Katzenberg to oversee pix

Award-winning toon shop Aardman Animations has signed an exclusive deal with DreamWorks to develop at least four feature films, it was announced Wednesday.

DreamWorks principal Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was instrumental in putting the deal together and will personally oversee the projects, sees the deal as part of a larger strategic animation alliance.

“These are guys who, for the better part of a decade, I have been just blown away by,” Katzenberg said, referring to Aardman toppers David Sproxton and Peter Lord, and co-director Nick Park. Katzenberg explained that DreamWorks’ pre-existing partnership with Pacific Data Images rounds out the team in a complementary way.

“It gives us an amazing long-term flow of product from three very distinctive and different styles,” Katzenberg said. “We have P.D.I. doing stop-motion, and (the DreamWorks shop in) Glendale doing traditional animation … This has really become an extended, worldwide creative community between these three businesses.” Aardman’s approach, by contrast, is a very distinctive, fluid claymation style.

Katzenberg also explained that the four pictures likely will represent a 12-year development and production commitment.

“We are delighted to be partnered with a studio that is as driven by innovation and imagination as we have always been,” Sproxton said in a release. “We look forward to a long, successful and highly creative partnership with DreamWorks.”

History together

DreamWorks and Aardman have already collaborated on five projects on an ad hoc basis so far, the most prominent being the June 2000 release “Chicken Run,” with the voices of Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha and Miranda Richardson. Pic, a co-production with Pathe, is helmed by Park and Lord, with Sproxton producing from a script by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jack Rosenthal. Jake Eberts and Michael Rose exec produce.

The first project expected to go into development under this new aegis is tentatively titled “The Tortoise and the Hare,” inspired by the Aesop fable. According to Katzenberg, it will take the project the customary two years to see the light of day.

The Bristol, England-based company is an industry leader in the stop-motion clay animation technique that U.S. auds will recognize from the Nick Park-directed Wallace and Gromit films “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave.” It is headed by co-founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord.

Under the terms of the deal, Aardman will produce films with DreamWorks on an exclusive basis, though they will continue independently to create and produce their own animated shorts, as well as commercials (such as the one for Chevron Techron with talking claymation cars) and TV projects.

Aardman has won three animated short Academy Awards, for “Creature Comforts,” “A Close Shave” and “The Wrong Trousers.” They have been nominated an additional three times in this category, including for the 1997 short “Wat’s Pig,” directed by Peter Lord.

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