Missing Link Preview: Laika's Most Ambitious Movie Yet

Missing Link Main Character at Laika Studios

We visited Laika Studios a few weeks ago to meet with the movie magicians behind Missing Link the fifth stop-motion feature from the innovative and award-winning production house.

Missing Link, written and directed by Chris Butler, is the largest and most ambitious story and production yet from Laika, exploring more locations with more characters than ever before, in an adventure story that also marks a switch in tone and visuals from prior features from the studio.

Related: Watch The Latest Missing Link Trailer!

With Missing Link, Butler takes inspirations from the characters of Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes for its protagonist Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), and pairs the egocentric cryptozoologist with a very large, very furry, and very naive and lovable creature called Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis), in a buddy roadtrip adventure inspired by Raiders of the Lost Ark and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And it's based on an idea Butler had over 15 years ago, before Laika Studios even existed.

Missing Link Ice Castle at Laika Studios

Where previous Laika Studios features took around four years to complete from beginning of development to the end, Missing Link is more like five years with more months dedicated to shooting. Much of that has to do with the sheer amount of scenery and characters captured in camera since Missing Link explores many international locations, each with their own new sets, characters, props, and textures. Older stop-motion films are usually limited to smaller, specific sets - and way less of them - but Missing Link takes viewers across the world and pushes technology and shooting techniques (again, shooting every frame, 24 for every second of the movie with one animator assigned individually to each shot).

Missing Link 3D Printed Faces at Laika Studios
A face is 3D printed for every character in every frame of the movie, 106000 in total.

There are 31 animators for Missing Link, every one of them shooting different scenes and it's a challenge for the Portland, Oregon based studio to find talent who can handle this sort of detailed hand animation (down to moving the eyes and eyelids of each character frame-by-frame using an X-Acto knife). In a good week, each animator captures only 4.3 seconds of footage each for an idea of how painstaking the shooting process is, and that doesn't even capture the amount of work that goes into hand-designed costumes and real-metal jewelry for each puppet, or how 106,000 faces were created to animate facial movements by a team dedicated to animating just that, while others animate the bodies.

Missing Link Face Swap at Laika Studios

Throughout the week we'll exploring the incredible techniques and work that went into Missing Link and will share some of the key learnings we took away from our tour and discussions at Laika Studios, taking a deep dive into how the characters and their faces are excruciatingly hand-animated frame-by-frame, how SFX plays into the final product and how digital CG allows for a larger scope and scale of storytelling. We'll also talk about how the characters are designed and constructed, some of the core ideas and design philosophies that make Missing Link stand out, all to reach the film's goal of being "Laika's most vibrant, colorful, and ambitious film to date."

Missing Link Forest set at LAIKA Studios with production designer Nelson Lowrey
Missing Link Forest set at LAIKA Studios with production designer Nelson Lowrey

Stick around for our features on Laika Studios and Missing Link all week long right here on!

Missing Link Official Plot Synopsis

This April, meet Mr. Link: 8 feet tall, 630 lbs, and covered in fur, but don't let his appearance fool you... he is funny, sweet, and adorably literal, making him the world's most lovable legend at the heart of Missing Link, the globe-trotting family adventure from LAIKA. Tired of living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest, Mr. Link recruits fearless explorer Sir Lionel Frost to guide him on a journey to find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Along with adventurer Adelina Fortnight, our fearless trio of explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril as they travel to the far reaches of the world to help their new friend. Through it all, the three learn that sometimes you can find a family in the places you least expect.

Missing Link Mansion at LAIKA Studios
No black or white was allowed in the movie, but this is how they got around it in one scene.

Missing Link is written and directed by Chris Butler, produced by Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner, and stars Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Zach Galifianakis, Timothy Olyphant, David Walliams, Emma Thompson, Matt Lucas, Ching Valdes-Aran, Stephen Fry, and Amrita Acharia.

Next: Incredible Things We Saw & Learned at Laika Studios... (Tomorrow)

Key Release Dates
  • Missing Link (2019) release date: Apr 12, 2019
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