A skeleton from one of LAIKAs famous films (Kubo and the Two Strings) located at the beginning of the exhibit. LAIKA is partnering with the Portland Art Museum and Northwest Film Center. Photo by Adriane Burk

After having seen the entrancing films by LAIKA animation studios, walking into the Portland Art Museum’s new exhibit Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA was peculiar. Seeing the fluid characters from the films shown as stiff puppets jerks the viewer behind the scenes of the well-known films.

LAIKA was established in Portland, Oregon in 2005. Since then it has produced four Oscar-nominated films: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), The Boxtrolls (2014), ParaNorman (2012), and Coraline (2009). Although the use of stop motion animation seems like a bygone form of entertainment, its accolades continue to stack up, showing that it is moving the artform into the 21st century. This includes a 2016 Science and Technology Oscar for its unique rapid-prototyping system LAIKA uses to create its 3D printed character puppets and props.
This October through May, LAIKA is partnering with the Portland Art Museum as well as the Northwest Film Center to bring the public into its modern integration of history, science, and art in order to tell a story.

“We believe storytelling is an important part of who we are,” says Travis Knight, President and CEO of LAIKA. “Art in its finest forms speaks to our shared humanity, opening us up to new ways of thinking, feeling, and helping us to recognize the hidden connectivity of all things.”

Upon entering the exhibit, two show-stopping pieces greet visitors. There is the 16-foot skeleton that was featured in Kubo, as well as a wall of faces. The latter showcases the rapid-prototyped, replaceable faces that are required for one second of film. Throughout the rest of the exhibit, hundreds of LAIKA artifacts, from original sketches and storyboards to puppets, costumes and sets, are on display. Visitors can study a timeline of the history of stop-motion animation; a zoetrope, a pre-film animation device, plays with persistence of vision to create the illusion of movement.

Alongside the exhibition, the Northwest Film Center is presenting a program showcasing the studio’s work as well as the evolution of stop-motion animation since before the turn of the 20th century. Further, the Center will offer a range of animation classes, workshops, and visiting artist programs for community members of all ages.

The exhibit intersects art, film, technology, science, and history. Animating Life is accessible and the clearest reflection of the human qualities that provide art with meaning. “There’s no other…especially in animation, that makes you feel human such as LAIKA,” says Brian Ferriso, the chief curator for the museum. “It’s not just the beauty and detail of the sets, puppets and props; LAIKA gives us an understanding of what it means to be human. And that—is art.”

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