Aardman Names New Head as Co-Founder David Sproxton Steps Down

David Sproxton and Peter Lord Aardman Animation H 2016
Charlie Gray

Sean Clarke, an Aardman veteran of 20 years, takes over at the helm of the Oscar-winning animation studio behind 'Wallace & Gromit' and 'Shaun the Sheep' less than a year after Aardman announced it was transferring to employee ownership.

British animation powerhouse Aardman — best known for Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep — has named the successor to David Sproxton, who first founded the company together with creative director Peter Lord in 1972 and has served as managing director for 43 years.

Sean Clarke, who has been at Aardman for more than two decades, on Wednesday was announced as managing director.

The move comes less than a year after Sproxton and Lord announced that they were handing over the majority of the Bristol,  England-based company into employee ownership, with Sproxton stepping back from his duties. He will remain on Aardman's trustee board and serve as consultant on a number of projects.

"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," Sproxton said in a statement. "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."

Clarke joined Aardman as head of consumer products in 1998, after several years as U.K. licensing director for Disney Consumer Products. In 2008, he became head of rights & brand development. He was instrumental in developing Aardman’s rights team, which now includes 30 people and works across 170 territories worldwide; the launch of the studio’s YouTube channels, which currently exceed 1.2 billion views annually; and the studio diversifying into new areas of immersive storytelling, including its first Shaun the Sheep Land, which opened in 2015 in Sweden.

“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," said Lord. "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."

Aardman's upcoming slate includes the second big-screen Shaun the Sheep outing, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, backed by StudioCanal and set to bow Oct. 4 in the U.K., with Lionsgate releasing the pic later this year in the U.S. The company is also developing a sequel to the 2000 box office smash Chicken Run, first announced by The Hollywood Reporter last year.