'Wallace and Gromit' firm sheds 150 jobs as film is mothballed

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Aardman Animations, the creator of Oscar-winning Plasticine duo Wallace and Gromit, has laid off around 150 staff because of scripting problems on its follow-up to the hit movie Chicken Run.

The Bristol-based company has put off production of its latest project, Tortoise vs Hare, indefinitely. All but a handful of the animators, set designers and prop builders hired for the film are to lose their jobs, though Aardman says it hopes to re-employ them when it finally gets the green light.

The delay could mean that the film, based on Aesop's fable about the race between a tortoise and a hare, is overtaken by Aardman's next, a planned big-screen adventure for Wensleydale-loving animated pensioner Wallace and his pet dog Gromit.

It is likely that many of the British actors due to voice the central characters, including Sir Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins, will be unavailable when it is re-mounted.

Arthur Sheriff, Aardman's spokesman, said that the redundancies had come about because of a "radical overhaul" of the Tortoise vs Hare script.

"We have effectively had a new idea and there is the potential for a new film," he said.

"We originally had around 160 people working on the film, and what we have been left with at the moment is the absolute core creative team of 10-12 people.

"All the sets and props built so far have been cocooned at the studio."

Spencer Macdonald, national organiser of technicians' union Bectu, said: "We are positive that they will spring back from this."

The job losses are the first serious hiccup for Aardman since it signed a £150m five-movie deal with Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks company two years ago.