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There are big developments in the UK animation industry in the wake of a much-heralded British animation industry tax break that went into effect last year. Sarah Smith, the former creative director of features at Aardman Animations, is setting up a studio named Locksmith Animation. She bills it as the UK’s “first high-end CGI feature animation studio,” and it is focused on creating a long-term slate of films for worldwide distribution. Elisabeth Murdoch, Rupert’s daughter, who runs the British media production company Shine, is the principal shareholder in Locksmith, though she is investing in a personal capacity, according to Variety.

Smith comments on Britain’s place in the CGI field:

“With animated films among the most beloved and successful movies in the world, but still only a handful of producers out there, the UK 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.”

Working variously as a writer, director, and producer, Sarah Smith spent the early part of her career in live-action comedy series such as The League of Gentlemen and Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years. She moved to Aardman in 2006, where she made her debut as co-director and co-writer of Aardman’s Arthur Christmas (2011), and later co-executive produced The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012).

Britain has produced CGI features before, but these have been either animated wholly or partly abroad (Valiant, Arthur Christmas) or low-budget affairs (Dominator). There is a definite gap in the industry where high-end CGI feature animation is concerned.

To that end, Locksmith is set to have a close relationship with the London-based VFX house Double Negative, whose credits include live-action films such as Skyfall, Man of Steel and Godzilla. Double Negative is an investor in Locksmith, and will help the studio set up its animation pipeline.

Almost immediately after the launch of Locksmith Animation was announced, Double Negative announced the formation of their own feature animation division. The new division at the 16-year-old studio will led by Tom Jacomb, a former associate producer at DreamWorks (Puss in Boots, Rise of the Guardians).

According to the company’s website, however, they will not be producing original ideas of their own: “The new division’s intent being to create an integrated front-end/back-end pipeline to work in tandem with IP creators and filmmakers in the creation of high end animated features.” In other words, it sounds that Double Negative will function as a service provider for CG animated features, much in the same way that they currently do for live-action VFX films.

Neil Emmett

NEIL EMMETT is a cartoonist and aspiring screenwriter based in the United Kingdom. A graduate of the Norwich University of the Arts animation course and former member of the BAFTA Youth Board, he began keeping a regular blog about British animation entitled The Lost Continent during his studies.

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