotic framework and then move with the same bowling ball trackball interface that they used to create the underwater scene in Kubo. We also got to manipulate the ocean waves in Kubo which were made out of paper and seemed to topple over each other like a string of dominoes.

Everything had remarkable detail. There are so many teeny-tiny handstitched outfits and props to go with the sets and puppets. These must have taken them so much time and effort to make! All of it is just so intricate and ornate and ultimately makes the films feel even more lifelike.

Snapped a photo of the Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA exhibit banner as we left.

I wish we could have taken more time to explore the Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA exhibit. We enjoyed it all so very much! We had a fabulous time visiting the Portland Art Museum and hope that LAIKA decides to come back there again at some point. I highly recommend to go see the LAIKA exhibit if you can. The last day is the 20th of May!

This exhibit is organized by the Portland Art Museum and the Northwest Film Center in collaboration with LAIKA.

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DISCLOSURE/DISCLAIMER: My thoughts are mine and my family's own opinion and have not been altered by anyone else. I did not receive any compensation for doing this review.

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