Exclusive! Travis Knight: On Kubo And The Two Strings, Part 3

August 17, 2016
In the third part of an exclusive four-part series, we chat with director and Laika CEO, Travis Knight, about his gorgeous animated fantasy epic, Kubo And The Two Strings.

Do you aim to appeal to adults as well as children? “Yeah, we make films for families. We want to engage all members of the family. We want kids to be able to come see our movie and find something that they can engage with and enjoy, but at the same time, we don’t want the adults to be bored to tears. We want to have layers and complexity and depth to the film, so if an adult brings their kid to the movie, there’s something for the kid to enjoy but there’s also deeper, philosophical things or more complex themes at play that an adult can engage with too. That’s always what we do. Often times, people think ‘family film’, and in their head, they have a watered down, dumbed down version of an adult narrative. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to tell rich, complex stories, but we want them to be appropriate for kids as well as adults.”

Coraline was said to be more adult in tone than something for children… “I don’t think so. But you’re talking to a guy who saw The Exorcist when he was five. It just depends. When Coraline came out, my daughter was five, and at some point, it was too much for her. She couldn’t sit all the way through it. But it just depends on your kid. Everyone needs to know their kid. Some kids saw Coraline when they were four-years-old, and they were just fine with it. Those are kids with steel in their spine! For other kids, like a ten-year-old, it might not be appropriate. We all need to know our children and what their threshold is for the kinds of stories that they can see. The broader point is that we want to have films that are an artful blend of darkness and light, of intensity and warmth, of humour and heart, that run the full gamut of human emotion and experience, but in a safe environment. I don’t want a middling experience. The best experiences that I have as a filmgoer are when I can take my kids, and it’s a film that is about something and that explores interesting ideas and has a big dynamic range to it. I know that’s a successful experience because when we’re on our way home and we’re talking about it, they’re asking questions, and we’re engaged. Those are the best filmgoing experiences for me. When we find those moments of connection and we can talk about something that we’ve experienced together and it enriches the bond between us. Those are the kind of experiences that we’re trying to make here.”

Travis Knight on the set of Kubo And The Two Strings

Travis Knight on the set of Kubo And The Two Strings

You have some very impressive voice talent in this. Charlize and Matthew, in particular. Were they drawn to it because they have their own young families? “I can imagine that that’s part of it. Who knows why anyone responds to any particular thing? We have been blessed by the calibre of talent that have been drawn to this film. We have five Oscar nominated, if not Oscar winning, actors in a film. That’s astounding, particularly for a little ramshackle outfit in the pacific northwest. It’s incredible that we were able to attach that level of talent to our movie. It speaks to the quality of the film. They could have their choice of any script that they want to do, and the fact that they gravitated to our story just speaks to a number of different things about the quality of the movie, which I’m incredibly proud of. They give beautiful performances within the film. But yes, as an artist, you make things that you want your children to appreciate as well. We don’t always do things specifically for our kids, but I can imagine that Charlize and Matthew would like to do work that their children can see, experience, and enjoy as well. I’m sure that’s part of the rationale behind it.”

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What does Laika stand for? Why did you choose this name? “When we started, we were a small group of artists trying to figure out what it is that we stand for. One of our artists threw out the idea of Laika, and pretty much immediately, once you understand the story of Laika, it felt like it was a perfect encapsulation of who we are and what our aspirations are. Laika was the first canine cosmonaut. She was the first dog in space, but she was just a mutt on the streets of Moscow. They found her, and they sent her up in space. We thought that was beautiful – this mutt of humble origins that touched the stars. At the time, we were just getting started, and we were this ramshackle group of weird artists who had grand ambition. We loved the idea that you could make that leap, and that evoked what we were going for. Of course, Laika had a horrible ending, and things did not go well for that poor pooch, so we hope that we don’t have that same fate! But there was something beautiful about that idea that we responded to, and we felt that it spoke to our aspirations.”

A scene from Kubo And The Two Strings

A scene from Kubo And The Two Strings

Can you talk a little bit more about the visual influences behind this movie? “There are a handful of things that are fairly easy to see, in terms of the visual influences of the film. Obviously Kurosawa, Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon…those are fairly readily apparent. You can see little pieces of that in the aesthetic of the film. The key visual influence on the movie was a Japanese graphic artist named Kiyoshi Saito, who was a woodblock print maker in the 20th century. He was a really interesting cat in that he comes from a tradition of woodblock print making that goes back hundreds of years to guys like Hokusai and Hiroshige, but he did something with it. He had that tradition, and that history, but he wanted to innovate and evolve the medium. He was also heavily influenced by western painters like Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse. So, in that one human, in that one body, you had a fusion of old and new and East and West all kind of swirling around in this big brain. Then out of the other side, he creates something entirely new and completely different that wouldn’t be expected from all these different, disparate sources and influences and obsessions. This one guy created this entirely new thing. It felt like a perfect touchstone for us because that’s what we try to do here. My hope is that when people see this film, people that are invested in it will want to dig deeper and find out what inspired us, and what influenced us. We’d love for more people to discover and explore the work of an artist like Kiyoshi Saito. That would be a wonderful thing.”

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Kubo And The Two Strings is in cinemas from August 18. Check back tomorrow for the fourth and final part of FilmInk’s exclusive interview with Travis Knight. Click through for the first and second parts of our interview with Travis Knight. To win one of fifty double passes to Kubo And The Two Strings, just enter our Best Animated Film Of All Time poll, by clicking here.

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