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Friday, 29 October, 1999, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Gromit goes to Hollywood
The creativity of Wallace and Gromit impressed the DreamWorks team
Aardman Animations - the creators of hit clay characters Wallace and Gromit - has signed up to a five-film deal with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg.

The collaboration between the Oscar-winning animators and Spielberg's DreamWorks studio has already begun with the making of the feature-length film Chicken Run, due for release next summer.

Award-winner: Nick Park has won three Oscars
The new deal means that they will go on to make a further four films together in a $250m (152m) partnership.

Bristol-based Aardman Animations is recognised as the industry leader in stop-motion clay animation.

Founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton in 1976, Nick Park joined Aardman in 1985 and became a co-director.

The company has now built up a 300-strong team following the global success of its Wallace and Gromit films, directed by Park.

As well as the two Oscars Park won for The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, he picked up another for his series of shorts called Creature Comforts. Aardman has also notched up several Baftas and more than 100 other awards.

Following the announcement of the new deal, Sproxton said: "We are delighted to be partnered with a studio that is as driven by innovation and imagination as we have always been.

"I am pleased that this deal allows the partners to look far ahead, taking in its stride the many changes that will undoubtedly hit the film industry over the next few years. We look forward to a long, successful and highly creative partnership with DreamWorks."

The creative teamwork between the two companies was brokered with the making of Chicken Run - described as a version of the Steve McQueen classic the Great Escape set in a chicken coup.

Steven Spielberg wants to make four more films with Aardman
It has been directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park and features the celebrity voices of actors Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha and Miranda Richardson.

The first project being talked about under the new pact is, for the moment, called The Tortoise and the Hare, inspired by the Aesop fable.

DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg said: "I have long been a fan of Aardman's extraordinary talent and ingenuity. Working with them on Chicken Run, my respect and admiration for their entire team has grown.

"I could not be more thrilled about this new creative partnership and am very excited about exploring the many storytelling possibilities of this unique art form with a company that is quite simply the best in the business."

Under the terms of the deal, Aardman will exclusively produce feature films with DreamWorks.

Independently, they will continue to create and produce their own animated short films as well as commercials and television projects.

DreamWorks was formed in October 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

It produces live-action motion pictures, animated feature films, TV and video entertainment, records , toys and interactive games.

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