DreamWorks Animation Finds New Chief in Warner Bros. Veteran (Exclusive)

Chris deFaria, who served as president of animation and technical innovation at Warner Bros. Pictures, has been named president of DreamWorks Feature Animation Group.
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Chris DeFaria

Chris deFaria, who served as president of animation and innovative technology at Warner Bros. Pictures for the past four years, is joining DreamWorks Animation in the newly-created position of president of the DreamWorks Feature Animation Group. His move was first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

In his new role, deFaria will oversee all aspects of DWA's feature animation business, including slate strategy, development, production; innovation and technology; and business affairs, Universal announced today. DeFaria will report to Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley and work closely with Universal Pictures president Jimmy Horowitz.

DeFaria will follow in the footsteps of Jeffrey Katzenberg, who founded DreamWorks Animation in 2004 and stepped down from the top post as CEO when the company was bought by Comcast's NBCUniversal in a $3.87 billion deal last April. Katzenberg took on a new role as chairman of DreamWorks New Media, comprising the company's ownership interests in Awesomeness TV and NOVA.

DWA has been undergoing changes at the top since its acquisition by NBCUniversal as Universal goes about integrating DWA into the larger studio operation, which also includes animation powerhouse Illumination Entertainment, headed by Chris Meledandri. While Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairmen Jeff Shell has said he'd like Meledandri to oversee creative efforts at both animation units, Meledandri currently is maintaining his focus on Illumination. Having working closely with Langley since the acquisition of DWA, Meledandri will serve as a special advisor to DWA, the studio said.

At DWA — whose leadership team has been reporting  to Langley — Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria, both longtime animation producers, were named co-presidents in August. But Soria exited the post in December to return to producing, leaving Arnold as DWA's sole president. She will continue in her current role, reporting to deFaria.

DWA has been in the process of retooling its upcoming slate. It recently shut down production on a proposed sequel to the 2013 caveman movie The Croods, but it is continuing with a third How to Train Your Dragon pic, slated for 2019.

DWA's most recent movie Trolls has grossed $336.7 million worldwide to date and is in the hunt for Oscar consideration in both the feature animation and song categories. Upcoming releases include The Boss Baby, which is set to open March 31, and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, due June 2.

A 20-year veteran at Warners, deFaria is experienced in both animation and live-action filmmaking. He most recently was tasked with leading the charge in animation and hybrid filmmaking for the studio and also was part of the team that oversaw Warner Animation Group, which released 2014's The Lego Movie as well as last year's Storks and has The Lego Batman Movie coming in February.

Overseeing visual effects for all of Warners' features, deFaria served as executive producer on George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity because of his VFX expertise.

According to one insider, deFaria, who is said to be both very creative and very disciplined when it comes to VFX budgets, was "integral to everything VFX-related" at Warner Bros, and it's possible he could bring some of that VFX know-how to Universal's live-action movies.

As for his animation résumé, deFaria has one very unique credit: Earlier in his career, before attending UCLA, he was a child voice actor and played the part of Peppermint Patty on five Peanuts TV specials in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“Chris deFaria is ideally suited for this role,” Langley said in a statment.  “He has excellent creative instincts, a strong business sense, deep relationships and most importantly, a proven ability to harness technology to push the boundaries of animation and innovative, hybrid filmmaking.  We are grateful to have Chris Meledandri as senior advisor so that we can benefit from his unparalleled expertise while he continues to build the Illumination brand.”

“Having the opportunity to shape the future of DreamWorks Animation and build on its storied legacy is an unbelievable honor,” said deFaria.  “I can’t wait to get started with Donna and Chris, as well as Bonnie and the incredibly talented artists at DWA, on bringing more iconic stories and characters to audiences around the globe. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and while I will miss the many great people at Warner Bros. and the terrific projects with which I was involved, I couldn’t be more excited about everything that lies ahead.”

Jan. 10, 2107, 3:45 p.m.: Updated to include the official announcement and statements from Universal.

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