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Elisabeth Murdoch, Double Negative Back Sarah Smith’s New U.K. Animation House Locksmith (EXCLUSIVE)

U.K.'s first dedicated high-end CG feature animation studio launches

LONDON — Sarah Smith, former creative director at Aardman Features, and director and co-writer of “Arthur Christmas,” has set up a new animated film company, Locksmith Animation, in the U.K., with backing from Elisabeth Murdoch and top VFX house Double Negative (“Godzilla”).

Locksmith is the first dedicated high-end feature animation studio ever created in the U.K., and will focus on creating a long-term slate of CG animated films for the global marketplace.

Locksmith is backed as principal shareholder by Murdoch, who is investing in a personal capacity rather than as chairman of Shine Group. Double Negative, which is also investing in Locksmith, will work closely with the company as they build an animation pipeline in which Locksmith plans to make its films.

The company’s plans also feature an international creative board of animation writers, directors and digital experts, to be announced shortly.

Smith said: “With animated films among the most beloved and successful movies in the world but still only a handful of producers out there, the U.K. offers Locksmith a unique opportunity, including a world-class CG visual FX industry, brilliant comedy writers and directors, outstanding children’s literature, the European animation talent pool, and government tax credits. We’re very excited that having attracted a visionary investor with global business skills in the shape of Lis Murdoch, and a globally acclaimed production partner in Double Negative, we have everything to make the most ambitious version of our vision achievable.”

Murdoch said: “I am very excited about Locksmith Animation, and to have the opportunity to support Sarah’s vision for a new global animation studio based in the U.K.

“Sarah and I share similar values: putting artists, writers and the audience at the heart of all of our endeavors, and telling stories that delight and inspire families worldwide. We also have complete faith in the ambitions and world-class talent of the U.K.’s creative community.

“I could not be more delighted to work with such a visionary leader, and the outstanding Double Negative.”

Alex Hope, Double Negative’s managing director, said: “We’ve harbored ambitions to expand into feature animation for a long time. Working with the Locksmith team provides us with a unique opportunity to build our animation division in tandem with the development of Locksmith’s slate. We are thrilled to be partnering with Sarah and Elisabeth Murdoch in this exciting venture.”

Smith began her creative career with ground-breaking TV series such as “The League of Gentlemen,” and several shows created by Armando Iannucci (“Veep”). In 2006, she was recruited by Aardman Animations to build a new slate of films, which earned the company a three-year studio deal with Sony Pictures. Smith made her animation debut as director and co-writer of the $100 million 3D feature “Arthur Christmas,” which was nominated at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and Annies.

Double Negative’s credits include “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Bourne Legacy,” “Skyfall,” “Les Miserables,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Captain Phillips,” “Rush,” “Man of Steel,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Transcendence” and “Godzilla.”

Smith will be speaking on April 25 at FMX, a conference on animation, FX, games and transmedia in Stuttgart, Germany, in a session titled “Directing in an Increasingly Complex Production Environment.”

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