How Oscar-Nominated ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ Created Tiny Waraji Sandals

Every piece of wardrobe was custom designed in “Kubo and the Two Strings,” the stop-motion fantasy film that scored Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Visual Effects at the 89th Academy Awards.

The 3-D movie features the voices of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei and Matthew McConaughey behind the human and animal characters.

kubo movie costumes oscars
From FIDM Museum’s 25th annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition in Los Angeles, open to the public through April 22.
CREDIT: Courtesy of FIDM/Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

For the ancient-Japan set movie, costume designer Deborah Cook shared with Footwear News that she had to look to contemporary and historic sources for design techniques that she had to adjust at a much smaller scale for use on puppets — not people.

“We definitely have to take a different approach — we don’t rely on bought fabrics,” Cook shared with earlier this month at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum’s 25th annual “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” exhibition in Los Angeles (free and open to the public, running through April 22). “We build everything and make it integral to the costume. I looked at origami and Issey Miyake to see how folded language works in this form.”

kubo movie costumes oscars
From FIDM Museum’s 25th annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition in Los Angeles, open to the public through April 22.
CREDIT: Courtesy of FIDM/Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

Some of the pleating in the wardrobe is inspired by Miyake’s work, and to create waraji sandals, as seen on the puppets, she researched Japanese basketry techniques “to see what materials they used, how they manipulated them and bind them, and then did an interpretation of them with materials that work in our scale,” Cook said.

The traditional sandals of feudal Japan were made from woven straw — worn by commoners and samurai. But small-scale straw handled by animators wasn’t practical, so Cook created the illusion of straw through other materials. “It’s like a flat thread woven to look like straw but it’s durable so that it doesn’t fracture,” she explained.

Similarly, Cook used nontraditional materials to create 15th-century-inspired tabi socks for the puppets. “The socks are a fabric that’s impregnated with silicone,” she explained. “So you don’t have the bulk of a stitch.”

Cook designed the costumes as flats, and then built them over the figures. “These costumes are handled so much by animators and they get a lot of wear and age fast,” she said, “so we paint them to so that even the really old ones look the same as the new ones across the whole film.”

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