“CG Effects in Stop Motion Animation” Event Recap

By Max Richards

It was a night celebrating all the great things Portland has to offer. From our rich history in blending art and technology, to the ingenuity of the people that live here, to the prospect of a bright future for film production right here in Oregon. 

Nearly 100 people joined at Autodesk’s Portland offices to watch featured speaker, Steve Emerson, share his perspective on how Portland, Oregon became such a powerhouse incubator for innovative techniques in film, from the first English-speaking settlers through modern production studios. As a longtime VFX Supervisor at LAIKA and a creative supervisor on all 5 of the studio’s films to date, he hasn’t only seen the creative and technological resources here. He, himself, has shaped them.

AEPDX members showed up to create the largest event for the group in over 3.5 years. Although many familiar faces returned after joining for previous events like March’s “Animated Music Video Production”, more than 1/3 of the event’s attendees were at their very first AEPDX event.

Steve’s presentation was built around his theories for why Portland is unique. Dating back to the 1800s, he talked about the entrepreneurial and creative spirits that were attracted to the area. These people formed what was one of the first art museums in the United States.

Moving into the 1900s, he cited tech companies like Electro Scientific Industries and Tektronix as early precursors to the creation of the Silicon Forest. The stage was being set for the integration of art and technology.

This innovation progressed into the early days of stop motion animation in Oregon, with Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner producing their short film “Closed Mondays” here. Once the word was out, the interest and investment came. LAIKA Studios was formed, and production began on their first feature film, Coraline.

For each of LAIKA’s films, Steve shared the technological innovations that made their production possible. For Coraline, it was the first stop motion feature film to be shot in stereoscopic 3D and the first feature film to use 3D printer technology for replacement facial animation.

Moving forward, the studio embarked on ParaNorman. This film was noted as a ‘hybrid’ film, with a great focus on interdepartmental collaboration. The film empowered storytellers with technology.

In the Boxtrolls, Steve noted the film’s large scale and increased complexity compared to their previous films, but, visually-speaking, it was one of the strongest films from the studio. He showed the fascinating modular system used to create each Boxtroll character.

In their latest film, Missing Link, the theme was the sheer expansiveness of the story. Going on a cross-continental journey brings along many sets, many characters, and lots of VFX. He took us behind-the-scenes of a single shot to show each step in the process of the practical set and puppets, as well as the digital characters, VFX, and final compositing.

Looking forward to LAIKA’s next film Wildwood, Steve hinted at just how large of an undertaking it is. But in the true spirit of Portland, he has no doubt the amazing crew will come through to create something the whole world will enjoy.

Interested in seeing the full presentation?

Steve’s full presentation is available to stream for AEPDX members only. Please visit https://www.meetup.com/aepdx-animate-everything/, request to join the group, and once accepted, you will have access to the presentation via the link on the Discussion board.

AEPDX is a group providing a platform for Portland, OR’s design and animation community a platform for engagement, education, and collaboration. The group promotes a diverse and inclusive environment full of a wide range of perspectives, styles, experience levels, and backgrounds. It is hosted by Deep Sky, and sponsored by Autodesk and Toolfarm.