Then and Now: Tinker Hatfield Discusses Evolution of Nike MAG 2011

Sep 19, 2011 | Matt Halfhill |

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“Well, we can’t talk about it (the absence of power laces) too much because it’s really proprietary intellectual property. Our standard line is that this shoe had power laces in the year 2015. We’re working on it. Let’s just say that…Time is wasting for people who have Parkinson’s disease and for people who need help. So, we wanted to do this now and see what the future brings. No pun intended.” – Tinker Hatfield

Nike VP of Design and Innovation Tinker Hatfield is the man behind many of the classic Air Jordan/Nike silhouettes in your closet right now such as the Air Jordan 3, the Nike Air Max 1 and the Air Jordan 11. He also lent his Midas touch on the ‘greatest shoe never made’, the Nike MAG 2011. While in Hollywood, we caught up with the father of our favorite designs and discussed a slew of things related to the Nike MAG 2011. Tinker Hatfield specifically shed light on the origin of the Nike MAG, the creative process, the involvement of the Michael J. Fox Foundation and its influence on the likes of Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Check out our full two-page discussion with Tinker Hatfield below.

Tinker Hatfield unveils the Nike MAG 2011

On the creative process behind the original Nike MAG:

Before meeting with the producers of the movie, I began drawing sketches. So, that was pretty fun because I was just sketching and drawing and thought to myself, ‘wow, I’ve never done a movie shoe before.’ It became helpful to me because, when you’re designing athletic shoes all of the time, it’s nice to switch it up sometimes. It was a great departure from that. So, that’s how it started. Obviously, after that, we ended up going down to meet with the people to put the movie together. From then on, the rapport back and forth, the sketches and samples all made it a really fun process. We felt interval to not just creating a prop for a movie, but also creating the content itself. And I found out since that not many people get to do that. We were collaborating with people from the movie industry, set designers, art directors and of course the writers. Also, we worked directly with athletes. Collaboration is the key word, and we have been pretty fortunate to have some great collaborators with this project.

On initial Nike MAG sketches:

We actually found out about this project roughly about a month before we went down to visit Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the two geniuses behind writing the movie. Without knowing too much, we actually started some concept work. We put together a few sketches and had a pre-meeting with Bob and Bob. This was all based upon what Mark and I thought the future would be like in 2015. Maybe shoes would have wheels that pop out and we knew a little bit about the storyline regarding magnetic levitation hence the name Nike Air Mag. So, I did a few of these sketches and we went down and showed some of the sketches to Bob and Bob. This was sort of our first dabble in the process. After the preliminary sketches, we started to get a little more organic. We really started to focus in on the idea of the shoe coming alive.

Nike MAG drawing

On the Nike MAG being the first “clear sole” shoe:

It’s not necessarily a functional idea, but in some ways it’s a communication story. When you start developing things that are clear, you start to see something else. In this case, it’s the lighting. We started using clear outsoles, so that you can see a carbon fiber plate underneath, or a different material/graphic. So yeah, this was the first clear outsole shoe.

“We were collaborating with people from the movie industry, set designers, art directors and of course the writers. Also, we worked directly with athletes. Collaboration is the key word, and we have been pretty fortunate to have some great collaborators with this project.”

– Tinker Hatfield

On the behind-the-scenes movie stunt regarding the Nike MAG illumination:

We did not have the technology to light those shoes properly at the time of the movie. So, Michael J. Fox had to wear a very heavy, 2-3 pound battery pack in his back pocket with wires running down the lengths of his trousers in each shoe. So, then when he put the shoes on they would come to life and light up. It was really funny because behind the scenes you could see this big bulge in his back pocket. Of course, you never saw that on camera.

Nike MAG

On the demand for the Nike MAG 2011:

It’s crazy because I would hear it in conversations with athletes such as Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley. We’d be talking about modern, basketball shoe designs and they would just bring it up and say, ‘what if we made it like that movie shoe?’ That’s when I knew it had totally transcended being a prop in a movie. People were remembering it. I don’t know why people remember it so well. I used to go (still do) speak at schools, and I’m always looking for interesting props and things to take with me. We have a half pair of these from the original movie and I would bring it with an edited clip of just that scene. People were astonished no matter what age group I spoke to. I have been showing it for about 20 years. We knew there was something special about it for a long time.

Nike MAG in the Back to the Future movie

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