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Van Helsing Prequel Sheds Animated Light on DVD

Taking THE ANIMATRIX a step further, Universal Home Ent Prods. has created an original animated DVD prequel, VAN HELSING: LONDON ASSIGNMENT, which seques right into the just released VAN HELSING feature. The unrated, 33-minute LONDON ASSIGNMENT (Universal Studios Home Video, $14.98), which streets May 11, 2004, boasts the participation of Stephen Sommers and Bob Ducsay (the exec producers who directed and produced the feature), and cast members Hugh Jackman (Van Helsing), David Wenham (Friar Carl), Robbie Coltrane (Mr. Hyde) and Alun Armstrong (the cardinal).

The 2D/3D hybrid, directed by first-timer Sharon Bridgeman (a storyboard artist), produced by John Kafka and written by Judith & Gar Reeves-Stevens, introduces viewers to the world of legendary monster hunter Van Helsing, hot on the trail of Jack the Ripper, who just happens to be the demonic Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll, it turns out, could be a soul mate of the Phantom of the Opera too.

Animation was produced by Universal Cartoon Studios and the first collaboration between Korea's Sunwoo Ent. and Production I.G. of Japan. The style is more graphic novel than anime, however, and one of the nice features of the DVD is a series of four animatic to animation sequences.

Despite a very tight schedule and budget, Kafka is very pleased with the results, suggesting that the animation does a great job of melding reality and the supernatural. "A lot of projects with humancharacters just don't translate into 3D well, and the Japanese do realistic-looking films in 2D very well, and you buy [LONDON ASSIGNMENT] pretty much as though it were 3D animation," Kafka told AWN.

"To me, the [hybrid animation] is the immediate future of animation because it gives us the camera freedom that we've always needed, plus, philosophically, I think there's also a certain distance that you need from a graphic project [that you get with 2D]. The thing about live action is that you know the rules when you step into a movie. In animation, there are no [physical] constraints. You can go, as we did, into a historical era and sell it relatively well without putting too much demand on an audience. I like it. The conventions of it are really workable. I'm really sorry to hear all these discussions about how 2D is dead. I don't believe it. Projects like this and [the upcoming CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK prequel, DARK FURY] are grander types of animated projects. And I hope that these two projects succeed and give 2D animators work.