The road that led Deborah Cook to Laika was full of twists and turns, but now, after a decade at the independent film studio, it’s hard to imagine her anywhere else.
Cook came to Laika, located in a quiet area just outside of Portland, Oregon, from England, where she studied fine art sculpture at Central Saint Martins and continued to work in the arts in various capacities after graduation. It was her varied and unique skill set that landed her a costume design job at Laika, where she’s worked on one Academy Award-nominated stop-motion film after another.
“It’s quite a unique situation I found myself in, isn’t it? Because of the level of detail of my work, it drew a lot of attention from the animation studios who wanted me to make small body armatures,” Cook told us during a recent tour of Laika.
“I really enjoyed it because suddenly I was making things that encompassed everything that I was interested in. Without really knowing it, I was sort of creating my own [career] pathway,” she added.
When Laika first opened its doors in 2005, the chances of getting its first film, “Coraline,” noticed by Hollywood seemed slim at best, but now the studio is a powerhouse in the stop-motion industry. Cook has also experienced great success since joining the team and is now widely considered one of the top stop-motion costume designers — a title she and Laika essentially created, she explained.
“Costume designers in animation are not a regular slot. This didn’t exist. We’ve kind of set a precedent with the company and what we do,” Cook said.
Cook’s first big title was Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride,” and afterward she went on to work on “Coraline,” followed by Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in London. She then returned to Laika for the studio’s 2012 production “ParaNorman” and has remained there ever since.
Cook’s most recent project for Laika is the action-adventure film “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which debuts Aug. 19. The story follows a one-eyed boy with magical powers on a courageous journey through mythical Japan. Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes and George Takei all lend their voices to the film's animated characters.
While her job is similar to a traditional costume designer, Cook said her work also comes with many unique challenges. Not only does she design the clothes, she also oversees the creation of bespoke fabrics, as well as the etching and laser cutting of those materials, in addition to a slew of other tiny details necessary to make her designs appear properly on screen.
“The scale is the biggest question. People who design for full-scale costume are working with people. We’re working with miniatures,” Cook told us.