Animating Life


For my professional practice assignment I took a drive up to the big city and attended Portland Art Museum’s Animating Life: The Art, Science, and wonder of LAIKA.  The exhibit was nothing short of incredible.  As I walked into the front foyer of the exhibition the lights were low and the walls were black.  A towering 18-foot model skeleton from Kubo and the Two Strings stares down, arms outstretched like it’s ready to grab you.


After getting over the sheer amazement of the size and detail of this huge skeleton I walked into the main exhibit.  It’s hard to describe how wonderful it was.  There was a zoetrope – a circular viewing box to show how motion in animation is achieved by adding photos on top of each other with slightly different body positions and spinning it – particularly Coraline running.  Every which way I looked was something equally impressive in creativity, skill, and patience.  At this point I realized there was a small theatre room where a documentary about the animation studio Laika was showing.  I decided to go sit and watch the film before diving into the rest of the exhibit.  I’m glad I did this because it was a perfect introduction into the massive endeavor each of these productions are.  There were interviews with the CEO of Laika, the puppet designers, animators, costume designers, and more all speaking of the prospective jobs and the teams it takes to makes each story come to life.

Then it was time.  I walked into the exhibit and the first thing to catch my eye was the huge set of Coraline’s Garden in the center of the room.  It was probably 15 feet by 10 feet and just beautiful, with bright blues and pinks and oranges, flowering trees and cobblestone paths. There were tiny lights in flowers and pumpkins and in the tops of the trees.  I would have been embarrassed if someone were watching me because I’m sure my mouth was agape the entire time.  I mean, just look at this:



Well, I have covered the large, yet still very detailed sets and models, so now I should talk about the tiny, crazy detail that is in the props, puppets, and costumes as well.

Hanging in shadowbox frames were these such things.  A tiny teddy bear, hammers, shoes.  Itty-bitty keys and wrenches, all the little knick-knacks from the movie The Boxtrolls… 


and each tiny, little costume from Coraline as well…


I took so many photos of this exhibit, I wish I could share them all without overwhelming one blogpost.  Something I really liked about it, is how it showed certain aspects of this art, step-by-step.  From the making of the character models mechanisms to the pouring of the rubber for its body.  How each facial expression is actually a separate mold which is interchanged throughout the picture-taking process to create fluid movement in the face.  Also, interactive models show how the illusion of water is made:  with hand cranked pulleys and paper painted like waves and boxes with motors moving wires around underneath a blue sheet.  This is an incredible process involving artist and engineer alike.

I really think Animating Life: The Art, Science, and wonder of LAIKA helped solidify my interests in animation, but it has also humbled me.  I realized to go into this industry I better start practicing the art of patience.



9 thoughts on “Animating Life

  1. Patty Kraskoff

    What a great exhibit! I have seen both Coraline and The Boxtrolls and didn’t realize that either film wasn’t fully digital. What an amazing art! It’s absolutely fascinating. Your article was really polished and well done.

  2. Hailey Cowlthorp

    As a Portland nave, I am a HUGE fan of this Exhibit!!! I am so happy that you were able to experience this show, and kudos to you for making the trip! I love the movie “Coraline,” I thought it was so cool seeing pieces from the movie in real life!! Great post!

  3. Andrew Johnson

    This is literally one of the coolest art exhibits I have ever been to! As another student interested in animation I am really happy that you were able to make it up to Portland to see this! Here’s to working somewhere like LAIKA one day!

  4. Tyler Ferber

    This is awesome! I didn’t know this was even a thing, Im very interested in checking out now.

  5. Christopher Mitchell

    My gosh. After seeing this post, I wish I could have hitched a ride with you to check this out. That room with the entire set is incredible. Such detail and precision is taken for every little object. I would love to see the rest of the pics from that exhibit.

  6. Alex Garcia

    The amount of times that I’ve been to Portland and I still don’t know about this is crazy. This exhibit looks like so much fun. Now that I know about it I might have to check it out the next time I go. Awesome stuff.

  7. Kacey Baker

    Just repeating what’s already been said, but this looks like it was a fantastic adventure. I’ve never heard of this place before, and it’s cool to see art like this out in the world. No doubt Portland is the weird spirit we all know it to be! This was a great read.


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