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Travis Knight Named President and CEO of LAIKA, Inc.

by on March 5, 2009

Travis Knight has been named the new President and CEO of LAIKA, Inc., the animation studio whose first feature film was Coraline. Knight will be succeeding Dale Wahl, who was President since 2005 and is stepping down at his own request. In addition, Coraline producer Claire Jennings was named to the new position of President of Entertainment.

The complete press release follows.


Coraline and Wallace and Gromit Award-Winning Producer Claire Jennings Appointed President of Entertainment

(Portland, OR; March 5, 2009) — LAIKA, Inc., the Portland-based animation studio whose first feature film, Coraline, has been a critical and box office hit since its release by Focus Features on February 6th, has announced that Travis Knight has been named President and CEO of the company. Knight succeeds Dale Wahl, who has held the position since 2005. Knight, who sits on the LAIKA Board and has been Head of Animation since 2007,was one of the lead animators on Coraline, the first stop-motion animated feature film to be produced in 3-D. Additionally, LAIKA has appointed Coraline producerClaire Jennings, an award-winning independent animation executive and producer of Oscar®-winning shorts and feature films including Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, to the newly created position of President, Entertainment. The appointments were announced today by Philip H. Knight, LAIKA’s owner and Chairman of the Board. Mr. Knight is also Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder of Nike, Inc.

“Travis’ passion has always been the arts in general and filmmaking in particular,” said Phil Knight. “He was Coraline’s earliest champion, playing a key role in our decision to greenlight the project and his creative contribution as lead animator on the film was immense. His ambitious business vision for LAIKA grows out of a first-hand understanding of, and reverence for, the creative process. Enhanced by Claire Jennings’ extraordinary depth of career experience as an award-winning producer and as a development and production executive of the highest order, I’m confident that our new leadership team will continue to move LAIKA to the forefront of the animation industry.

“Dale Wahl steps down as CEO at his request,” Mr. Knight continues. “After four years and at age 65 he felt, in his words, it was time to smell one rose. Dale moves into the position of Vice-Chairman to help Travis and Claire transition into their new positions until his retirement from LAIKA at the end of this October. In addition, he will temporarily fill the role of Executive Vice President of Business Operations and CFO until we complete our search to fill that position. With his steady leadership and business acumen, Dale has presided over our nascent feature film operation as well as our thriving commercial division, led by LAIKA/house President Lourri Hammack. The success of both areas of the company under his leadership has gotten us off to a great start.”

Travis Knight says, “At our core, LAIKA is an audacious, scrappy, and inventive community of filmmakers, driven by our love of animation, a belief in its endless possibilities, and confidence in its promise to touch the world. LAIKA’s potential is limitless. In both the entertainment and commercial arenas, we will continue to develop our visual and storytelling expertise across all animation formats. Simply put, we hope to grow into the boldest, most innovative animation studio in the world.”

Travis has been involved in all business and creative decision-making at LAIKA since the company’s inception in 2003, when Phil Knight took over the failing Vinton Studios, Portland’s renowned animation studio with a distinguished 30-year history, and re-christened it LAIKA. Travis joined Vinton Studios in 1998 as a stop-motion animator, working on the Emmy Award-winning television series The PJs, produced with Eddie Murphy Productions and Imagine Entertainment, as well as the animated series Gary & Mike on UPN. He earned his CG animation stripes by animating numerous television commercials (McDonald’s, Hostess, M&M’s) and promo spots, including the “NFL on Fox” campaign. In June 2007, he was honored by Animation magazine as one of the “Rising Stars of Animation.” He has served on LAIKA’s Board of Directors since 2003.

Claire Jennings was named “Producer of the Year for Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures,” along with Nick Park, by the Producers Guild of America for the Oscar and BAFTA Award-winning feature film Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit (2005). The award joined a long list of honors garnered throughout a career as an independent and studio producer, development and production executive, and project originator, making her one of the most respected names in the animation industry. In addition to Wallace and Gromit, which earned more than $250 million worldwide, she has produced multiple award-winning animated shorts and television series including the Oscar and BAFTA Award-winning animated short Father and Daughter, the Oscar-nominated and BAFTA Award-winning animated short The Canterbury Tales, and the Oscar and BAFTA nominated short film Jolly Roger. She also developed and produced the BBC animated television series The Big Knights alongside its two directors, produced the BBC series Stressed Eric for Absolutely Productions, and was executive producer of HIT Entertainment’s British children’s TV series Pingu. As an event management and concert promotion executive, she was involved in such projects and talent as Comic Relief, Tina Turner, Talking Heads and Bob Geldof.

“I’m very happy to bring my combined experience in development and production to LAIKA as it embarks upon a new and exciting chapter in its history,” said Jennings. “As Coraline demonstrates, LAIKA is a company committed to taking bold new steps within the animation arena. I believe my strong entrepreneurial skills are a great fit for a company which truly values the creative vision behind any filmmaking process. I have a great deal of respect for this attitude and am looking forward to working alongside Travis to build a studio where many more imaginative films can be produced throughout the coming years.”

All company divisions will report to Travis Knight. Film acquisition, development, production and marketing will fall under Jennings’ purview. LAIKA/house, the advertising and commercial side of the company, will continue to be led by division president Lourri Hammack. Wahl will oversee technology, business affairs, finance and administration. Because of the importance of getting another project into production, Knight and Jennings will head up LAIKA’s film development efforts jointly. Currently LAIKA’s active development slate includes nine film projects, including the already announced Here Be Monsters, based on the best-selling book by Alan Snow; The Wall and the Wing, based on the bestseller by Laura Ruby, and Paranorman, based on an original idea by Coraline Head of Story Chris Butler.

About LAIKA:
Fueled by the vision of its owner, Nike co-founder and Chairman Philip H. Knight, LAIKA, Inc. (www.laika.com), located in Portland, OR, is an animation studio specializing in feature films, commercials, music videos, broadcast graphics and short films.

LAIKA’s initial feature film Coraline (www.coraline.com), was released by Focus Features on February 6, 2009 to overwhelming positive critical reaction. To date it has grossed over $61 million domestically. Directed and written for the screen by Henry Selick (Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) and based on the internationally best-selling, Hugo Award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is the first major stop-motion animated feature to be shot in 3D. Its voice cast includes Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, the comic duo of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, John Hodgman, Keith David and Robert Bailey Jr.

LAIKA/house is world renowned for its skill in storytelling and character animation in many media, including 2D, CG and Stop Motion. The commercial studio produces commercials, branded entertainment and content for television, film, Internet and mobile venues. The team’s ability to create stunning designs and commercials has garnered the attention of advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett, Wieden + Kennedy and BBDO and has attracted clients such as Starbucks, Apple, Coca-Cola, ESPN, M&M’s and the NFL on Fox.

The studio has a 30-year animation history of presenting the artistry of award-winning filmmakers, designers and animators. In addition to numerous international honors, the company has won two Academy Awards, 11 Emmy Awards, 11 Clio Awards, three London International Advertising and Design Awards, five Mobius Advertising Awards and two Cannes Lion International Advertising Festival awards.

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