Nike co-founder and billionaire Phil Knight is making some noise with Laika, the Portland, Oregon-based animation studio he bought six years ago, according to VARIETY.
Laika, which does both CG and stop-motion, is scheduled to release their first feature, CORALINE on February 6, 2009 from Focus Features.
The stop-motion film follows a girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) who stumbles upon a dark fantasy alternate universe. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS director Henry Selick helmed the picture, with Knight's son Travis the lead animator.
Laika was created when Knight bought former Will Vinton Studios, famous for the California Raisins, when the company had fallen on hard times. Travis was already working at Vinton when his father bought the company and rebranded it.
Head of development acquisitions, Fiona Kenshole, described Laika's ambitions to VARIETY on Monday, "We're to the left of Pixar and to the right of NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. There are a lot of people moving into animation, and what they do is copycat. The world isn't waiting for another Pixar and another DreamWorks."
Laika put up the entire $50 to $70 million budget for CORALINE, but is seeking 50-50 partnerships for its next three pitches.
Laika's next project could be any one of three projects: HERE BE MONSTERS!, JACK AND BEN or PARANORMAN.
HERE BE MONSTERS!, from the books by Alan Snow, is a steampunk-flavored story set in 1850s London. The hero is a 12-year-old boy who has grown up in an underground world beneath the city but must move to the surface and live like a normal boy.
Irena Brignell is writing the script with Antony Stacci (OPEN SEASON) attached to direct what could be a CG or stop-motion pic.
JACK AND BEN will be a CG story told about bluebird brothers who get into a dangerous road-rally race to Florida along their migration route. MULAN's Barry Cook is set to direct, David Skelly is writing and Ric Sluiter (LILO & STITCH) will be the art director.
"What FINDING NEMO did under the water, we want to do in the air," Kenshole said, adding that the project would have characters based on the real Gumball Rally road race.
PARANORMAN is an original idea from CORALINE story chief Chris Butler, and revolves around a small town under a secret curse. The only person who can keep the town from being overrun by zombies is a 13-year-old boy, but no one will listen. PARANORMAN could also be stop-motion or CG, with Butler on board to write and direct under Selick's close supervision.
Laika now employs 550 people, with about 100 working at House, their commercial division. Plans for a 30-acre studio campus in Tualatin, Oregon are underway, with groundbreaking expected next year. The facility will have separate buildings for CG and stop-motion operations.