Aardman MD warns of threat to UK children’s animation

Published on: 7th February 2023

Sean Clarke of Aardman Animations has warned that production may have to move overseas as the UK lags behind on skills and tax relief.

Speaking to The Guardian, the head of the Oscar-winning British studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep has warned that future animation productions for children’s television may have to be made overseas, as acute challenges take their toll on the UK sector.

Aardman MD, Sean Clarke, said the animation industry is struggling with challenges ranging from serious competition from other countries on tax relief to a dire skills shortage.

“Children’s television is suffering and what’s produced in this country will go off the edge of a cliff in the next couple of years, unless something is done,” he said. “The ideas will still be conceived here, but they’ll be made elsewhere.”

Ireland, France, Canada and the Canary Islands all offer animation tax relief of between 37% and 50%, compared with only 25% in Britain.

Sean explained: “I have the Spanish calling me all the time, saying: ‘Why don’t you come to the Canaries, where it’s up to 50%?’ We have to consider it.”

In the current climate, it would have been impossible for Aardman to produce its popular animations, he said. “We created Shaun the Sheep 15 years ago and made 150 episodes. The landscape is now very different; if Aardman was starting today, it would be incredibly hard to produce Shaun the Sheep in this country. It’s a constant battle of how you raise money.”

Sean revealed that difficulties are amplified because other countries are also investing in infrastructure, both in terms of studios and training. “Training is broken in this country,” he said. “There is no infrastructure to train and nurture the next generation of talent for film and television. We’ve had to set up our own academy over the last 10 years because graduates from colleges and universities are not production-ready.”

As well as Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, the studio counts Chicken Run (and its upcoming sequel) among its hit properties alongside more recent animations, Lloyd of the Flies and Robin Robin.

As a globally successful company, Aardman hopes to be able to rely on its own financial reserves, but fears that if other studios are forced to move productions overseas, this will lead to a dwindling pool of UK animators. Sean said that Brexit has made it harder to bring over European animators and prevented access to European media funding. The UK government has also cancelled the Young Audiences Content Fund, despite its success in stimulating homegrown production.

He added: “If you don’t have access to funding, then you have to make your budgets smaller or sell rights in your project. What will be lost is that real innovation of someone like Aardman. Look at the animation characters that we’ve created in this country – Peppa Pig, Teletubbies, Bob the Builder. None of them are owned by British companies now. So you have tens of millions of pounds of value leaving the UK.”

“I’m talking about investment that has a clear, tangible return on it. The Young Audience Fund was £40m over three years and, in terms of the economic value to the UK, it is forecast to create £320m by 2027, not to mention jobs and the cultural benefit of UK-produced shows.”

Kate O’Connor, the head of Animation UK, which represents the industry, said: “We’re not asking for handouts, but to be competitive in the global marketplace.”

The government is currently conducting a consultation on audio-visual tax reliefs, due to close on 9th February.


Mark Kingston joins Zag in newly created role

Marvel chairman Ike Perlmutter let go by Disney

DreamWorks Animation stages Gabby’s Dollhouse VIP screening

The Paddington Bear Experience to open in London’s County Hall

Pinocchio and Friends set for second season

World’s first Play-Doh attractions to open in Saudi Arabia

Dungeons & Dragons movie hosts UK premiere in London

Paw Patrol anniversary special to celebrate 10 year milestone

Celebrities gather for Hey Duggee theatre performance

Lionsgate unveils new John Wick: Chapter 4 consumer products