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It's Open Season on Sony Pictures Animation

Amid speculation that Sony was interested in purchasing Pixar Animation Studios, causing Pixar stock to surge, Sony Pictures Animation announced on Thursday that its first CG feature would be OPEN SEASON, inspired by the humor of syndicated cartoonist Steve Moore (IN THE BLEACHERS). Production has already begun in this comedy about a 900 pound domesticated Grizzly bear named Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence) and a scrawny, one-horned mule deer named Elliot (voiced by Ashton Kutcher), stranded together in the woods during hunting season. Boog and Elliot must work together to rally the animals of the forest and turn the tables on the hunters. Debra Messing of WILL & GRACE will voice a forest ranger that rescued and raised Boog.

OPEN SEASON is directed by Jill Culton, with Anthony Stacchi serving as co-director. Culton was credited with the original story for MONSTERS, INC, where she served as both head of story development and as conceptual artist; she was on the story team for Toy Story 2, where she is credited with designing the character of Jessie. Culton's other credits include A BUG'S LIFE (storyboard artist), CATS DON'T DANCE (directing animator), and TOY STORY (story). Stacchi most recently was part of the development team on CURIOUS GEORGE. Other credits include ANTZ (story artist) and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH (visual effects).

Sony Pictures Animation was established in May 2002, and is led by executive vps Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, formerly with DreamWorks. OPEN SEASON will be released in 2006, with digital animation provided by Sony Pictures Imageworks (SPIDER-MAN 2 and POLAR EXPRESS).

"In casting the characters of Boog, Elliot and Beth, we knew we had to find actors with great comedic timing," said Rabins and Finkelman Cox. "Boog is a domesticated bear who has the town wired and Elliot is a fast-talking misfit. In Martin and Ashton, we've found a comedic duo who will truly bring to life the personalities of Boog and Elliot. Debra will bring to the character of Beth such heart and warmth, at the same time providing her own unique wit and humor."

In acknowledging that 2D visual styles are being carried over into the 3D world (which is happening throughout the industry), Rabins told VFXWorld that "OPEN SEASON is going to have more squash-and-stretch animation than we've seen or at least than Penney and I have been affiliated with in our projects."

In particular, Finkelman Cox told VFXWorld that the OPEN SEASON team has been able to successfully translate the style of legendary background artist Eyvind Earle (SLEEPING BEAUTY) with proprietary software. "Earle has a very graphic style with strong, strong shapes and foreground, middle ground and background delineations that we've been able to carry over into the 3D world using light. We've had to figure out how light will swing around graphic shapes as they move."

Director Culton and her colleagues are fascinated by the way the crisp, clean lines are in stark contrast to the physical humor of the mismatched characters.

"We have a belief here that each director should have their own unique style," Rabins added. "What you're going to find on a Sony animation is that no two pictures look or feel alike - whether it's how the characters are portrayed or what the style and visual look of the film is. And we're encouraging our directors to take their unique talents and styles and put that on the canvas making a 3D film - to find their inspiration either from existing illustrators or painters or artisans or to create something that they have in their head of what they'd like to see."

Finkelman Cox hinted that Sony's second project would be announced shortly. Among the possibilities are CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, based on the children's book by Judi and Ron Barrett, to be directed by Brizzi twins, Paul and Gaetan, about a land where food falls from the sky; SURF'S UP!, a new twist on ROMEO AND JULIET; an all-new CG translation of ASTRO BOY; TAM LIN, inspired by a Celtic folk ballad, with THE LION KING'S Roger Allers set to direct; and THE CHUBBCHUBBS! (inspired by the Oscar-winning Sony Pictures Imageworks short).

Sony Pictures Digital (SPD), an operating unit of Sony Pictures Ent. (SPE) oversees the activities of SPE's digital production and online assets. Sony Pictures Digital consists of four key operating business units: Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sony Online Ent. and Sony Pictures Digital Networks, which is focused on mobile entertainment, broadband video delivery and personal media software and services. For more information please visit www.sonypictures.com.

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