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Banjax Opens Digital Animation Studio in Belfast

Banjax has opened a new digital animation studio based in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, to produce province's first major animated feature film and breathe life into the creative industries in Northern Ireland.

Banjax founders Darryl Collins, formerly of Blackstar, and award-winning director and writer Richard Morss and director/animator Alastair McIlwain, are focusing on the export potential of two major projects in a global industry sector that is expected to grow 10-fold over the next five years. Their efforts are being supported by Northern Ireland agencies.

Among Banjax's pipeline projects is LUKE THE LIFEBOAT, a 52-episode series aimed at pre-school children. Its set in the mythical Northern Ireland seaside village of Donaghadoo. Due to begin production later this summer, in time to launch at the international TV market at MIPCOM Jr. in October, LUKE THE LIFEBOAT will be the first major digitally animated series to be produced in Belfast. Banjax's chief exec Collins said he projects between 20 to 30 high value jobs will be created when the studios other pipeline projects go into production.

Gene-Fusion, an 84-minute, futuristic, action packed feature, following the adventures of superhero teens and genetically modified monsters. Gene Fusion is a partnership between Banjax, Dallas-based Beckett Entertainment and Montreal-based animation studio pop6. Due to begin production in autumn 2005, the feature and a subsequent 26x30 series will be produced for the global TV market and licensed across digital media in online games, consoles, mobile phones, toys and merchandising.

The sector is proving extremely attractive to private investors and venture capital funds alike, according to Collins. "Output from the top two international studios, Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, has proved there is serious money in animated blockbusters and their associated licensing" he points out. "The potential returns in this rapid growth area are very appealing." Shrek and Finding Nemo have to date generated $700m and $339.7m respectively, while the pending release of Wallace and Gromit this autumn from DreamWorks' U.K. partner Aardman Features, proves the commercial ability of locally developed animation properties to cross the Atlantic. Another international success Collins sites is Bob the Builder, which can now be seen in 190 territories and the global franchise is generating around $100 million a year in revenues.

Collins and his partners are interested in building long term viability for the digital animation and the broader creative industries in Northern Ireland. They have brought aboard Mike Bass, an award-winning Canadian animator, and expect to recruit around 25 digital designers modellers and artists over the next six months. Banjax is committed to creating opportunity for talented, digital artists to work in a commercial animation studio, helping to build an industry in Northern Ireland whose output will be seen all over the world, said McIlwain. Banjax also has a number of feature film projects in development.

Darryl Collins, Alastair McIlwain and Richard Morss founded Banjax in 2002. The company has received financial support from a range of Northern Ireland agencies such as the Northern Ireland Film & Television Commission, Department of Culture Arts & Leisure, the Invest Northern Ireland, the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment and private equity fund NITECH. Banjax was the first Northern Ireland company to be awarded development slate funding from Europe's MEDIA Plus.