With The Academy Awards rolling into Hollywood this weekend, there is certainly a roster of diverse films hoping to get their gold man. While I’ve not seen many of the nominated films this year, one I have seen and loved was Best Animated Film nominee, Kubo and the Two Strings.
From the creative brains who brought you Coraline, The Box Trolls and ParaNorman, Kubo tells the story of a young Japanese boy who’s Father, a samurai warrior, was killed when he was a baby and is survived by his strong, yet ill, Mother. Living atop of a mountain, Kubo journeys into his village daily while the sun is out to create magical stories through the art of origami and his shamisen (thus, his two strings).
When tragedy and turmoil strike as Kubo’s family are evil and we learn his Mom has been hiding out and protecting him from her family, Kubo is left to fight off these enemies on his own yet with the helpful assistance of a mysterious monkey (appropriately named Monkey), and a Beetle who claims to be an amnesiac samurai who was cursed to take the form of a beetle and says to have been Kubo’s dad’s apprentice.
Kubo and the Two Strings was such a fantastic story of finding yourself and holding onto the importance of family and those you love, as well as paying great homage to the Obon Festival and Japanese culture. Boasting a great cast that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and George Taikai, I was thrilled that shortly after seeing Kubo, the opportunity arose to have a chat with Oscar-Nominated VFX Supervisor of the film, Steve Emerson.
Speaking from his office in Portland at Laika Studios, we were quick to want to get the skinny on the morning he got word he was nominated for an Academy Award, and if he is prepared should he win?? “I don’t have a speech. Its been so busy and so exciting. I haven’t really had a few moments to start thinking about that. The moment where I found out. It was like 5 in the morning, I was watching a streaming with my wife and son, sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, when we found out. Its been such a long process. Theres so much dedication from all the artists involved. you put years into your life for (these movies).” Emerson explains, “I would just say I’m intensely connected to all of these films (from Laika). So at that moment when we found out that we were being recognized, it all hit me at once. I broke down a little bit, and unbeknownst to me, my wife got a picture of me crying and put it right on Facebook!”
Despite all the glitz and glamour and Hollywood treatment from The Academy, Emerson also explained that Laika Studios is simply a small, independent stop motion studio working out of a warehouse, and that their visual effects team reckons more the size of the lighting team on most feature films. Fiercely admiring his peers and fellow Nominees works, Emerson says “Its incredible, really incredible” to be among the best.
Another question on our minds was: How does an LA live action effects guy with a resume that includes Matrix Reloaded and The Dark Knight find himself at a slow motion studio in Portland?!
“I’d spent a long time working in live action visual effects down in LA. My family and I were looking for a change and wanted to relocate to Portland. I spent the better part of a year commuting from there to LA, not an ideal situation. Then, I happened to hear from a friend that this studio called Laika was working on a feature film called Coraline and I should look into that. I was fortunate to go to a “Look at Laika” night and they hired me within a few weeks to contribute to Coraline. I had very little to no experience with stop motion production but had a background in live action.”
Fast forward nearly a decade later, and Emerson has worked his magic on the Laika roster of films ever since.
Such a huge thanks to Steve Emerson, and Focus Features for including me on this fantastic round table interview. Here’s hoping I will soon be able to say we have featured an Academy Award winner on Along Comes Mary! 😉