If you associate stop-motion animation primarily with Jack Skellington or the California Raisins, make room for new references.
There's a puppet boom underway in Portland, compounding the city's storied history in the stop-motion style, which owes largely to Will Vinton's pioneering Claymation work. (He's the guy responsible for the dancing raisins.) Three separate stop-motion films are in local production: two for Netflix via separate studios and a still-TBA project from Laika Studios.
The spate in stop-motion—a method that photographs ever so slightly adjusted models one frame at a time—may be an anomaly, but it's not a coincidence. Alex Bulkley, owner of the animation studio ShadowMachine and a producer on Guillermo del Toro's forthcoming Pinocchio remake, cites a "snowball effect" creating Portland's epicentral status.
Before ShadowMachine (BoJack Horseman, Tuca & Bertie) opened its Northwest Portland studio in 2015, Bulkley noticed animators routinely departing Los Angeles for Portland at the end of completed projects. Eventually, he thought, "Tap the source."
Across town in Milwaukie, a team directed by legendary animator Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) is working on Wendell & Wild, the tale of two demon brothers voiced and co-written by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key. The Netflix film marks Selick's first directorial effort since 2009's Coraline, also the debut film from Laika.
For its part, despite struggling through layoffs last August, the Hillsboro studio's filmography, including ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Missing Link, has yet to miss on award nominations and critical acclaim.
Beloved for its expressiveness and tactility, stop-motion animation will reach young audiences en masse via Netflix this year. For that reason, Bulkley says the medium is "bound to grow." He's also confident Portland will remain a global hub.
"From my high-altitude perspective," he says, "there's a lot more coming."
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