Nick Abadzis reveals origins of just-announced “Laika” animation project, due in 2021

Early concept artwork for Laika, directed by Asif Kapadia, working with Passion Pictures © Passion Pictures
Early concept artwork for Laika, directed by Asif Kapadia, working with Passion Pictures © Passion Pictures

As part of BFI London Film Festivals new immersive programme LFF Expanded, the LFF and StoryFutures Academy has announced an exciting new XR commission, Laika, based on the multi award-winning graphic novel by Nick Abadzis, directed by the Academy Award and BAFTA-winning Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy, Diego Maradona).

“I am absolutely over the moon that this in the works,” Nick tells downthetubes.

Adapted from his 2007 graphic novel of the same name, Laika is the iconic story of planet Earth’s first voyager into space, an unwanted and unloved stray who survived the streets of Moscow to become the most famous dog in the world.

At its heart, Laika is a tragic tale of love, deep humanity and a space race mission that heralded the age of information and technology we now live in.

The graphic novel has won numerous international awards, including and Eisner, the YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens, Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year and many more.

Through the medium of animated VR this story, co-written by Asif Kapadia and Nick Abadzis, will take viewers on Laika’s heartbreakingly beautiful journey, fully immersing the audience in Laika’s point of view, to see for themselves how a small dog played such a pivotal part in modern history.

A First Foray into XR Film Making

Laika is Asif Kapadia’s first foray into immersive and XR filmmaking, and is a collaboration with award-winning animation studio Passion Pictures (Doctor Who: The Runaway, The Lost Thing, Love, Death & Robots: Zima Blue).

Presented by the BFI London Film Festival and commissioned by StoryFutures Academy, the UK’s National Centre for Immersive Storytelling run by the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and Royal Holloway, University of London, with support from the BFI Film Fund (awarding National Lottery funding) and Film4. £30m is raised each week by National Lottery players for good causes throughout the UK.

Asif Kapadia will discuss Laika’s work in progress at the public unveiling of The Expanse, the bespoke virtual exhibition space created to house the LFF Expanded programme, on Thursday 8th October.

The film is due for final completion in 2021.

Director Asif Kapadia, who recently participated as a member of the jury for the Venice International Film Festival’s Venice XR Expanded programme, said: “I love the story of Laika because it is simple, extraordinary, unique and epic. From the moment I first read Nick Abadzis’ fantastic graphic novel, I’ve wanted to find a way to bring it to the screen and animated VR is the perfect medium to adapt his beautiful work.

“In my opinion, VR works best when it is rooted in something real and my ambition is for viewers to believe they are really there with Laika, on Earth, during training and finally in space. I hope this film encourages a wider audience, young and old, to experience a new form of cinema and technology through the telling of Laika’s momentous journey.”

Nick Abadzis. Photo © Steve Cook
Nick Abadzis. Photo © Steve Cook

Nick Abadzis on the Laika Project

British creator Nick Abadzis, who is based in and around New York City where he lives with his wife and daughter, has been creating books, magazines, comics and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty years. 

As both writer and artist, he’s been honoured with various international storytelling awards including an Eisner in 2008 for LaikaHe also works as an editorial consultant for publishing and a corporate scribe AKA graphic recorder – he has collaborated with clients such as EY, KPMG, Accenture, The Federal Reserve Bank, ESPN, Coca-Cola, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, General Electric, WOBI, Visa, TEDxTeen and many others.

He’s been published in the United States by Condé Nast, First Second, Marvel Comics, Titan Comics, DC Comics, in the UK by the BBC, various national newspapers including The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and many other periodicals too numerous to mention; elsewhere in Europe by the likes of Dargaud and Glénat, and in Japan by Kodansha.

He is also known to Doctor Who fandom as the writer of a great many tenth Doctor adventures (David Tennant) on an acclaimed run of stories for Titan Comics, several collections of which are available.

Laika by Nick Abadzis - Sample Art

“As far as looking at the Laika from a comics/graphic novel angle, the big news for me personally was, er, getting to work with Asif Kapadia!” Nick told downthetubes.

“We talked about doing something together, probably based on Laika, about five or six years ago,” he reveals, “and then the opportunity to do an animated VR film came up when Asif was approached by StoryFutures and the London Film School who initiated this entire project.

“He still wanted to do Laika, so he contacted me late last year and I began generating some early ‘wishful thinking’ storyboards which eventually led to us co-writing the script together. He’s been incredibly generous in how he’s involved me from the outset.

“We began writing the script together in earnest at the beginning of this year, and thanks to our co-producer Becky’s efforts we were lucky enough to get Passion Pictures onboard to do the animation.

“Then Covid hit, so all our plans to be in the same place at the same time had to be rethought. Almost all the preproduction for this project has been conducted long-distance, via Zoom!”

Director Asif Kapadia with director of photography Roman Osin and technologist Johnny Johnson in development on Laika in the StoryFutures Academy immersive lab © StoryFutures Academy
Director Asif Kapadia with director of photography Roman Osin and technologist Johnny Johnson in development on Laika in the StoryFutures Academy immersive lab © StoryFutures Academy

Team Work Key to Success

Asif is working with a multi-disciplinary team of collaborators from StoryFutures Academy, Passion Pictures and beyond, bringing together expertise from live action filming, animation and immersive content-making.

“As part of our XR programme LFF Expanded, the festival will be finding ways in the coming years to support artists who are innovating and experimenting with immersive storytelling,” says Tricia Tuttle, BFI London Film Festival Director.

”Through this partnership with StoryFutures Academy and the team at the NFTS, we have had the opportunity to work with Asif Kapadia, a filmmaker whose ambitious big screen film work consistently dazzles and impresses, as he starts Laika to work in a new form.

“We can’t wait to see where he goes with Laika and to share the project with audiences in the future. A thank you too, to the National Lottery players who continue to help us support projects like Laika.”

NFTS Director and Co-Director of StoryFutures Academy Jon Wardle said: “From the moment Asif came along to the StoryFutures Academy Lab we knew it would be brilliant to work with him. He was intrigued by virtual reality, but above all he was excited about Laika’s story and saw the potential that VR offers to bring it to life in a completely new way.

“It’s fantastic that StoryFutures Academy, working with the BFI London Film Festival can provide the opportunity for filmmakers like Asif to learn about new technology and test its boundaries so he can expand his incredible storytelling talents within this new medium.”

Laika is testament to the impact the investment in immersive technologies and storytelling made by the UK government is having,” adds James Bennett, Co-Director of StoryFutures Academy. “By bringing world-leading talent like Asif Kapadia to the emerging medium of virtual reality, StoryFutures Academy is helping creative leaders shift the dial in what is possible in this exciting new platform. Asif’s journey into VR is one of hundreds we’re enabling and we hope his project will inspire many more.”

BFI CEO Ben Roberts, BFI London Film Festival Director Tricia Tuttle and the BFI London Film Festival team, will unveil The Expanse, the bespoke virtual exhibition space housing LFF Expanded, to the public on Thursday 8th October at 7.30pm. The launch will include a  pre-recorded interview between Asif Kapadia and LFF XR & Immersive Programmer Ulrich Schrauth, discussing the new film commission and looking at how immersive technology is being harnessed to expand narrative storytelling.

LFF Expanded, the festival’s new dedicated strand of XR and immersive art, will be open throughout the BFI London Film Festival (7th to 18th October 2020) and the programme is accessible for free, to audiences both in the UK and internationally, to explore the virtual space through a range of entry points.

Laika is a Passion Pictures and Sheep Thief Films Production, in partnership with StoryFutures Academy. The project is being produced by Asif Kapadia, Jack Arbuthnott and Rebecca Gregory-Clarke and executive produced by Katie Grayson, Debbie Crosscup and Andrew Ruhemann for Passion Pictures.

Nick Abadzis is online at www.nickabadzis.com

BFI London Film Festival 2020

If you’d like to watch the stream of the Opening Ceremony for The Expanse you can sign up here

Laika is available from all good bookshops and online stores including AmazonUK (Affiliate Link, help support downthetubes, thank you)

Passion Pictures is online at www.passion-pictures.com

Nick was interviewed by Air & Space about Laika back in 2007 – you can read it here

Laika – 10th Anniversary Alternative Endings

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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