Laika shuffles toon chiefs

'Coraline' fuels exec redraw at animation shop

The success of “Coraline” has helped redraw the top executive ranks at animation shop Laika.

The Portland, Ore.-based company has tapped Travis Knight as prexy-CEO, replacing Dale Wahl, who has held the position since 2005. 

Meanwhile, Claire Jennings, a producer on “Coraline” and pics such as “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” will now head up the company’s entertainment arm in a newly created post as prexy.

Wahl will serve as vice chairman to help Knight and Jennings transition into their new posts until he retires from Laika in October. He will also temporarily serve as exec VP of business operations and chief financial officer until those jobs are filled.

“Coraline,” a stop-motion-animated toon produced in 3-D and the company’s first pic, has struck a chord with audiences and critics, earning $62 million since Focus Features released it Feb. 6. It’s the second most-successful film for the distrib since “Brokeback Mountain.”

A Laika board member and head of animation since 2007, Knight was one of the lead animators on “Coraline.”

He’s also been involved in all business and creative decisionmaking at Laika since it was formed in 2003.

Before Laika, Knight was a stop-motion animator at Vinton Studios, working on Imagine Entertainment and Eddie Murphy’s TV series “The PJs,” as well as TV toon “Gary and Mike” on UPN. 

He is also the son of Nike co-founder Philip Knight, who is chairman and owner of Laika. Company was formed when Knight took over Vinton Studios and continues to produce films, commercials, musicvids, broadcast graphics and short films. 

Jennings will oversee film acquisitions, development, production and marketing.

Company’s developing nine film projects, including “Here Be Monsters,” based on the bestselling book by Alan Snow; “The Wall and the Wing,” from Laura Ruby’s bestseller; and “Paranorman,” based on an original idea by “Coraline” head of story Chris Butler.

As an independent producer, Jennings shepherded the animated shorts “Father and Daughter,” “The Canterbury Tales” and “Jolly Roger.” She also developed and produced BBC-animated TV series “The Big Knights,” produced the BBC series “Stressed Eric” for Absolutely Prods. and was exec producer of HIT Entertainment’s British children’s series “Pingu.”

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