Travis and Phil Knight Travis and Phil Knight
Ideas/CommentaryStop Motion

Laika President Travis Knight Thinks Stop Motion Is A “Completely Awful Process”

In this LA Times story about the resurgence of stop motion animated features, Travis Knight, the producer of Laika’s ParaNorman and one of its lead animators, had this to say:

“Stop-motion is probably the worst, most painful way to make a film. It’s a completely awful process to engage in, an anachronism.”

The one thing stop motion has working in its favor? It’s not computer animation. Knight, who is also the president and CEO of Laika, added:

“But the stories have a warmth and a charm. You’re not looking at ones and zeros. You’re looking at the hands of the artists who made it.”

Photo of Travis Knight, with his father, Nike chairman and Laika owner Phil Knight. (Quote via Kirsten Lepore)

  • Well, he’s right. But it’s also a wonderful and exhilarating process at the same time

  • Great

    Holy sensationalist title Batman, yeah maybe he was a little facetious, but come on…
    He also said this before:

    “We want to push on the edges of the form. We want to tell creatively richer, more emotionally resonant stories in this medium. You could have a western, a romance, a musical, a sci fi epic”


    “a process that required 250 puppets, dozens of CGI backgrounds and an ornate, 770-pound plywood pirate ship”

    “Stop-motion is a notoriously arduous process that requires animators to manipulate a puppet’s movement frame-by-frame — a typical pace for the 33 animators on “The Pirates!” was to shoot only six seconds of footage a week. But the result can be a tantalizingly tangible image, a messy, lifelike contrast to the shiny perfection of CGI”


  • Jay

    Well I think Travis is correct — stop motion is undoubtedly one of the more ambitious mediums to tackle. The focus of a stop motion animator is just as much physical as it is mental, production workflow is more meticulous because assets are built and utilized in real space, and there are no auto in-between functions or Ctrl+Z!! For those reasons, yes stop motion can be cruel, awful, and down right frustrating, but on the other hand (like Travis also noted) there exists a rewarding charm in the world of stop motion art that is difficult to be emulated elsewhere and that is why people will continue to embrace the medium.

  • He sounds a little bitter. He seems to enjoy talking more so of the struggles and challenges of stop-motion rather then the benefits and rewards it brings.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Seems that way to me too.

      • Rajesh

        Seems like he focused on both – the struggle and the rewards. But that actually requires reading what he said. To which I say kudos.

        Anyone who doesn’t admit how insane and frustrating it is to work in animation has never worked in animation, stop motion or otherwise.

  • Dan Kyder

    Haha, well I’m glad they like a challenge then!

    P.S. – Give us a “making of” feature on the DVD. The struggle of these films is an art that NEEDS to be seen from beyond the forth wall

  • J

    Real talk. I’m always glad to hear artists talk about their work honestly like this. If anything it makes you appreciate the results even more.

    • Talks Too Much

      All animators & fiercely hard working artists are Masochists, but we love it.

  • His Dad looks like a cross between Ron Pearlman and Jerry Stiller

    • wever

      I’m getting “Pawn Star” vibes.

  • wever

    This guy’s either completely realistic or completely naive to what readers would think of him!

  • Hank

    He BETTER focus on better stories, ’cause the only ones who care about the “art” of these things are animation folks. No one pays $10.00 to see a puppet cartoon, especially one for kids. They pay to see a good movie.

  • Um, don’t forget that Travis is a Stop Motion animator himself, and a really good one, at that. He’s not JUST an executive.

    • justin rasch

      Not only is he an Animator- He is an INCREDIBLE!!!!! Animator…..

      this guy has Unbelieveable skill that would Floor the most jaded animators in the world….HUGE respect for this guy and his Love-passion for the craft.

      He is putting EVERYTHING into making these films as well as representing on the animation floor with the Guys…

      Jaw on the floor Skills.

  • Gumby Harryhausen stop motion is cool.
    Now, the cumbersome method seems kind of pointless.
    Anyway, it’s so digitally augmented these days, it doesn’t matter.
    Love them armatures, though.

    • You should have turned your comment into rhyme:

      Gumby Harryhausen found stop motion to be cumbersome,
      so he bought a computer, to make things cuter.
      And now the process is fun-bersome!

      (I know its horrible, and not accurate… but my creative juices were flowing and I couldn’t resist. And I like to pretend that Gumby Harryhausen is a real person.)

  • pizzaforeveryone

    i think i remember hearing ed catmull say something similar about cg–basically it’s really hard and tedious and you’d have to be crazy to want to do it and crazier to try and make money off of it. pretty awesome to hear honest quotes.

  • He’s right. But I’m in awe of the artists that pull it off to that degree.

  • I think if Amid ever played good cop on a post I’d have a coronary embolism and expire from shock.

    That said, I have no problem with someone being a realist about their job; this fellow is clearly saying “my job is very hard and frustrating but I love it anyway”.

  • Daniel

    “You’re not looking at ones and zeros. You’re looking at the hands of the artists who made it.”

    real truth.. There are real artist on stop motion features, and it shows with the products.. the problem with CG is that it’s done by technicians who think in ones and zeros.. and NOT the fact it’s made through the computer..

    • Jason

      Wow bitter much? CG is not done by people who do ones and zeroes, you goofball. It’s done by artists as well despite what you want to think. Not to mention Laika does it’s facial and planning in CG as well as a ton of composting in CG so I don’t want to hear it.

      LAIKA does amazing stuff!

      • Daniel

        .. the difference is that at Laika they respect sculptors like Kent Milton instead of fearing them..

        in the cg animation industry, the responsibility of the craftsmanship of the artistry is on the shoulders of the modelers, since the animators/lighters/riggers can only do so much with sloppy geometry..

        and for some time now, 90% of the modelers in the industry think in ones and twos.. and usually have to be hand held through the production to reach the quality of art direction which the director wants.. just compare the sculpts for coraline to a typical CG feature production.. at Laika there is always a sense of progression from the original line drawings to the actual model… but it’s always a disappointment in CG…

        and so it’s hard to blame the artistic quality of the film on animators, lighters, and riggers.. when they are given a puppets that looks sloppy and unappealing.. or sets that are uninspiring..

        I would love to be proven wrong.. but it’s hard to imagine someone with a spark of artistic talent go in to CG modeling rather then being a actual designer/storyartist/sculptor/painter…

    • [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, “Be considerate and respectful of others in the discussion. Defamatory, rude, or unnecessarily antagonistic comments will be deleted.”]

    • The_Animator

      “the problem with CG is that it’s done by technicians who think in ones and zeros.. and NOT the fact it’s made through the computer..”

      Yeah… in the 1980s maybe.

  • KitKat

    Yeah, you guys are being really cynical about CG animation. Like it or not, those computer generated puppets are animated click-by-click by animators as passionate about their art as you or I. They express themselves though their character’s acting just as a traditional animator acts through his drawings or stop motion puppet. The method in which those characters are rendered should not detract from the fact that someone is putting their heart, soul, and talent, not to mention mountains of creative thought, into bringing that character to life.

    • Daniel

      I can’t judge how much someone puts their heart and soul into something, but I can judge that those who sculpt those computer generated puppets need to look at those who sculpt for stop motion puppets.. *ahem* Kent Milton.. and how they approach sculpture and caricature.. the approach most modelers take isn’t typically a artistic one..

      CG is the artform of digital sculpture, and on a sculptural aspect, we really need to get better then where we are now.. and mountains of creative thought doesn’t mean anything when our modelers are so far behind sculptors like Kent Milton..

  • Larry

    Yeah, what’s the story here, Amid? Travis is proud of the work they do?

    Travis is not only the head of Laika, he also spends over half his day animating along with all the other artists. And it’s pretty much agreed upon that he’s crazy talented as an animator. Could you imagine Katzenberg sitting at a computer for 6 hours every day animating Shrek or Kung Fu Panda? I think it’s awesome that Laika is run by “one of their own” and that he speaks his mind.

    • Jason

      Travis may be an egotistical talented jerk but I’m really glad he is. Otherwise how would he create such controversial awesome works?

      • Cy Sperling

        Travis Knight is neither egotistical nor a jerk. I have worked with him for 13 years and he is a total pro, humble, smart and a pleasure to work with. I have known him sine he was a fledgling animator through his ascension to CEO and he has never once come across as anything but an extremely nice and collaborative talent.

      • Tommy

        Ascension? He was handed the job when his daddy bought the company. Just sayin!

  • Brian O.

    Amid stirring the pot again with a sensationalistic headline sure to get some clicks. Nice pic of Phil, too, so you don’t miss out seeing a “one percenter” in an Amid post.

  • You know, that’s what almost all hand-drawn animators are thinking about while they’re at work.

    It’s a very painful process, but it’ll look great in the end result.

  • Rezz

    Wait a minute…..let me get this right. We have a producer that actually works on creating the content of the film?

    Can we have more of this vs “creative producers” with a business degree?………please?

  • caleb

    Medium only matters if you use it in a way that makes it interesting or relative to your subject matter. If your going to try and make a film in stop motion look flawless like a film made in cg – your probably going to hate the process. Laika’s process is becoming a gimmick in the modern realm of animated film. It’s as if they choose to use stop motion just because people will see that it was very hard, harder than usual, to make. Laika also uses 3d modeling to create many of the parts they use for their puppets, just to make sure its even harder to differentiate between hand made and computer assisted. I don’t think its wrong by any means, but it seems silly. I don’t see a strong connection between their stories and medium anymore – it seems arbitrary.

    That said their story telling is entertaining, and their imagery is often beautiful.

  • Ryoku

    I used to judge Flash and CGI as a whole, but then I saw some decent examples and understood that you shouldn’t really stereotype animation.

    Even if every CGI production looks like last years Pixar cartoon.

  • Miles

    It is a terrible process. But it can look incredible.

  • I find their films soothing to watch.. Like giving your mom a cold glass of chilled tea. Chilly T, if you will..

    • Ryoku

      ^Best comment on this page^.