Break out the Wensleydale, we're celebrating!
In a move to keep their animation studio independent, Aardman Animations founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton will transfer ownership over to their employees, The Hollywood Reporter confirms. This will be accomplished by placing most of the company's stock into a trust meant to hold it for the workers.
Aardman, known for such properties as Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep, has been in the animation business over the last 46 years when it was first founded in 1972. The characters of Wallace and Gromit, a cheese-loving man and his expressive non-talking dog, have become the de factor mascots of the studio.
The unusual move to place the studio in the hands of its workers is an effort to keep it independent and out of the hands of major studios and production companies that will see it as nothing more than a way to make more money.
“We’ve spent so much time building this company up and being so profoundly attached to it. It’s not a business to us, it’s everything, it’s our statement to the world,” said Lord. “Having done that for so many years, the last thing we wanted to do was to just flog it off to someone.”
Indeed, Aardman's beautifully-produced feature-length offerings don't come often, the studio preferring to take its time with the tedious stop motion animation in order to get things just right. That hard work has paid off, picking up a number of accolades over the years, including Best Animated Feature in 2006 for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
Over the last 18 years, Aardman's produced a scant seven movies, which were distributd by major studios like DreamWorks, Sony, and Lionsgate. With 130 employees at two main offices in the U.K., Aardman sees its staff grow to over 300 people when productions really get underway. Currently, the studio is in the middle of Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie, which will be followed by Chicken Run 2, a sequel nearly 20 years in the making.
"We wanted to make sure they are all engaged in this employee ownership as well,” Sproxton added. “There’s no real concern about the culture of the people, it’s just an asset that can be sold on in years to come."
Aardman's most recent offering was Early Man, a story about cavemen, which featured the voices of Eddie Redmayne, Maise Williams, and Tom Hiddelston. It made just over $54 million at the global box office when it hit theaters last winter.