'Missing Link' Team Reflects on Years-Long Process Behind Stop-Motion Film

Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis and Zoe Saldana attend the Missing Link New York Premiere  - Getty-H 2019
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Stars Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana and Zach Galifianakis attended the premiere of Laika's latest movie, which has a much lighter tone than the studio's previous works like 'Coraline.'

For writer-director Chris Butler and the producers of Missing Link, the New York City premiere of Laika's fifth stop-motion animated film served as quite the pay-off for years of meticulous work.

"It is a long, long, slow process," Butler told The Hollywood Reporter about stop-motion on Sunday. "This one took about five years. Even before that, I was working on the script years before. The shooting itself takes about two years. So it’s long, it’s slow, but we all love it."

According to Arianne Sutner, one of the film's producers and Laika's head of production, the Missing Link team would often only end up with a single second of animation per week.

"I love a challenge. I love every movie that we’ve done and I’ve been here for all of them," she said. "One is more challenging than the next, and sometimes you think you’re not sure what you’re going to do. But I’ve been working with an incredible crew, so it’s fun to figure out things that we think we’ll never be able to bring to the screen, together."

Missing Link comes more than a decade after Laika's first feature, Coraline. The studio's other films have taken on Coraline's same kind of dark storytelling, but Missing Link — which follows investigator Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), Sasquatch Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) and adventurer Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) as they set out to find Frost's long-lost relatives — is much more lighthearted.

"We intentionally want to do one movie that’s different than the next," Sutner told THR. "This one definitely has a brighter, lighter vibe and color palette. It was kind of refreshing."

She added, "It’s pretty fun to start something that looks entirely different in terms of your design choices. I don’t know if the practice of making it was commensurate with the light feeling of it, but it’s just really fun and refreshing to try something visually that’s really different."

The film's composer, Carter Burwell, also took on a different process than he's used to.

"Generally I work on mostly live-action films. I wait until there’s an edit of a film, they give it to me, and I start thinking about what’s appropriate and start working on it. But in this case, it’s different because it takes so many years to make a film with this process, that I would get, like, a scene or just a bit of a character; things like that. And I had to begin when they were really just pencil drawings," Burwell said. "But the cool thing is I got to watch the film develop over the course of years. A new cut would come in, and I’d say, ‘Wow, I had no idea the background was going to be like that.’ It was pretty interesting."

Many of the actors voicing characters in Missing Link were able to observe the film's transformation, too. Timothy Olyphant compared the Portland-located studio to "Santa's workshop."

"Animated movies don’t do what a lot of live-action movies with big, giant budgets do," he told THR. "They haven’t even really figured them out and they’ve already started making them. These movies really have to go through this process."

Olyphant continued, "I think it’s no accident that there’s so many great, great classic animated movies. I think the process sort of forces it."

Saldana not only praised Missing Link's animation, but urged audiences to support Laika, because it should "live forever."

"Stop-motion is an amazing form of animation that appeals to all audiences," she said, adding that she was "repurposed" and "re-inspired" after meeting the film's animators.