Spire Animation Studios logo Spire Animation Studios logo

Spire Animation Studios, the brainchild of veteran producer Brad Lewis and entrepreneur P.J. Gunsagar, is starting to take shape. The new feature animation studio, which revealed its first film last month, has announced seven experienced new hires across creative and technical roles.

The new recruits are Shawn Krause (creative director of story and animation), Michael Surrey (creative director of animation and story), David Smith (senior vp of digital production and vfx), John Kreidman (producer), Andrea Paul (senior vp of production), Philippe Brochu (art director of conceptual design and environments), and J.J. Blumenkraz (director of creative and pipeline technologies). See below for biographies.

Lewis, who serves as Spire’s cco, spent a decade at Pixar, where he produced Ratatouille and was a co-director and writer on Cars 2. He was one of Dreamworks Animation’s first employees, producing their debut feature Antz before returning to produce How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (which was nominated for an Oscar this year). He was also executive producer of Warner Bros.’s The Lego Batman Movie.

Toothless & Hiccup, "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World"
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” on which Brad Lewis worked alongside a number of Spire’s new hires.

Gunsagar, Spire’s ceo, most recently served as ceo of education tech company Kidaptive, which he co-founded. He was previously president and co-founder of animation and vfx company Prana Studios. Lewis and Gunsagar aim to “bring a new creative voice to feature animation and apply a lighter, next-generation approach to production combining A-list above the line talent and animators with cutting-edge technologies.”

Spire’s staff are mostly working from home for now, but the company plans to open a studio in L.A. next year. It currently has five projects in development — including Century Goddess, a musical about “a powerful young woman who is revealed to be a once-in-a-century goddess who unleashes her generational power of song and spoken word to ignite a revolution in a dictatorship where artists are suppressed.”

Spire has received funding from Connect Ventures, a new partnership between Hollywood titan Creative Artists Agency and New Enterprise Associates (NEA), one of the world’s largest venture firms. Executives behind the new initiative say they will have an initial focus on “supporting and enhancing a post-Covid-19 environment.” Tony Florence, general partner and head of technology investing at NEA, elaborated in a statement:

In creating Connect Ventures, we’re bringing together two proven platforms built on decades of experience to unlock a really exciting opportunity set that is emerging at the intersection of culture and commerce, as well as data and software. Heightened consumer demand for new ways to explore, engage, and transact across nearly all categories of daily life will give rise to powerful new creative tools and distribution platforms — a trend already underway but accelerated as a result of the global health crisis.

Spire Animation Studios
Spire’s new team.

Here are official biographies of the seven new recruits:

  • Shawn Krause will serve as creative director, animation and story. He joins Spire after 26 years at Pixar Animation Studios, where he led animation for the films Up, Cars 2, and Inside Out. Shawn brings a strong blend of technological fluency and effective storytelling skills needed to lead feature animation teams.
  • Michael Surrey will also serve as creative director, story and animation. An award-nominated animator, Surrey has more than two decades of experience in animation working on acclaimed films such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, and also spent ten-plus years as a storyboard artist. In 1995, he was nominated for an Annie Award for his work in animation on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • David Alexander Smith is Spire’s new senior vp, digital production and vfx. Prior to joining the new studio, he served as vfx supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks where he worked on such films as Storks, Over the Moon, and The Amazing Spider-Man.
  • John Kreidman joins Spire Studios as a producer. Kreidman brings 25 years of experience working in film production across animation, vfx, and live action. He most recently served as a co-producer on animated titles Over the Moon and The Emoji Movie and associate producer on Storks.
  • Andrea Paul comes on board as senior vp, production. She has more than three decades of experience in animation production and held positions at Disney, Dreamworks, and Warner Bros. Among her many films, Andrea worked on the productions of Aladdin, the How to Train Your Dragon series, Storks, and recently served as associate producer on Ugly Dolls.
  • Philippe Brochu is taking on the role of art director for conceptual design and environments, and joins Spire as a vfx expert specializing in 3d art and conceptual design. Philippe has more than 20 years expertise in the vfx and animation industry where his exceptional work garnered multiple award nominations. His credits include Bolt, Trolls, The Croods, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.
  • J.J. Blumenkranz joins as director, creative and pipeline technologies, bringing his expertise in feature animation and real-time processes to Spire. J.J. has more than two decades of experience in visual effects and animation for film, television, video games, and vr/ar. His credits include The Polar Express, and Academy Award winners The Chubbchubbs! and Shrek.

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