Normally I don’t get out much on Halloween, but this year was quite different. I showed up at the Hult Center at noon, nervously clinging to some fellow LCC students. Jan Halvorsen had been kind enough to recommend some students to meet Georgina Hayns in person. I admit, that I was nervous because I wasn’t savvy on LAIKA. But I was so excited to have this opportunity to meet such a talented professional.
But wait, hold on. What is LAIKA you ask? It’s a stop-motion animation studio that’s in our back yard- they’re based in Portland, Oregon. Movies like Coraline and ParaNorman are in their filmography.
Georgina is the lead puppet fabricator and a creative supervisor for LAIKA, making the original armatures of characters like Coraline, Norman, and the Judge just to name a few. When we were finally ushered into the backstage to Georgina’s room, imagine practically everyone’s surprise when a young man has a camera- this is being filmed?! Everyone was visibly stressed. Artists are usually the introverted types, so understandably the camera’s presence was received with a few bitter mutters. But when Georgina walked into the room, it wasn’t so bad.
See, Georgina is one of those people who you can just tell is genuinely nice. Even with all of her success, there’s not a trace og ego to be found. When she sat down she greeted us and began with pretty much her life story. This was my favorite part of the whole thing, Hayns is so relatable to me. She grew up in England and was into all kinds of art, sewing, painting, doll making, drawing, among other hobbies. By the time she needed to go to college she didn’t really know what she wanted to do because she loved it all. So she went through a general arts program and by the time she needed to transfer to another school she needed to make a decision fast. She suggested doll making since it included multiple aspects of the art she enjoyed. Her advisors openly scoffed at her over this.
“Dolls?” they had asked, “You’re too talented to make dolls for a living. Get serious.” But Georgina had been serious, and now she was flustered. So she went home and was determined to do what she wanted despite the nay-sayers. Then she had an idea: puppets.
“That’s a great idea!” her advisors determined with the not so different idea. They told her there were many forms of puppetry she could study. However, such a niche art form didn’t really have any programs dedicated towards it. This is were I really find Georgina’s story so relatable, because she really wants to do an art form that was (at the time) totally valid in industries, but new enough to have no programs dedicated towards it.
She looked around at schools and found a graduate with a wonderful final in puppetry and quickly enrolled into the university. But when she got there, she found that no programs were focused on puppetry. That one student had simply made the final on their own out of self interest. So now Georgina had to knuckle down and make things work for her personal pursuit.
She graduated and worked with studios who produced stop-motion commercials and British television shows like Bob the Builder. She even had the opportunity to travel to America and see the set for Tim Burton’s ‘Nightmare Before Christmas.’ Georgina said she remembered thinking how crazy would it have been to work with a man like Tim Burton someday. Oh, just you wait Georgina.
Her studio had helped a little with the making of Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks!’ But when the phone rang and it was none other than Tim asking for help on his next film, ‘The Corpse Bride’, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. So she came to America and after working with Burton, found the studio that would become LAIKA. After working on Coraline, she’s been with LAIKA ever since.
I love how Georgina pursued her dream art even though the going was unclear for most of her journey. It’s really inspiring to me and Georgina was so humble about her work and accomplishments. Through out the whole thing she even repeated that she’s just another person like the rest of us.
After her abridged life story, she told us about the painstaking about of time and effort that goes into making stop-motion films. Here are a few videos that showcase some of the work with a focus on the puppet side of things. (Georgina’s in the third video!)
She then talked about how LAIKA was the first studio to fully use 3D printing to animate. All of the faces were 3D printed which saved a lot of time and money. In fact LAIKA is so in on 3D printing that when the military gets new advances in their printers, they call up LAIKA and let them know. In return LAIKA really pushed the idea of 3D printers to the public and has no small role in the fact that 3D printers are so mainstream now. LAIKA has an entire warehouse room dedicated towards their thousands of character faces, and hired a librarian who simply keeps track of them all through meticulous cataloging.
After the speech part was mostly over she asked each guest what they wanted to do in art. Mostly animators where there, and she was kind enough to look at students’ portfolios and have some one-on-one time before the movie screening started. I thoroughly enjoyed ParaNorman and it was fun to see it on Halloween. After the whole thing was over Georgina even stayed to answer more questions in the hall. It was so personal and I could see how everyone around me (but also including me), were eating it up. She’s such a nice lady, I can’t stress that point enough.