Air Kubos? Animation Studio Laika Has Deeper Ties To Nike Than You’d Expect

The studio behind Kubo and the Two Strings on its deep ties–and high tops–with Nike.

Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the best-reviewed movies of the summer. The stop-motion animation studio’s fourth feature stars the voice talents of Art Parkinson (Rickon on Game Of Thrones) alongside Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey in a thrilling all-ages story of ancient Japan. It looks to build on the critical and commercial success of the studio’s prior films–2009’s Coraline, 2012’s Paranorman, and 2014’s The Boxtrolls–and like those movies before it, it’s being promoted with a pair of limited-edition Nike Air Jordans specifically designed to make the sneakerheads go, “Ah, he got the Kubos!”


Promoting all-ages movies with rare, limited-run sneakers (roughly 300 pairs!) is an unusual move, but it makes sense of Laika–after all, the company is owned by Nike founder Phil Knight, and Knight’s son Travis is Laika’s President and CEO. That makes for a pretty frictionless collaborative process between the studio and the sneaker brand, according to Laika CFO and Senior Vice President of Business Operations Brad Wald.

“We’re a family in such a way, and there’s a great relationship. It’s good fun to collaborate in this way when there can be something mutually interesting,” Wald says. “We have great friends over there at Nike, and we’re happy to partner with them.”

That partnership is fairly involved. Nike designer Tinker Hatfield–the company’s Vice President for Design and Special Projects, and the man who designed the Air Jordan 3 to the Air Jordan 30–has been involved in creating all four of the shoes that accompanied each of Laika’s features. Hatfield leads the design projects, discussing the shoes with Laika and with ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, who Wald says as the agency for both companies serve as a bridge between the two to facilitate collaboration. Hatfield gets early screenings of the film, Laika gives him the points of emphasis on the project, and then, Wald says, “his inspiration comes from that.”

The sneakers aren’t just standard Jordans with a Kubo or Boxtrolls logo on them. Because Laika makes stop-motion animation (that is, practical-effect, physical objects that move through space as part of the animation process) creating a physical object like a pair of shoes allows the collaborators the chance to really bring the film to life–on your feet. “The shoes bring in different aspects of the film,” Wald says. “Each has its own personality, fabric. For Kubo, it takes on different fabric aspects of the film’s different characters and their wardrobe effects. They all take on bits and pieces of the personalities from the film.”

The design elements of the Kubo sneakers do run pretty deep into the film’s themes and characters. The conflict between good and evil, Wald says, is expressed in the dueling left and right sides of the shoe; there’s a red side to represent Kubo’s father Hanzo, which has a beetle emblem; there’s a blue side to represent Raiden the Moon King, with a moon emblem; the heel of the shoe is in a fabric that resembles a samurai’s armor.

If you’re a sneakerhead, that description of the detail work might have just got you pretty excited. If so, you’ll have to move fast (and open the wallet wide)–the pre-sale auctions on eBay, which is where 250 pairs of the shoes are sold, began tipping into quadruple digits with hours left to go. That’s not a matter of greed, though. The shoes are kept limited and not intended for resale in order to keep the value up in order to raise money for charity. (In the case of the Kubo sneakers, that’s co-star Matthew McConaughey’s Just Keep Livin’ Foundation.)


“They’re never for resale. It’s not that sort of commercial partnership,” Wald says. “The reason we do the shows is to have an interesting deliverable. We give to charity, and we also give a few away–through a sweepstakes with Complex, to top scores on one of our games on our Kubo website, and we have a partnership with [movie ticketing website] Kernel where you can buy a ticket and be entered into a drawing.”

Laika X Nike[Photo: Sue Karlin]

The previous shoes do tend to be collectors’ items, as well. The Paranorman sneakers show up on eBay listed for thousands of dollars, while the Coraline and Boxtrolls shoes tend to run for several hundred on the secondhand market. And while that’s not the point of the partnership, Wald admits that it’s a good thing if the sneaker community is excited about what Laika is doing.

“You know, we’re looking to present our films to every demo, and this is a demographic that we would like to expose to the film, and help them understand what what Laika and our films are all about,” he says. “We’d like to make connections through the interesting and beautiful sneakers. Laika is all about style and artistry–and that comes through in the beautifully designed shoes, too.”


About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.