Stop-motion magic

When it comes down to it, what Travis Knight, President and CEO of LAIKA, really just loves playing with puppets. 

Knight is the visionary behind the award-winning feature film animation studio located in Hillsboro, Oregon. LAIKA is one of the top animation companies in the world, and has produced the Academy Award nominated films including Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012) and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), and others.

"I don't want to put out little pop culture confections to the world. I want to tell stories that have some meaning. That's a big part of what this company is about," he said.

Knight, son of Nike founder Phil Knight, grew up watching classic stop-motion movies and TV shows such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the works of stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. The latter combined stop-motion with live action photography in movies such as Jason and the  Argonauts (1963) and One Million Years B.C. (1966). As a boy, Travis Knight loved to sketch and make things, and tried his hand at stop-motion, even through there were barely any books on how to do it.

"My story is the same as every other animator of my generation. We were just kids who loved the art form and went into our parents' basement or garage and figured out how to do it on our own," he said.

After college, Knight got a job as a production assistant at Portland's Will Vinton Studios, which made it big in the 1980s with its claymation California Raisins ad campaign. Knight worked there in the 1990s, when Will Vinton was making the TV show The PJs.

Vinton Studios suffered a devastating financial blow during the recent economic recession. Phil Knight was a majority shareholder in the company, and acquired it outright in 2002. He and Travis talked about how to salvage the company in a way that focused on its best qualities.

"It ultimately came down to people," the younger Knight said. "When we rebuilt the company, we wanted it to be about this community of artists."

Under Travis Knight’s leadership, LAIKA has garnered worldwide distinction for its melding of the age-old craft of stop-motion animation with the most cutting-edge cinematic advances and manufacturing techniques. Fast Company named LAIKA one of the world’s “Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Entertainment.”

This year, Knight is making his live action directing debut with Bumblebee, which Paramount will release on December 21, 2018.

For his remarkable achievements, Knight received the inaugural Simon Benson Award for Alumni Achievement from Portland State University, presented in 2012.