Cardboard, Tape and Stop Motion—A look inside the world of LAIKA Designer, Nelson Lowry

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to go behind the scenes of stop motion, you know the pain and the pleasure that comes from creating at the most minute level. There is a special breed of folks who do it day in and day out. You can call it a compulsive obsession, but there’s no denying the magic that takes place when creating mini worlds with your intuition, hands, and craft. Portlanders are lucky to have a few places that specializes in this art form, and they do a damn good job of it. We are really happy to have LAIKA not only as our next sketchXchange guest, but also as a contributor to WeMake Celebrates, Put A Bird In It.

If going behind the scenes at LAIKA wasn’t enough, getting to know designer, Nelson Lowry through his personal work and his professional insight will inspire you on another level. We like that, and he’s one hell of an added bonus to this special Design Week Portland sXc.

Please join us for a night of inspiration and fun with Nelson and LAIKA. This is your chance to see some of LAIKA’s puppets up close and walk away with a special LAIKA sketchbook. Plus, you could win a LAIKA giveaway prize including a tour with 10 of your best friends!

Date of the event: Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Time: 5:30 – 7:00pm

Check-in begins at 4:30 pm. Doors close at 5:15pm.

Place: Sandbox Studio, 420 NE 9th Avenue PDX 97232

Cost: $10

Registration is open now!

As always, space is limited. Be sure to register early!

RSVP at Eventbrite

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YPE 

Beyond working with LAIKA, what do you do personally as a creative?

NL

I’m an obsessive maker. I have a little studio outside of where I live. I’m in service to so many directors while at work, that when I’m not working I like to have my own time with no rules.

I do all kinds of forms of art. One is just building. Mostly with cardboard and sometimes found objects—like plastic things I find in the street.  I’ll  build whole characters around things like a hair barrette…I wash them first though!

The other thing I do is assemble colored paper and tape into impressionist-style landscape paintings. I create them in a fairly unique way using lots of masking tape, paper, and cardboard. They’re really inspired by nature—I love to try and organize the patterns I see within it.

YPE 

Do you take photographs of what you are trying to paint?

NL

No, I do it in field. I have a kit to bring outside.

YPE

What’s in your kit? 

NL

Masking tape, blue tape, black tape, cardboard, and a bit of these watercolor crayons. Nothing that I can get too controlled with. 

YPE

What are you doing with your paintings and characters?

NL

I don’t really show the paintings. I give them away…send them as mail art to friends around the world. I keep some of them. I hope to incorporate the robots and characters I make into a film someday. 

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YPE 

Can you describe your characters?

NL

They are mostly made from cardboard, like 80-90% of cardboard. I’m obsessed with cardboard. The characters are very fantasy oriented, very playful and colorful, very silly. They’re kind of Sci-fi...or my own version of it. They look like monsters and robots with cardboard joints and movable, posable parts. I use clay and Elmer’s glue and I spray layers, like 100 layers, then sand, color and polish them. They look ceramic, but they’re just cardboard. 

YPE

Where does your inspiration come from when creating your characters and paintings?

NL

Mostly from growing up in a family of people who build stuff.  I had a workshop when I was a kid. I got used to making things. I love the way things come together and assemble. When I got a model kit as a kid, I would never build the kit, instead I would re-arrange it in different ways.

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With my characters, I don’t start with drawings. I just start building. I do a similar thing with my landscape images, they are very constructive. Instead of sketching something first, I’ll just start tearing paper and sticking it down, then use tape to start putting it together. 

It’s fairly obsessive compulsive. I kind of need to do it. It feels good, it’s like itching a scratch. 

YPE

You went to art school. How did you land in stop motion and film?

NL

I was a painting major. After school I moved to New York City and went into shops and swept floors. I learned how to make molds and started making things for television and commercials, then I went into theatre. 

YPE

Theater? Like set design?

NL

Set design and character building with special effects, and mechanical costume effects. I worked on the Lion King and then I came to Portland to continue working on it. That’s when I discovered Vinton.

I started out doing a couple of little jobs, then began working on the PJ’s. That was kind of my first stop motion project. After that I moved to London and worked on Corpse Bride and stayed there for seven years doing visual effects, some live action and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I came back to Portland to do ParaNormanand have been here ever since.

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YPE

As far as the work you do with LAIKA, I remember you saying that you had a lot of creative freedom with ParaNorman. Were you happy with the outcome? Did you learn anything from it?

NL

It was great.  Before ParaNorman I got to cut my teeth on other projects and work with people that had really clear visions. I don’t think I could have ever done something like it having not worked with with them. It’s so terrifying to have someone say, “Now you invent the world.”

Even though it was scary I knew a lot of the mechanical processes. I knew how to organize it.  I learned to trust myself. That’s what I noticed these other directors were doing. They didn’t question their designs, they had a belief. They went with their gut. So I used their method and I think it did OK, it was a good model. Now I’m doing a new film and I get to improve on what I did for ParaNorman.

YPE

Are you still working on other people’s stuff now that you’ve had the opportunity to production design a project on your own and have another one on the way?

NL

Never will I be that way. I will do a candy bar commercial. I will paint someones house! If I get a chance to work with someone I can learn from, with a creative vision, I am happy to do that.

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YPE 

What was your most inspiring project? Something that stands out and may have propelled you to where you are now?

NL

Working with Wes Anderson on The Fantastic Mr. Fox, watching him work and learning about his creative process—it rubbing off on me was invaluable. I feel inoculated for life with his creativity. Try to stop him.

YPE

Do you keep a sketchbook?

NL

Yeah, I have lots of sketchbooks that have one drawing in them. During the day I have notebooks for every project that I’m on which I’m always scribbling in. I don’t keep one in my bag, but I have lots of little sketches and drawings. 

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YPE

For your commercial work, do you work from a set of sketches that the director or illustrator creates or do you just start with a creative brief and insert your own interpretations?

NL

Both, we ad-lib or I sketch first. 

YPE

What are your digital tools of the trade? Photoshop? Maya?

NL

Mostly it’s just hands-on making. Working in stop frame you get to make proof of concept models. I cut stuff on foam core and paint it. It’s a proof of concept to see how it will look on camera. I also rely on really skilled people with a lot of experience. 

YPE

What about the 3D printers? They are a huge part of your work aren’t they?

NL

Yes, in everything. But the maker still has to make it. The printer does nothing but print what you make. It’s the people who run those printers who are invaluable. They have to be amazing modelers and build the stuff in Maya. They have to think really linear to make sure that when the stuff comes out of the machine it has a lot of spirit in it.  

YPE

Anything you can say to someone who is trying to do what you do?

NL

I’m kind of old fashion in that regard. You have to do a lot of hard work. I learned the business by sweeping floors and watching other people do their work—doing the grunt work, the grinding and sanding. I went through the trenches and I think I appreciate stuff more. I’m more willing to learn. You have to really want it.

Winner of the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Production Design for his work on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Nelson Lowry’s lengthy credits include ParaNorman, Corpse Bride, the Christmas comedy Fred Claus and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.

He contributed to twenty-two episodes of The PJs, an Eddie Murphy Imagine Entertainment/Touchstone Pictures stop motion animated TV series for which he won an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation. He has also been nominated for several Annie Awards.

Please join us for a night of inspiration and fun with Nelson and LAIKA. This is your chance to see some of LAIKA’s puppets up close and walk away with a special LAIKA sketchbook. Plus, you have a chance to win a LAIKA giveaway including a tour with 10 of your best friends!

Date of the event: Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Time: 5:30 – 7:00pm

Check-in begins at 4:30 pm. Doors close at 5:15pm.

Place: Sandbox Studio, 420 NE 9th Avenue PDX 97232

Cost: $10

Registration is open now!

As always, space is limited. Be sure to register early!

RSVP at Eventbrite

Here’s a sneak peek at one of the houses LAIKA is working on for WeMake Celebrates, Put A Bird In It.

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