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LAIKA Hires Former Buzzfeed and FX Exec Michael Waghalter

Move is designed to expand studio’s installation-based branding and business development efforts.

Four-time Oscar-nominated stop-motion powerhouse LAIKA has hired Michael Waghalter as their new head of business development, according to a Deadline report. Waghalter, a former executive at Buzzfeed and FX Networks, will be involved in the studio’s efforts to build LAIKA’s brand through installations and location-based activities at conventions, museums and theme parks.

Brad Wald, LAIKA CFO and SVP of business operations, in describing the studio’s branding efforts he has been spearheading, said, “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. 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 hire comes on the heels of the studio’s hugely successful LAIKA Live! celebration of the10th anniversary of their first animated feature, Coraline, this past July at San Diego’s Comic-Con convention. The exhibit, setup in the Gaslamp district a block away from the San Diego Convention Center, was swarmed by fans its entire run.  

In addition, the studio recently partnered with the Portland Art Museum and its Northwest Film Center on a unique and popular exhibit, Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA, a groundbreaking view behind-the-curtain into LAIKA’s visionary artistry and animation technology. The show ran from last October 14 through May 20 of this year.

LAIKA’s San Diego installation was a completely immersive experience that featured fully-realized sets, the “puppet hospital,” and many props and favorite animation pieces from their four animated features: Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014) and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). The exhibition also showcased actual LAIKA animators and background artists (in their natural habitats) giving live demonstrations of the animation process and puppet construction.

The studio’s next film, Missing Link, is scheduled to hit theatres this coming April 19. It features the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson and Zach Galifiankis. Annapurna is distributing the film in the U.S., with AGC International, the sales and distribution division of AGC Studios, handling international sales. Lionsgate UK is handling distribution in U.K. and Ireland.

Missing Link is written and directed by Oscar nominee Chris Butler (ParaNorman). Oscar nominee Arianne Sutner (ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings) is producing along with Travis Knight, LAIKA's president and CEO, who earned an Academy Award nomination and BAFTA win for his directorial debut on Kubo and the Two Strings.

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.