U.K.-based Aardman Animation, the studio famous for "Wallace & Gromit," "Shaun the Sheep," "Creature Comforts," Chicken Run and a host of other stop-action animated shorts and feature-length films, will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year with new content and new licensing programs worldwide.
On the heels of the global success of its Shaun the Sheep Movie, the four-time Oscar winning studio will debut a new installment of the popular franchise, "Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer's Llamas" in a 30-minute special slated to air on the U.K.'s BBC One later this year. The special will chronicle yet another of Shaun the Sheep's adventures and introduce new characters to the Aardman family including a pack of mischievous llamas–Hector, Fernando and Raul.
"It's been a great year for Shaun," says Sean Clarke, head of rights and brand development, Aardman Animation. "The movie has made more than £100 million around the world, and we're continuing to work with licensees globally on YouTube and television content, stage shows and mall events."
Increasing the sheep's visibility, last spring, a special arts trail was created in London that placed 50 giant Shaun statues around the city to the delight of Londoners and tourists.
The studio recently signed with Sweden's Skånes Djurpark theme park for a "Shaun the Sheep" family attraction, set to debut next summer. Aardman has also signed a licensing agreement with Steiff for a line of plush toys based on the new "The Farmer's Llamas" installment. Licensing in the U.K. for "Shaun" covers apparel, giftware, toys, games, publishing and food. Internationally, the beloved character appears on licensed products across a wide variety of categories.
But "Shaun" wasn't the only newsmaker at Aardman this year. The studio announced it will be partnering with Studiocanal to produce a new stop-frame feature film by BAFTA and Academy award-winning director Nick Park, set to release in 2018. Titled Early Man Set, the film tells the story of how one plucky caveman unites his tribe against a mighty enemy and saves the day.
Aardman has also revived the cult character "Angry Kid," who is back with brand-new episodes launched in July on an official "Angry Kid" YouTube channel. The notorious redheaded teen is back in his trademark blue parka in 12 new short episodes.
After more than 15 years away from television screens, Aardman brought back "Morph" to the small screen on CBBC. Originally created in 1977 by Aardman, "Morph" first appeared on the BBC Children's art program "Take Hart" alongside the artist and presenter Tony Hart. The new series was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than £110,000.
"We asked fans to come up with half the budget, and they were so engaged, we raised much more than expected," says Clarke.
The funding was used to create 15 brand-new, one-minute episodes that have been released to fans worldwide on "Morph's" YouTube channel.
"Crowdfunding has been a great way to engage with our fans and raise money to create content they are very involved in, and we'll be working on ways to interact with fans through enthusiast-driven merchandise," Clarke says.
This summer, the studio, along with the Roald Dahl Literary Estate and Penguin Random House U.K., launched "Twit or Miss," the first-ever app to feature author Dahl's iconic Mr. and Mrs. Twit characters. Aardman also recently unveiled an "Escargot Escape Artistes" app, which was devised by a 12-year-old viewer following a competition on CBBC's "Appsolute Genius" and developed by Aardman's team of digital experts.
The studio's art was celebrated in an exhibition at the Paris gallery, Art Ludique-Le Musée, which presented more than 30 authentic film sets, over 400 concept drawings, character and background studies, watercolors and storyboards from a number of Aardman's beloved films. From Nick Park's sketchbook containing the first drawings of "Wallace & Gromit," to extracts from the studio's shorts and feature films, advertisements and video clips, the exhibition was an homage to the studio.
"The exhibit has left Paris and will likely carry on touring in the U.K. in 2016 and make other stops as well," says Clarke. "Art Ludique was licensed to create merchandise tied to the exhibit such as mugs and tote bags, and we're looking at ways to expand distribution of the merchandise through our website."
Aardman will cap its anniversary year with a documentary about the studio and open its studios to tours this year.
"We have 7 million fans on Facebook, and we want to find new ways to embrace those fans with new experiences, content and product," says Clarke.