Aardman, the multi-award-winning, independent animation studio famous for its comedic character-driven animation, including stop-motion favorites like Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Shaun the Sheep Movie, has just announced 20-year company veteran Sean Clarke will succeed studio co-founder David Sproxton, who is stepping back from his Managing Director role after 43 years. Clarke previously headed the company’s International Rights and Marketing department for over a decade.
Famous worldwide for its unique and entertaining productions, Aardman is home to much-loved character-driven animated features, shorts, commercials and TV series; for over four decades, the studio has been a leading international creator of dynamic and cutting-edge content for advertising partners, digital platforms, games developers and immersive entertainment experiences. Co-founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton in 1972, the company boldly transitioned over to 75% Employee Ownership in November 2018, a move designed to ensure the studio remained independent. By transferring ownership in this manner, Sproxton and Lord secured the studio’s creative and cultural legacy by enabling continued studio operations and leadership imbued with the same creative energy, sensibilities and goals that made the company one of the most prolific and well-respected in the animation industry.
On the announced succession, Sproxton commented, “We were determined to find the best possible candidate for the role, which is critical for securing the studio’s future especially in its Employee Owned incarnation. I am delighted that Sean cut through very strong competition to take my place. He has a deep understanding of the creative culture at Aardman – which will ensure continuity – in addition to a very strong, clear and exciting strategy to take the company forward, so it will certainly not be resting on its laurels. There are wonderful projects on the slate with new creative talent behind them and the future looks very bright. I am more than confident that with Sean leading the Executive Board the company will thrive.”
Sproxton will remain connected to the studio by sitting on the Trustee Board as well as consulting on a number of projects.
Lord, also the company’s creative director, added, “I’m absolutely delighted that Sean Clarke is going to continue his wonderful work at Aardman, following in the footsteps of Dave Sproxton, my long-term partner and co-founder. In a rich world of new opportunities, Sean takes the helm of a dynamic, creator-led company in a very strong position. Not content to rely on our considerable heritage, we are pioneering a slate of the best in animation entertainment and Sean is the perfect candidate to handle its rich diversity and lead us on to ever-greater things. Most importantly, along with his expertise in the global marketplace, he brings a deep understanding of the legacy and culture of Aardman. Sean will thrive on the challenge and excitement of leading a company, which is not only dedicated to creativity but also Employee Owned by its incredibly motivated workforce.”
Clarke joined Aardman as Head of Consumer Products in 1998, after several years as UK Licensing Director for Disney Consumer Products. In 2008, he became Head of Rights & Brand Development, responsible for global brand development and distribution of Aardman and third-party rights across all platforms: film, TV, DVD & digital, merchandising & licensing, and themed attractions and live events. He was instrumental in developing Aardman’s rights team, which now includes 30 people and works across 170 territories worldwide; the launch of the studio’s YouTube channels, which currently exceed 1.2 billion views annually; and the studio diversifying into new areas of immersive storytelling, including its first Shaun the Sheep Land which opened in Sweden in 2015.
“It’s an honor to be taking on the MD role and a privilege to be leading Aardman in this exciting new era of Employee Ownership,” Clarke stated. “The studio’s strength has always been in its visionary creativity and storytelling expertise which, combined, mean that we are able to adapt to new platforms and changes in the way we consume entertainment whilst delivering consistently inspiring, funny and engaging animation. Ensuring that our independent spirit and our unique blend of innovation and integrity remain at the heart of everything we do – while nurturing and supporting sensational new creatives alongside our existing roster of incredible talent – will be a guiding principle.”
Aardman will soon launch a number of new projects, including its latest film, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, being distributed by StudioCanal and opening in UK cinemas on October 18 and in the US on December 13. The studio’s first major piece of original content for the theme park market, a 4D immersive experience with brand new characters, will open at Efteling: World of Wonders in the Netherlands at the end of November.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-at-Large of Animation World Network.