The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings

Con­cept art from Laika’s new an­i­ma­tion, set in an­cient Ja­pan, takes cen­tre stage in this stun­ning art­book

ImagineFX - - Reviews -

Au­thor Emily Haynes Pub­lisher Chron­i­cle Books Price £25 Web www.chron­i­cle­ Avail­able Now

Kubo and the Two Strings, the lat­est an­i­ma­tion from Laika, is set in an­cient Ja­pan and fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of a boy on the run from a venge­ful spirit. This book of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing look be­hind the scenes of its mak­ing, il­lus­trated by acres and acres of lush con­cept art.

Fol­low­ing a fore­word by Laika pres­i­dent Travis Knight and an in­tro­duc­tion by au­thor Emily Haynes, the book be­gins by ex­plain­ing The Wood­block Ef­fect, the source of the sig­na­ture look Laika has given this film. This ex­pres­sive tex­ture is, we learn, drawn from the work of Kyoshi Saito,– a wood­block print­maker in the Sosaku-hanga– art move­ment of 20th cen­tury Ja­pan.

The book is di­vided into three main sec­tions that fol­low the chronol­ogy of the film’s story: Home, Quest and Re­turn. You’re greeted by a con­stant stream of in­cred­i­ble con­cept art, in­clud­ing char­ac­ter and en­vi­ron­ment de­signs, each cred­ited to the in­di­vid­ual artists (a point so many film art books, sadly, fall down on).

There’s also ref­er­ence ma­te­rial, rough sketches and sto­ry­boards, along with some CG mod­els and in-studio pho­tog­ra­phy show­ing the pro­duc­tion of props and pup­pets. (That said, if the stop-mo­tion/film-mak­ing as­pect is your sole in­ter­est, this isn’t re­ally the book for you.)

While the book is more of a vis­ual feast than a heavy tex­tual read, there’s a fair amount of ex­po­si­tion on the page, typ­i­cally from film pro­duc­tion leads rather than con­cept artists. For ex­am­ple, David Van­der­voort, lead 2D fa­cial an­i­ma­tion de­signer, ex­plains how sketch­ing a full range of emo­tions for Kubo was a chal­lenge be­cause of his over­flow­ing hair and eye patch. Direc­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy Frank Pass­ing­ham de­tails the chal­lenge posed by cast­ing a white mon­key against a snowy back­ground, while as­sis­tant art direc­tor Phil Brother­ton ex­plains how the in­te­rior de­sign of Beetle’s cave re­flects his in­ter­nal con­flict be­tween pack-rat bug and noble war­rior.

The main event here, though, is the (mainly dig­i­tal) con­cept art. Ean McNa­mara’s epic evo­ca­tion of Kubo’s mother, look­ing lost on a cliff’s edge; the thrilling mag­nif­i­cence of Kubo’s trek to­wards Hanzo’s fortress, de­picted by Au­gust Hall; Trevor Dalmer’s men­ac­ing Hall of Bones paint­ing; Andy Schuler’s breath­tak­ing un­der­wa­ter scene, and be­yond... the vi­brant colours and in­tri­cate de­tails are all re­pro­duced beau­ti­fully.

The vi­brant colours and in­tri­cate de­tails are all re­pro­duced beau­ti­fully

David Van­der­voort found de­pict­ing Kubo “par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing”. Eyes show our emo­tions, but the pro­tag­o­nist only had one vis­i­ble.

For the sets, artists at­tempted to cap­ture the spirit of wabi-sabi, which trans­lates as im­per­fect beauty.

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