British animation powerhouse Aardman has announced that David Sproxton, the co-founder of the Oscar-winning company behind the Wallace & Gromit films and Shaun The Sheep Movie, is stepping down after 43 years and has been replaced by Sean Clarke.
The new MD joined as head of consumer products in 1998, after several years as UK licensing director for Disney Consumer Products. In 2008, he took charge of international rights and marketing, building a team that has grown to 30 people and works across 170 territories.
Clarke also played a key role in the launch of the studio’s YouTube channels, which exceed 1.2bn billion annual views, and the launch of its first Shaun the Sheep Land, which opened in Sweden in 2015.
Sproxton will segue to the trustee board and work on a number of projects as a consultant. He announced his intention to step down last November, when he and co-founder Peter Lord cashed in 75% of their stake and transferred ownership to their employees to keep Aardman independent.
After establishing the company in Bristol in 1976, the former school friends built a world-renowned stable of stop-motion, “claymation” work on short films, features, and music videos such as Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. Feature credits include Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (director Nick Park also won Academy Awards for short films The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave) and The Pirates! Band Of Misfits. Coming up is A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon via StudioCanal in the UK on October 18.
“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,” said Sproxton. “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.”
Aardman co-founder and creative director Lord, who sits on the executive board with Clarke and Nick Park, among others, 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, creatively-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.”
“It’s an honour to be taking on the MD role and a privilege to be leading Aardman in this exciting new era of Employee Ownership,” said Clarke. “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’s first major piece of original content for the theme park market, a 4D immersive experience with new characters, will open at Efteling: World Of Wonders in the Netherlands at the end of November.