The CEO Who Plays With Dolls: ParaNorman Producer Travis Knight

Travis Knight makes his living playing with dolls.

Knight is the president and CEO of Laika, the animation studio famous for creating the stop-motion movies Coraline and ParaNorman (which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray today). This past summer we talked with him about how pushing the boundaries of stop-motion animation had also transformed his business.

Fast Company returned in the fall to get a firsthand look at how Knight balances his creativity–he made 15,000 frames himself, almost 10 percent of the movie–with managing a business. As well as the lessons other businesses might learn from the way he’s taken an old craft and combined it with the latest technology to create something altogether new.

Toiling away alone on a small curtained off set on his scenes–-pose, shoot a frame, pose, shoot and so on–-forced him to “see the minutiae and the big stuff.” As an animator, he says, “you focus on one frame and then back up and see where it fits in the whole film.” As CEO, when he backs up, he’s thinking about the whole company, about 350 people on each movie and 150 more on the administrative and commercial (ad) side year-round. He’s asking which movie ideas are worth the risk of the lengthy stop-motion production process. ParaNorman took three years, the shoot alone 18 months.

“There’s some incredible vitality in this art form. It’s not kind of this creaky old thing from a bygone age,” Knight says. “Infusing craft with technology gives us something visually that we’ve never seen before.” See for yourself in this episode of Innovation Agents.VK