Missing Link is an upcoming film from Laika Studios. It’s the fifth feature film for the studio, with new characters, story, and new technology to bring to the big screen. The film follows Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) as he finally decides to find his family and leave the Pacific Northwest woods. He is lonely and needs companionship. Enter Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) to help him on his journey. It’s a trip that has a surprising effect on Mr. Link and redefines his idea of family.
BGN got a chance to go behind the scenes to the Laika animation studios, during the final days of filming. What we saw were a lot of secrets, advances in animation, and other neat little items that went into making Missing Link.
Here are the top 10 things that were actually surprising discoveries.
- Everything is 3-D printed. I saw all the puppetry, scenery, and accessories that went into bringing Mr. Link’s world to life. I thought for sure that it was painted on and sculpted or some similar, that some sort of hands-on artistry was at play. No, the puppets and their world were largely 3-D printed. The outer shells of the characters, (NOT the fabrics), the accessories are all created in the 3-D printer. Then, they may get details handpainted afterward.
- No artists were sacrificed during filming. The extensive use of technology to create the puppets in Laika films is impressive, but there is the question of “where are the artists?” Well, they are still around, and some. Oscar winner Brian McLean, Director of Rapid Prototyping at Laika Studios explains that the 3-D printing and the other tech used to create the films are just tools for the artists to use. They didn’t fire any artists but taught them how to use the new tech as a new tool in their creative arsenal. McLean says that the number of artists in the prototyping department alone has swelled since they created Coraline.
- All of the accessories are handmade from 3D-printed material. Costume designer Deborah Cook showed off all the garments and accessories used in the film. Each character dictated a different style and pattern that she created at scale for all the puppets. Her fabrics were the real deal, with some experimentation for textures and patterns.
- Missing Link is the first Laika feature film with intentional film themed Easter Eggs in it. Each previous film had little Easter eggs for the cast and crew of the film. They were more of a familial connection as well. However, Missing Link has Easter eggs from past Laika films.
- Cook brought in an expert on Himalayan garments to help with costuming Shangri-La. Cook says she worked with a specialist on garments for the Himalayan region to get ideas for the people of Shangri-La. She also studied the patterns and colors to ensure that everything, down to the chicken on running around the village, looked as authentic as possible.
- The character statues are called puppets and it took around nine months to create them from start to photo ready. The outer shells are 3-D printed and placed on armatures that make the puppet moveable. Then, the puppets are then dressed and touched up with paint if needed before getting ready to shoot.
- The entire film was shot with a DSLR camera and a Mac. Production designer Nelson Lowry took us on a tour of several sets including the castle at Shangri-La and a town in the Old West. One scene was active and we saw the equipment the crew was using — a DSLR camera and a Mac computer. There were no huge studio camera and monitor setups. The scene was shot like with the equipment most YouTube vloggers use.
- The tech used on Coraline could never be used on a film like Missing Link. It’s essentially obsolete. McLean took us through a quick text history of Laika puppet creation. At one point, they were 3-D printed as well, but out of powder. Each film required an upgrade as Laika’s prototyping department sought to improve the look of their animation and also the efficiency of the process. The 3-D printing industry changes so much as well that the powder printing use to create Coraline is no longer available. Thus, no other Laika film will ever have the same look as Coraline.
- Missing Link is the first Laika feature film that does not feature kids. Every film, Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Paranorman has featured children at some point in the film. Missing Link is Mr. Link’s story and he doesn’t have any kids. There are children in the story, but they are background characters that are not a central part of the story. Although all of the main characters are adults, kids will still love this film.
- The Yeti Temple was a tedious design that is very original, yet culturally respectful. Mr. Link travels to the Yeti Temple in the Himalayan Mountains. Lowry says that they studied the artwork for the area and the people there before implementing their own patterns and script. The “ancient” writing in the temple is a script that the team made up.
Missing Link comes to theaters April 12.
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Jonita Davis is a writer, mother, a certified nerd, and writer of Black Girl Nerds. Davis is a critic and journalist. She has been writing for 13 years about the way pop culture and politics affect our lives as parents, women, black women, nerds, and people of this planet.