Zareh Nalbandian to step down from Animal Logic, Sharon Taylor appointed CEO

Zareh Nalbandian and Sharon Taylor.

EXCLUSIVE: Animal Logic co-founder and CEO Zareh Nalbandian has announced he will step down from the leadership of the company in September, handing the reins to current chief operating officer Sharon Taylor.

Until September, both Taylor and Nalbandian will serve as co-CEOs.

Nalbandian’s departure from Animal Logic, which he established with Chris Godfrey in 1991, follows the sale of its animation studios to Netflix last year for a reported $700 million. He retains control of production companies Animal Logic Entertainment and Truant Pictures, and will make producing his focus going forward.

Animal Logic Entertainment is currently producing Ron Howard’s The Shrinking of Treehorn for Netflix, with animation taking place out of Animal Logic Sydney, and also has several other animated projects in development with the streamer. So in that sense, Nalbandian’s association with the Animal Logic is far from over, but is just on a different footing.

Selling Animal Logic to Netflix was a decision Nalbandian says he made in order to secure its future, to “make it stable, but also support its growth and provide huge opportunities.”

Among the conditions for the sale were that it be a semi-autonomous business unit of Netflix, and that initially, leadership would be elevated from within.

Nalbandian describes Taylor as one of the most energetic, bright and selfless people he’s ever met, stating he could not imagine a better person to hand leadership to. He is assured she will maintain the company culture.

“It was always my view that within a year that I should be handing over the reins to an appropriate team. I’ve worked with Sharon now for close to 20 years. She’s been a great partner in leadership, especially in recent years, and has helped shape and grow the company to where we are today. It’s always been my intention that she should take over at the right time,” Nalbandian tells IF.

“We have a fantastic leadership team in place, a deep bench of great people both in Sydney and Vancouver, and I’m really confident that they’re going to do amazing things with the company.”

Taylor has worked for Animal Logic since 2005, initially across various production accounting roles before becoming head of production accounting in 2011. Her background in animation and VFX then saw her appointed group head of production in 2014, overseeing projects such as Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Great Gatsby, The Avengers and The LEGO Movie franchise.

Prior to becoming COO in 2017, Taylor worked at Animal Logic Vancouver as executive vice president and general manager, overseeing the start-up and growth of the new studio through to delivery of The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, of which she was also co-producer.

Speaking of her CEO appointment, Taylor says she’s honoured to continue championing Animal Logic’s unique culture and history as a leading animation studio.

“I feel a great sense of responsibility and pride at the opportunity to further support our incredibly talented Animals. For over 30 years, Zareh has pushed the boundaries of filmmaking, creating a strong foundation for us all to build upon,” she says.

“He’s an innovator and inspiration in this industry, and I look forward to expanding our reach in animation and entertaining our members worldwide.”

When Nalbandian and Godfrey started Animal Logic in ’91 it began with just 12 people, including art director Felicity Coonan, who still works for AL; David Booth, today principal of SlateVFX, and Lynne Cartwright, who was the company’s VFX supervisor on The Matrix movies.

The company’s beginnings were in advertising, before moving into visual effects for feature films with The Matrix and then later, animation with George Miller’s Happy Feet.

Nalbandian notes it is no small feat for an independent Australian animation company to grow to the point where it becomes the animation division of one of the world’s biggest studios. He is excited that the Netflix deal will see the company double in size within just two or three years, expecting around 1,000 people to be employed out of Sydney.

Reflecting on its legacy, he is proud of the films Animal Logic has made, its collaboration with filmmakers, as well as the talent it has fostered and nurtured. However, he is ready to see the team that brought the company to this point drive it from here, while he makes his focus producing world-class content out of Australia – a country where he believes there is so much talent, and I just hate seeing that talent leave the country and looking for opportunities elsewhere”.

Animal Logic Entertainment specialises in animation and hybrid family features, such as its Peter Rabbit franchise, while Truant Pictures is a live-action genre label.

“I think that I’ve done what I needed to do in terms of establishing a great, independent animation studio with my great team at Animal Logic. I feel like that child is grown up and can leave home and do well on its own,” Nalbandian says.

“From a point of view of the industry as well as my personal passion, I’m really committed to developing stories out of Australia for audiences around the world. It’s so hard to get investment in Australia in terms of IP development across any sector, especially the film sector. It’s something that I’ve been committed to now for almost 20 years since my very first film that I produced, Legend of the Guardians that Zack Snyder directed. I started Animal Logic Entertainment at that time.

“I feel like that that investment is critical for our industry to be able to generate great stories that we can tell out of Australia for worldwide audiences, and that that legacy excites me. If I continue to be successful in doing that, that gives me great satisfaction.

“Truant Pictures, which my son Toby Nalbandian heads up in Los Angeles, is the other end of the spectrum where we’re supporting emerging filmmakers out of Australia and from around the world to be able to launch movies that otherwise wouldn’t be able to be made because of the support that we can give them.”

Through Animal Logic Entertainment Nalbandian flags he intends to run several initiatives to bolster the Australian industry, whether traineeships, apprenticeships, internships or philanthropic support of arts institutions. Last October, Nalbandian was appointed a patron of the Motion Picture Industry Benevolent Society, and he also serves on the boards of Australians in Film and the Sydney Film Festival. ALE also recently backed a scholarship at NIDA, designed to support students from under-represented backgrounds in the arts and entertainment industries.

“That’s part of my passion going forward. The new chapter of my career is that we give back any way we can.”