‘It was a big existential moment’: Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian on the next steps with Netflix

A still from 'The Magician's Elephant'. (Image: Netflix / © 2020)

Animal Logic co-founder and CEO Zareh Nalbandian believes coming under Netflix is an opportunity to “solidify the company’s future”, following a tumultuous couple of years for the industry.

As part of an agreement announced today, the global streamer is set to take over Animal Logic’s animation studio pipelines in Australia and Canada to support the production of its animation film titles.

Animal Logic teams and leadership will remain operating under the Animal Logic brand, while Nalbandian retains control of production arms, Animal Logic Entertainment, and the LA-based Truant Pictures.

Speaking to IF, he said the deal had been borne out of a growing partnership that had led to the companies collaborating on two films in as many years — Wendy Rogers’ The Magician’s Elephant and Ron Howard’s The Shrinking of the Treehorns.

“Netflix has an incredible commitment to animation — it’s a really big part of their strategy — and they really wanted to take their animation division to the next level,” he said.

“They literally said that the only partner they could imagine doing that with in the world was Animal Logic.

“They were that focused on us and excited about what we could do together, and from my point of view, after 30 years, it was an opportunity for me to really solidify the company’s future.”

It was from an acquisition that Animal Logic first came into existence more than three decades ago, after Nalbandian and co-founder Chris Godfrey purchased the Video Paint Brush Company.

Starting with an initial team of 12, the company worked on advertising campaigns alongside other businesses before eventually forming relationships with producers such as Barrie Osbourne, leading the team to contribute to The Matrix.

In the years since, they have continued to build bonds with a range of prominent directors and studios, creating visual effects and animation for Moulin Rouge!, Happy Feet 1 and 2, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Great Gatsby, the LEGO franchise.

Nalbandian said while he had previously fielded acquisition offers from other companies, it wasn’t until the end of last year that he realised it was the right move.

“COVID really impacted theatrical releases for family movies and independent movie production as well,” he said.

“There were certainly a lot of changes in the industry, such as a change of leadership at Paramount Pictures, and definitely a big swing from theatrical to streaming.

“When you look at that kind of churn and turmoil in the industry, I look at the company and I go strategically, ‘How can I secure the next 30 years?’

“Believe me, it’s a big existential moment for me and the company after 30 years, but I really feel like it’s such an exciting opportunity to take Animal Logic to the next level, put it alongside the major Hollywood studios as the animation division of Netflix, and to secure long term opportunities for the Animal Logic crew all around the world.”

Nalbandian identified technological innovation and a broadening of the scope of filmmakers they could work with as two key opportunities stemming from the deal.

“[The deal] opens up a whole world for Animal Logic in terms of the kind of movies we can engage on and contribute to work on,” he said.

“Also, Netflix is a really powerful technology company and we’ve had we’ve got 30 years of history in terms of developing very powerful proprietary technology to support our creatives to do very innovative things.

“I think the combination of the Netflix technology teams and the Animal Logic technology teams will really turbocharge what we can do with technology.

“I always say that we’re about the sweet spot of convergence between creativity and technology.”

Outside of production, Animal Logic has also attempted to address the skills shortage, partnering with the University of Technology Sydney in 2016 to launch the Masters of Animation and Visualisation.

Nalbandian said the furthering of the company’s relationship with Netflix was another opportunity to grow the local talent base.

“I’m so 100 per cent committed to growing our industry in Australia and that’s about developing and attracting and retaining talent and skilled people,” he said.

“I think that [the deal] is going to mean be a whole lot of job opportunities over the years and I think it’ll really solidify our industry, particularly in Sydney, but also in Australia.

“We’ll see a lot of growth as an industry, not just for Animal Logic, so I’m excited at so many levels.”