Aardman Animations is to appoint Rob Sprackling and John Smith, two of the UK's hottest script talents, to write the next draft of its DreamWorks SKG-backed Tortoise Vs Hare.

Aardman last month halted production of the $40m Richard Goleszowski-directed claymation picture citing story issues (Screen Daily, July 9). At the same time, the Bristol-based UK animation studio laid off 90 of the 170-strong crew and said it hoped to re-hire them when production resumed.

Sprackling and Smith have credits on Hallmark Entertainment's forthcoming Mike Bassett: England Manager, which is directed by Steve Barron, and wrote a speculative draft of Romeo & Juliette that has since been taken on by Elton John's Rocket Pictures. Sprackling also directed the 1998 short The Green Monkey. The pair are expected to sign a contract with Aardman later this week.

"They have both live action and animation experience which makes them ideal for us. And they share the Aardman sense of humour," said Michael Rose, Aardman executive producer of feature films. "DreamWorks obviously approved the decision, but this was our call. [Sprackling and Smith] are a team we have been tracking for a while. Either they were too busy or the time was not right."

"What they will be doing is a re-write based on our original story and building on the wonderful work of Karey Kirkpatrick and Mark Burton," said Rose. It is currently unclear what credits will be retained by Kirkpatrick, who co-wrote Aardman mega-hit Chicken Run and is billed as a producer on Tortoise.

"Our issues were less script-based and emerged in the story-reel area. That is where animation is special. It is where we put everything into images before filming. It was at that point that we felt the story needed developing," said Rose.

The company says that the interruption to development will mean a delay of six months to the production process, but that the film will be delivered in 2003.