EXCLUSIVE: Stop-motion animation studio Laika has hired former Buzzfeed and FX executive Michael Waghalter as head of business development, a move that Brad Wald, the company’s CFO and SVP Business Operations, said will propel efforts to build Laika’s brand esteem through exhibitions at museums, pop-culture conventions and theme parks.
The Oregon-based studio is a specialist in stop-motion animation, which requires hand-crafted sets, props and puppets — an old-school approach in this era of digital wizardry but one that fascinates fans that see the one-of-a-kind wares in person.
That was clear this summer at Comic-Con International in San Diego where fans waited in lines for hours to see Laika’s elaborate exhibition. Many more have now seen similar Laika displays, which included the Portland Art Museum’s seven-month installation “Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA.”
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“Some people come into our exhibitions and think that our films are in CG and they leave with a completely different feel and appreciation for the artistry and intricacy of our filmmaking,” Wald told Deadline on Tuesday. “Now we’re looking at ways to take these two types of exhibitions — fan-based ones and the museum-quality ones — and take them on the road.”
The tours of puppets, props and set pieces would help Laika connect with fans especially in the gaps between films. There’s nothing fast, after all, about making stop-motion features, which is why Laika has released just four films since it was founded in 2005: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014) and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016).
All four films earned an Oscar nomination in the Outstanding Animated Feature category.
The next film is Missing Link in April 2019, featuring Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson and Zach Galifiankis. It is being distributed by Annapurna Pictures domestically and by Lionsgate UK.
Waghalter was previously Head of Business Development for the video division of Buzzfeed, where he established the TV- and premium-content production business by setting up deals with major networks, OTT platforms and studios. Prior to that, Waghalter was VP Business Development and Franchise Management at FX Networks, where he oversaw international and digital distribution, home entertainment and consumer products licensing for original series including Sons of Anarchy, Archer and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Wald said that with Waghalter on the team he can further an agenda he got underway when he joined Laika a few years ago after heading up the global brand leveraging for Downton Abbey at NBCUniversal. Beyond the exhibitions, that agenda includes a new website, expansion of licensing and merchandise efforts and a revamped social media strategy
“It’s wonderful and it’s a relief and it’s inspiring now that we can continue to develop many of the things that have shown promise over the last couple of years since I joined Laika,” Wald said. “With Laika, the first 10 years were about building these acclaimed films and focusing very much on how to do that. Then when I joined we looked at ways we could further build the brand as well as to continue, of course, making great films, which remains our core business. And we want to produce more and more and increase that output.”
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