LAIKA, the Portland-based animation studio whose first feature film, CORALINE, was released by Focus Features on February 6, has announced that Travis Knight has been named President and CEO of the company. Knight, the son of LAIKA's owner Philip H. Knight, succeeds Dale Wahl, who has held the position since 2005. Travis 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 producer Claire 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 Thursday by Phil Knight, LAIKA's owner and Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Board and Co-Founder of Nike, Inc.
"Dale Wahl steps down as CEO at his request," Phil Knight said. "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 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 Ent., 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. 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, 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 exec producer of HIT Ent.'s British children's TV series PINGU. As an event management and concert promotion exec, she was involved in such projects and talent as COMIC RELIEF, Tina Turner, Talking Heads and Bob Geldof.
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.