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Sony to Launch Feature Animation Unit

posted on 2002-05-09 08:08 EDT
According to a LA Times article Sony Pictures Entertainment is plunging into the feature animation business in hopes of cashing in on the kind of blockbuster success that rival studios have had with computer-generated family hits such as "Ice Age," "Monsters, Inc." and "Shrek."

Sony Pictures Entertainment is plunging into the feature animation business in hopes of cashing in on the kind of blockbuster success that rival studios have had with computer-generated family hits such as "Ice Age," "Monsters, Inc." and "Shrek."

Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins, who started Dreamworks SKG's animation division at the studio's inception in 1994 and was executive producer of its Oscar-winning hit "Shrek," will head a new animation unit within Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment.

The pair will oversee the development and production of computer-generated features, reporting to Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment President Yair Landau. "This is a big step forward," said Landau, who has long championed Sony's move into animation. Landau said that corporate brass at parent Sony Corp. is now fully on board.

"Tokyo really loves the idea of us creating original characters digitally. It's a fulfillment of what they believe the company can become," he said.

Cox and Rabins, who left Dreamworks last summer to be independent producers, said their mandate is to deliver one animated film every 18 months once the development pipeline is full.


The success of the "Toy Story" films and most recently "Ice Age," "Monster's, Inc." and "Shrek" has upstaged disappointing results from such traditional, hand-drawn 2-D animated films as "The Road to El Dorado," "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Osmosis Jones."

In a pop-culture age dominated by MTV, the Internet, interactive video games and sophisticated special effects, today's audiences, kids and parents alike, seem particularly wowed by the characters and backgrounds made possible by artists painting on computers.

Cox and Rabins have firsthand experience in digital and traditional animation, having worked as producers and top executives at Dreamworks for seven years, where they produced "The Prince of Egypt" and were executive producers of the computer-generated "Antz."

Cox and Rabins said they strongly believe that digital movies are what audiences prefer.

The runaway success of 20th Century Fox's current release "Ice Age," which has grossed $170 million to date, underscores that studios other than Disney and Dreamworks are capable of creating animated blockbusters.

"The 3-D world allows you to push the boundaries of imagination and expression. It's a very powerful way to tell a story visually," Landau said.

They are particularly appealing to studios because they're much cheaper and quicker to produce. The rule of thumb, Cox said, is that it takes 400 artists four years to bring a 2-D movie to theaters.

It takes half that number in three years to accomplish the same for a computer-generated movie.

As a result, a digital movie typically costs about $80 million, compared with $150 million for a traditional animated feature.

Unlike Fox and Warner Bros., which a few years back made and then lost significant investments in the animation business by launching full-scale divisions that produced such costly flops as "Titan A.E." and "Quest for Camelot," Sony is taking a more measured approach as it goes into the business.

"This is really an outgrowth of the evolution of Imageworks," said Landau, explaining that after the studio saw an early screening of "Shrek," he started discussing the idea of Sony Animation with Calley and Sony Corp. of America chief Howard Stringer "in earnest."

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