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Fox, Locksmith Animation Ink Multi-Year Production, Development Deal (EXCLUSIVE)

20th Century Fox and Locksmith Animation have entered into a long-term co-production and development deal, Variety has learned.

It comes as Fox is ramping up the number of family films it makes. Stacey Snider, who took over as the sole head of the studio a year ago, wants Fox to release an animated picture annually. The studio had been distributing pictures from DreamWorks Animation, but that deal is ending after Comcast bought the company. Fox owns Blue Sky, the makers of the “Ice Age” films. Locksmith will create a new film every 18 months, which will augment Blue Sky’s slate.

“We don’t want to miss a season when it comes to animated films,” said Snider.

The animation studio will enter the pact with three projects that are far along in their development — one has been greenlit. Locksmith’s first film with Fox will hit theaters in the autumn of 2020. Founder Sarah Smith won’t announce the project, but said that the company’s movies are entirely original and not based on books or pre-existing intellectual property.

“They’re big comedy adventures with contemporary kids in mind,” she said.

Animation continues to be big business in Hollywood. For example, four of the ten highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016 were animated features.

Smith the writer and director of “Arthur Christmas” founded the company with producer Julie Lockhart (“Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!”). It has backing from Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of Fox’s owner Rupert Murdoch.

In an official announcement, Snider hailed the team at Locksmith, saying, “Julie and Sarah are each singular talents, and together with their vast experience and belief in the preeminence of the storyteller, they are building a world class animation studio that is attracting top tier talent to an ambitious slate of projects.”

In a joint statement, Smith and Lockhart said: “We are thrilled by the response of both Stacey and the Fox team to Locksmith’s vision, talent and IP. [Fox] has a first-class track record in marketing and distributing animation, and their shared appreciation of our stories make this a truly exciting partnership. Embarking on production of our first film, with more titles in the pipeline, is a great moment for Locksmith.”

Locksmith initially had a deal set up at Paramount, but that was signed under the studio’s former chief Brad Grey. When Grey was forced out this year and replaced by Jim Gianopulos, Locksmith’s projects were deemed to not be a fit and Gianopulos gave the company his blessing to find alternative distribution.

“We met with many studios, but Fox leapt at our projects with the most enthusiasm,” said Smith. “Strategically at this moment it made the most sense.”

Snider says she was attracted to the company because Smith is a filmmaker, not just an executive.

“When filmmakers are recruiting talent, they can recruit in a unique way,” she said.

The companies began talking about a possible deal in June.

“I was told by executives there that this deal moved faster than anything they’d seen before,” said Smith.

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