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Simon Otto to Helm Locksmith Animation’s ‘That Christmas’

Renowned ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ head of character animation makes his animated feature film directorial debut on CG animated adaptation of Richard Curtis’ children’s book series.

Veteran animation director and designer Simon Otto is taking the helm of Locksmith Animation’s next feature film, That Christmas. The VES Award-winning head of character animation, story artist, character designer, and director best known for DreamWorks Animation’s hugely successful How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, makes his animated feature film directorial debut on the project, previously known as The Empty Stocking. Based on a trio of Christmas children’s books by acclaimed writer/director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mr. Bean, Love Actually, Yesterday) That Christmas is currently in development at Locksmith Animation’s studios in London.  The studio’s first feature film, Ron’s Gone Wrong, will be released worldwide by Disney on October 22, 2021. 

The three-book series – “The Empty Stocking,” “Snow Day,” and “That Christmas,” published by Puffin – tell family stories that take place in the run-up to Christmas.  In the film, the stories take place in a small English beach town, interwoven to create what the studio describes as “Love Actually for kids.”

“Simon Otto is one of the pre-eminent artists working in the feature film animation arena today,” said Locksmith co-founder, Julie Lockhart.  “His superb taste and his ability to endow animated characters and stories with heart, humor and pathos is in a class by itself.  We are overjoyed that he will be making his feature directing debut on this Locksmith project.”

“I’m beyond thrilled to be given the chance to direct this heart-warming holiday film alongside the immensely talented team at Locksmith Animation,” said Otto.  “The opportunity to collaborate with the one and only Richard Curtis and bring his charming characters and stories to life through animation is a true gift.” 

In addition to overseeing the animation on the How to Train Your Dragon films, Otto played a key role in designing and developing the look of the characters, their personalities, and the overall style of the animation, as well as worked in the story department.  He joined DreamWorks in 1997, first working on The Prince of Egypt before becoming a supervising animator, both in hand-drawn and CG animation, on many of the studio’s features, including Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Over the Hedge, and the Aardman co-production Flushed Away.      

Born and raised in Switzerland, Otto studied at Les Gobelins Animation School in Paris, France. He won a Visual Effects Society (VES) award for Outstanding Animation in a Feature Film for the first How to Train Your Dragon in 2010 and was nominated again in 2015 for How to Train Your Dragon 2.  While at DreamWorks, he directed multiple episodes of different Netflix animated series including Dragons – Race to the Edge and Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia.   After 21 years at DreamWorks Animation, Otto left the studio to pursue a variety of projects in shorts, series, and features.  Most recently, he directed “The Tall Grass” episode of Love, Death + Robots, Volume 2 for Netflix. 

The Locksmith film marks Curtis’ first animated feature project; his live-action films – including Yesterday, Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and About Time – have generated more than $2.5bn worldwide. 

“I couldn’t be happier that Simon has opted to join the feature film directorial ranks with our film,” says Curtis.  “He is such a superbly gifted visual storyteller, and I can’t wait to see how he translates our characters and cluster of Christmas stories to the screen.” 

Elisabeth Murdoch, Sarah Smith, Lockhart, and Bonnie Arnold are executive producing.  Curtis is writing the screenplay with Peter Souter.  Curtis will also EP, along with Colin Hopkins and the book’s illustrator, Rebecca Cobb.   

Just last week, Locksmith named former COO and senior advisor of Illumination Entertainment, Natalie Fischer, as their CEO. Company co-founder Julie Lockhart was named president of production, continuing to lead all aspects of production and development while partnering with Fischer at a strategic level. Co-founder Sarah Smith, writer, and director of Ron’s Gone Wrong, stepped down from her role at the studio to concentrate on developing her own creative projects. 

Source: Locksmith Animation