Aardman, the creators of beloved stop-motion animations including the Wallace & Gromit films, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep, will now be majority-owned by its employees. Its founders made the decision in order to protect the company’s integrity by never selling to a big studio.
Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who founded the company in 1972, announced at the weekend that they were transferring the majority of shares in Aardman to a trust which would hold them for its workforce, a structure called “employee ownership.” Sproxton and Lord will remain on the board, which will also include a number of senior employees.
Sproxton will continue as managing director, but is planning to appoint a successor in the next 12 months, while Lord will remain creative director. Nick Park, the creator and director behind some of the company’s most iconic and successful films and shorts will also remain deeply involved, Aardman said. Park has won four Oscars, including Best Animated Feature Film for The Curse of The Were-Rabbit.
“This approach, the creation of an employee trust, is the best solution we have found for keeping Aardman doing what it does best, keeping the teams in place and providing continuity for our highly creative culture,” Lord and Sproxton said in a press release. It also means that “those that create value in the company will continue to benefit directly from the value they create,” they added.
Aardman employs about 130 full-time staff across two bases in Bristol, in the west of England. Its founders said that they had been approached by big studios like DreamWorks, a subsidiary of Universal and the makers of Shrek, about a possible purchase. ”But we resisted because we’re fiercely independent and still are,” Lord told The Hollywood Reporter.
The studio’s 2000 release Chicken Run, about a group of chickens trying to escape an evil piemaker, is the biggest-grossing stop-motion animated film ever, taking £161.3 million ($207.7 million) at the box office. Aardman is now working on Chicken Run 2.