London’s Locksmith Animation Impresses at Annecy Debut

ANNECY, France — Five years ago Sarah Smith and Julie Lockhart founded Locksmith Animation. Smith was coming off her feature directorial debut on Aardman Animations’ “Arthur Christmas.” Lockhart was a long-time Aardman producer whose credits include Oscar-nominated fare such as “Shaun the Sheep” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”

Oh Thursday afternoon the two now-studio heads, along with an impressive roster of their in-house talent, held their first official Annecy presentation: Locksmith Animation: A New Studio Finds Its Voice.

“We’ve kept a low profile,” said Smith. “As a new company we are aware how long it takes to have anything to show, and next year will be our first work in progress for our first film.”

Although this was the studio’s first official presentation at Annecy, Lock and Smith have attended the festival in the past. In fact, Smith has used the festival as a hunting ground for talent.

“Here’s my top tip (to opening a studio), it’s not the walls it’s the people,” she said, explaining the great lengths she gone to build her team.

“I’ve spent a lot of time stalking talent, there are probably people in this room I’ve stalked,” she joked. “Although we had a business plan, what we needed was really good people.”

Lockhart explained a key element in the foundation of the comprehensive animation studio.

“When we make a film we want story to go to layout, animators to talk with designers. We want everyone in the same place, the same building, as much as we can so that everyone is together making the film,” she said.

They also both impressed just how ambitious the studio plans to be, promising to produce content of a quality on par with any major studio in the world.

The company’s representatives then gave a very early-days look at its first feature film, “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” which will be back in Annecy next year as a work in progress.

Co-directors JP Vine and Octavio Rodriguez, production designer Aurelien Predal, VFX supervisor Philippe Denis, DOP David Peers, chief technology officer and VFX supervisor Doug Ikeler, animation director Eric Leighton and art director Justin Hutchinson-Chatburn took turns sharing concept art, brief animations and behind the scenes technical details for the film, and the studio’s in-progress pipeline.

The session wrapped with Hutchinson-Chatburn demoing how quickly – and seemingly effortlessly – he can construct a 3D environment, taking directions from the others and, in real time, building a set using assets from the studio’s as-yet unannounced second feature.

Smith and Lockhart talked with Variety after the Annecy unveiling about choosing a home base, producing different formats for different platforms and reaching out the world.

CREDIT: Locksmith

Why did you choose London as your base? Were there other locations you considered?

We had such a strong desire to build a new, high-end CG Studio in the heart of London where there’s access to tremendous talent and where some of the best stories originate. We couldn’t imagine doing it anywhere else. London is also the home of the U.K.’s exceptional CG VFX industry, which is where the digital pipelines are. It’s a fantastic creative city with a world class film industry.

 You have the three features in your pipeline, but could you see Locksmith getting into series at some point?

Absolutely.  We are considering ‘special event’ series work at a feature quality level.  It’s a great medium to tell a longer story.

You’ve said you want your films to compete with the big studios, do you think that features need theatrical releases, or could you imagine putting them on a digital platform? 

We will always make our films with an eye for the big screen – it’s still the best format to enjoy the work. However, it’s important for us to reach as many people as possible so given viewing culture is changing so fast, we will embrace whatever platform works for the film.

You’re a U.K. based studio, but your first film takes place in the U.S. Do you think your productions will continue to be set internationally? Or is it a matter of where the story takes you?

Our intention is to appeal to an international community but the locations are defined by what is demanded by the story.  It felt right for the first film to be located in the U.S. but our second is more suited to a European city such as London and the third could be any high rise big city location.  It’s all about the story.

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