We're used to the likes of Disney-Pixar and DreamWorks dominating the animation movie scene, at least as far as CGI is concerned. But for the last 10 years, Laika Studios have paved the way in terms of gorgeous stop-motion visuals. (Stop-motion: broadly defined as the process of animating a figure or environment one frame at a time.)
The company have yet to win any Oscars for Best Animated Feature but they did win a BAFTA for 2016's critically acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings. Despite the relative lack of accolades, all of the feature films from Laika have been met with a positive response.
Their next release is due this Easter and features the voices of Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility) to name a few. It's called Missing Link and tells the story of Sir Lionel Frost, an explorer who is hoping to find the famous missing link to prove to his peers that he is a world-class expert.
One thing about the film is guaranteed: the animation will be beautiful. Missing Link will likely have a meaningful message too, something that will pull on the heartstrings like all of their previous films so far. To get ready for Missing Link, here are the 10 most beautiful moments from Laika's films.
1. The Legend of Hanzo – Kubo and the Two Strings
If you're not familiar with Laika's beautiful animation, this is a good place to start. Right from the get go, you can tell that Kubo and the Two Strings (directed by Bumblebee film-maker Travis Knight) is going to be an emotionally powerful, stunning piece of animation.
Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones' Art Parkinson) can magically control origami with his musical talents and uses it to make money in the small village where he lives, captivating people on the street with his stories. Are they simply stories though?
2. Meeting the Missing Link – Missing Link
The meeting between Sir Lionel Frost and Mr Link, though it looks mostly comedic, will be the turning point of Laika's latest film. Comparing the look of human Frost against the detailed fur of Mr Link, proves that a lot of time and attention goes into creating the Laika art.
3. Meeting the other parents – Coraline
Furious with her real parents, young girl Coraline (Dakota Fanning) ventures through a mysterious door into The Other World. There she meets her 'other' parents for the first time. Sure everything seems safe, despite their spooky button eyes, but there is a secret that Coraline will uncover.
4. Living with Boxtrolls – The Boxtrolls
There are no limits to Laika, shown by the different shapes, colours and styles in every frame of their films. In this montage from The Boxtrolls, showing how orphan boy Eggs (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) grows up with his new guardians and family the Boxtrolls, you can see the detail poured into every inch of the frame, from the main movement to small features in the background.
5. The Magical Garden – Coraline
Laika's films don't shy away from colour, often using every shade possible throughout their films to create stunning animations. The garden scene brings the world of Coraline alive with bright abundance and a loud, fun soundtrack, further reinforcing the duplicity of the seemingly friendly Other World.
6. The fight – Kubo and the Two Strings
Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen the stunning Kubo and the Two Strings yet, as this scene is the final battle between Kubo and the evil Raiden, who is also Kubo's grandfather.
Raiden (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) transforms into a dragon and Kubo has to use his own powerful magic to beat him. The ghostly dragon is frightening but our hero Kubo saves the day, and in the process Laika give us one of their most visually luscious set-pieces.
7. Good morning – ParaNorman
All of Laika's films revolve around interesting leading characters, but Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) might be the most fascinating. He can communicate with the dead and is treated as an outcast by his fellow students, all of which is perfectly summed up in less than three minutes during the opening of ParaNorman.
Again the stop-animation delicately differentiates between the living and the dead, courtesy of the colours, effects and variances in the glorious animation.
8. In the snow – Missing Link
Missing Link is an adventure film, with Mr Link and Lionel Frost journeying across the world to find Link's cousins. Travelling the globe means exploring various locations, including lots of snowy mountains. The distinction between the vibrancy of the character designs and the sheer white mountains covered in snow makes it a feast for the eyes.
9. The Hall of Bones – Kubo and the Two Strings
This enthralling challenge, where Kubo, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) have to locate the Sword Unbreakable among hundreds of fake swords positioned on a giant skeleton, is now a famous moment in stop-motion history. The Laika team created a 16 foot, 400 pound skeleton to film the scenes and it holds the record as being the largest stop motion puppet ever made in film history.
10. Aggie – ParaNorman
The creative teams behind Laika's films don't just spend months and years moulding and sculpting art for their scenes. They also use the sort of visual effects glimpsed in ParaNorman's final battle, lending a sense of the magical and paranormal to the puppet movements.
Nadine Shambrook is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.