Travel consideration provided by United Artists Releasing.
LAIKA films are always ambitious – but the studio’s upcoming fifth release, Missing Link, upped the ante even further. The film, which follows the journey of a lone Sasquatch trekking the globe with a pair of adventurers, has been aptly described as taking viewers “Around the world in 94 minutes“. From London to the Himalayas to right here in the Pacific Northwest, bringing the vast world of Missing Link to life required the creation of more than 110 sets and 65 unique locations, as well as 106,000 different puppet faces that were made with cutting-edge new 3D printer technology.
Stop-motion is an incredibly time intensive process that spans years, requiring a lot of imagination on both the part of the animators and the voice cast. Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with the film’s writer and director, Chris Butler, as well as actors Zoe Saldana and Zach Galifianakis, who lent their voices to the film. I asked the trio what the process of building these characters was like, and how it feels to finally see them come to life after years of work.
“Well, I suppose it starts with me,” said Butler, who also served as character designer and storyboard artist for Missing Link. “Maybe 15 years ago, maybe longer, I start with an idea – I doodle in my sketchbook, writing little notes down. And over the years, I keep coming in and out of different ideas. And this one really started with a drawing that I did of Mr. Link, which has been described as a hairy avocado, with legs. And there was something about that drawing that I just kept coming back to, and people kept saying, ‘That is a very charming thing.’
And that really ended up becoming Mr. Link in this movie. When I’m writing I’ve got this little movie playing in my head. So I have an idea of what I think the movie’s gonna be, but then I give these script pages to these guys and they come in and they turn it into something else. Suddenly, what I had on the page or in my head is something living and breathing and has its own identity that these guys bring to it.”
“I’ve always wanted to play a hairy avocado,” deadpanned Galifianakis. “Or I’ve been told I look like a hairy avocado. I wish it was hairy bravado. To me, and I keep saying it, the real characterization is the animation that happens from the voice. The genius of this stuff is to watch what they’ve done with your voice, and how the animators, the way they do the face with the voice is just – it is really amazing hand-eye coordination. The magic to me is, oh my god, they actually make me interesting. That was the selling point for me, looking at the LAIKA films that they had done before.”
For Saldana, the stop-motion process required a lot of patience. “You’re making peace with the fact that you’re gonna have to wait four years,” she said. “[That] is a little bit of a canker sore for me. But I love stop-motion, there’s something that is just aesthetically pleasing. And when you hear that it’s time consuming, that means that only people that are a part of this world make the choice to be here. So that means that there’s a level of commitment and passion and devotion and artistry that is invested in this form of art that LAIKA just refuses to let die. So, that is what attracted me in the first place to want to do it. I think I’m used to being a part of projects that take forever to make. And it’s always like leaps of faith. But Chris Butler was very convincing and he was wonderful. And when he showed me all the reference pictures and I was able to see Adelina, I fell in love with the whole story of it. And then he said that Zach and Hugh were already signed on, I said, ‘Okay, absolutely, yes, I’m gonna do it.’”
While Missing Link is a colorful, comedic romp around the world, the heart of the story revolves around creating your own identity and finding your true community. But although representation is important to Saldana, who founded the inclusive media platform BESE last year, it didn’t inform her decision to take the role of Adelina, as the actress has developed a strict rule of only accepting roles that speak to her artistically.
“There are so many layers to who I am as a person and being an activist is a very minor, minor aspect of who I am in addition to everything else,” Saldana told me. “And I don’t really decide the roles that I’m gonna play according to my beliefs or the direction that I want to take when it comes to a social conversation. At the end of the day, I have to [have] my own sovereignty as an artist. That means that I can’t be bound by a view, I can’t be bound by a color, I can’t be bound by a gender, or an age. If I read something and I keep flipping, [I’ll think] ‘This is great – oh, I finished it. Yes, I want it,’ you know? I’m very childish in the way I approach my art. If I keep falling asleep, or I can’t be bothered, or it’s not there on the page — I keep getting more and more disciplined as years go by in just being super strict, that if it’s not there, it’s not gonna be there. It’s like your mom taught you, don’t believe boys that lie. So why am I believing boys that lie in Hollywood? When they go, ‘We’re gonna make this role better,’ and you’re like, ‘Papi, it’s not here.’”
#MissingLink hits theaters everywhere April 12. Get your tickets now! bit.ly/MissingLinkTix