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Sony Animation Draws Top Directors To Toon Up Busy Slate

A year into its making, Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) has unveiled a busy slate of five new projects with major animation directors and writers to create diverse, unbranded entertainment for a broad audience, as envisioned by co-chiefs, Sandra Rabins and Penny Finkelman Cox. The new stable hails from such blockbusters as THE LION KING, MONSTERS, INC., SHREK, THE PRINCE OF EGYPT and TOY STORY.

The primary difference in setting up this unit is that the production pipeline is already in place, thanks to Sony Pictures Imageworks, the duo told AWN. "We haven't had to spend time setting it up or getting involved in technology issues," said Rabins as they've been required to at other houses (they came from DreamWorks to Sony). "We're not involved in technology issues," said Finkelman Cox, which they found incredibly time-consuming and pulled them away from the story issues. Having Sony Pictures Digital plugged in enables them to be more aggressive and keep things moving forward. A problem they've seen at other studios is too much concentration on one feature at a time and the success of it. "We're moving on many simultaneously," said Finkelman Cox.

Jill Culton will direct and Anthony Stacchi will co-direct the comedy adventure OPEN SEASON. Based on the humor of cartoonist Steve Moore, OPEN SEASON looks at what happens in the wild when the animals scheme to turn the tables on the hunters. Disney veteran Chris Jenkins (THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?) will produce, while John Carls (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) and Moore are exec producers. Nat Mauldin (DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, DOWNTOWN) is penning the script.

Culton comes from ILM where she developed CURIOUS GEORGE for Universal. Culton did the original story for MONSTERS, INC., where she served as both head of story development and conceptual artist, as well as being on the story team for TOY STORY 2. Stacchi wrote and developed digital feature content for ILM (CURIOUS GEORGE). She also was a story artist on ANTZ and did visual effects on JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH.

THE LION KING, LITTLE MERMAID AND BEAUTY AND THE BEAST collaborators Roger Allers and Brenda Chapman (THE PRINCE OF EGYPT) will co-direct TAM LIN. The film is loosely based on the Celtic folk ballad of the same name, set against the fantastical worlds of best-selling artists Brian and Wendy Froud. Acclaimed fantasy author Neil Gaiman (STARDUST, PRINCESS MONONOKE) will write the screenplay that Robert Gould will produce with Lois Sarkisian to serve as exec producer.

Twin brothers Paul Brizzi and Gaetan Brizzi, sequence directors in DISNEYS FANTASIA 2000 and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, have joined SPA to direct CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, based on the childrens book of the same name by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett about a land where food falls from the sky. Wayne Rice (DUDE, WHERES MY CAR, LITTLE GREEN MEN) will adapt the screenplay.

Paul Brizzi and Gaetan Brizzi will also direct and supervise the development of SURFS UP! Christian Darren (COUNT THREE AND PRAY, SIX BULLETS FROM NOW) is writing the screenplay for the boy-meets-girl-Romeo-and-Juliet story set against the high-energy world of surfing with a twist.

Sony Pictures Imageworks' Academy Award-winning short film THE CHUBBCHUBBS! is being developed into a feature. "The characters and property are perfect for a full-length film version," said Rabins.

"Our goal is to reach the broadest audience that we can," said Rabins, a goal Sony is happy with. Sony is hoping the team can replicate the wide appeal of a film like SHREK, "Where we not only captured childrens' imaginations, we got the date crowd in and our parents to come and see it," said Rabins.

They haven't decided which project will come out the gate first. Most require a production cycle of 18-24 months with units working on the films simultaneously. Their mandate is to go through Sony Pictures Imageworks, keeping the work in the U.S., but they are open to other opportunities, according to Rabins. She said they think sending work to other studios, "will be possible and is something that we hope for in the future."

Diverse teams gives each project its own vision with the creatives' unique sense of storytelling and look, said Finkelman Cox. They are consciously not trying to develop a Sony brand and will depend upon the well-oiled marketing machinery of Sony to take each picture and give it the individual attention it deserves, much like it does with the Revolution Studios (DADDY DAYCARE, XXX), which are treated differently.

Their strategy to stand out means reaching out to agents, writers and book publishers for projects as well as the new talents on board at SPA. The problem with other facilities is that most projects are entirely developed in-house, explained Finkelman Cox. "You can't really go anywhere to get your own animated movie made," said Rabins, who strives with her partner to make SPA a new house that can get their ideas made into features.