“Kubo” and Laika get lift from Portland’s North

For those of us nestled up in the Northwest corner of the US, we take a certain level of pride in Laika. The Oregon studio, acquired in 2002 (when it was Will Vinton Studios) by Nike founder Phil Knight, has rolled out stellar work including the acclaimed films Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Their latest effort with Focus Features, Kubo and the Two Strings, is the studio’s most ambitious project to date, incorporating an even more impressive, ambitious, cinematic world.

To further bring this new world to life, Portland-based indie North created a hand-drawn interactive map, inspired by movies and maps of the early 1900s, that invites fans to explore each stop on Kubo’s quest (we don’t want to give away too much, because the film is outstanding).

“As a Portland company that cares about craft and storytelling, we've always wanted to work with Laika,” said North president and chief creative officer Mark Ray. “Plus, we got to see the movie months earlier than anyone else.”

What makes this project so unique is that it brings in the familiarity of movie trailers but includes interactivity that lets one soar into the Vastlands world where Kubo’s story unfolds. By clicking on one of the nine locations, fans are treated to an impressive, experience — an entertaining and fun entree into Kubo’s world that allows for a level of familiarization of the story before stepping foot into the theater.

North, in a very smart first for the platform, used YouTube’s annotation feature to allow the viewer to have complete control. The technical side is clever, but the deep, detailed and hand-crafted maps are what really make this special. Artists drew a 3-foot by 3-foot paper map — and the illustrations took over 200 hours to convert into a 3D environment. Further, specific features were added to create depth and enhance the feel of the colorful landscape.

“Our biggest challenge was translating the epic scale of Kubo and the Two Strings to the smallest of screens, but that's where the fun was,” noted Ray. “We worked with Laika and Focus to develop the mythology and back-stories for the film. Then we took advantage of YouTube annotations to share that mythology with hand-drawn maps too massive to be contained in a single post.”

The interactive video is just one part of North’s contributions to the film. The agency manages the larger social campaign as well. In July a campaign featured the Moon Beast, one of the film’s villains, taking over the film’s Twitter account. Additionally, the film’s three main heroes were introduced through a character-grid mobile experience on Instagram — composed of nine posts, eight of which are unique videos of bite-size character info. Additional social activations are planned prior to the movie release, including a mythology written for Kubo’s backstory and the lessons and virtues of Kubo's Father's Samurai Code.

“This project let us combine two of our favorite things, hands-on craft and digital innovation—and in the process, we got to make some new fans for Laika's art,” said Ray.

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