Nearly everyone knows LAIKA Studio's stop-motion animation work. From the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline to the adorable The Boxtrolls, the studio has been nominated for six Academy Awards. The latest release, Missing Link, is another visually stunning achievement. It's also a period piece. But fans might not realize creating the Victorian-era looks for the puppets is a real job. Missing Link's costume designer Deborah Cook didn't start out planning to dress tiny characters for the big screen.
Cook explained the path that brought her to stop-motion wasn't the most straight-forward. Her original intent was to become a sculpture artist. "Before I did sculpture, I would collect fabrics and textures and items and make them into three-dimensional shapes, even as a small child," she explains to Elite Daily.
"I studied fine arts sculpture and did a postgraduate in sculpture. My work was really about creating environments and installation work. I would do costume pieces alongside abstract furniture, pieces on the wall, and film them, moving them around."
Her installations were what caught the attention of those in the stop-motion animation field. "A lot of stop-motion studios started to approach me to help on their projects. I loved how you can almost put more detail in a smaller piece than a bigger one when you project them so large. Some of those characters are nine to 14 inches tall. You can get a whole lot of detail into those costumes."
Cook has built costumes for every LAIKA production thus far. With Missing Link, her designs were all based in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era. Describing the precise attention to detail, she says, "One of the things we wanted to do with the costumes was traditional Victorian tailoring but bring something new and more lively. The era, 1890 to 1910, was the cusp of synthetic dyes coming into play so we could use fuchsia pink for Adelina's dress or turquoise for Lionel's cravat and those really punchy colors."
In Missing Link, the title character, Link, towers at 16 inches tall. His costumes, which are human clothing, stick out both for their color scheme and their bad fit.
"In the story, [Link's] suit is stolen from someone in the bar brawl, and [he's] wedged himself into it. The colors, the pattern, that bar, and that area being the pacific northwest of America, the history of that area was loggers who would have worn woven clothing, which was made by only a couple of very instrumental companies... The plaid comes from that."
Cook says for some if the costume accessories, like gloves, the production gets remnants and scraps from factories that make real sized ones. But in most cases, materials aren't sold in stores.
"We don’t buy off the shelf anymore. We’ve become more self-sufficient. That way we can embed the needs of the animation into the fabric, so we can weave in wires for example, or make sure there’s a certain stiffness in certain areas in the backings that we need. We make lots of backups. They get handled more than they might if they were just a regular costume by several different animators, or by maintenance people."
So how does one land a job in the field of stop-motion animation? Cook says most stumble across it much as she did. "A lot of people don’t come directly from animation schools. We have set dressers, costume fabricators, silicone model makers, and carpenters, all kinds of people working on the set."
Her advice to anyone who wants to get started: "Just follow what you love doing, make the most of your environment, and make the most of everything you can learn."
Missing Link is out in theaters now.