Animation World Magazine, Issue 3.1, April 1998


Fox Films To Focus On Animated Fare. Four months after the theatrical release of Anastasia, Fox expanded its commitment to animation. Fox Family Films, one of four film divisions of Twentieth Century Fox, has been renamed Fox Animation Studios, to reflect the division's new plan to focus solely on animated feature films, including stop-motion, mixed media (live-action mix) and digital production. "We have been and continue to be committed to animation for the long haul, and this expansion reflects the exciting potential that Anastasia has opened up for us," said Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman and CEO Bill Mechanic. Live-action projects which were in development by Fox Family Films are being shelved, put into turnaround or transferred to other Fox film divisions. Chris Melenandri will stay on as president of the renamed division, Kevin Bannerman has been upped from vice to senior vice president and Melissa Cobb will keep her post as vice president of production. While Fox Animation Studios' main production facility will remain in Phoenix, the division's Los Angeles office is likely to expand to accommodate more development personnel. Several animated projects are on the development slate, including Dark Town with Henry Selick, Chris Columbus and Sam Hamm, Santa Calls with Blue Sky|VIFX, and projects with Matt Groening (The Simpsons), Steve Oedekerk and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Fox's second animated feature, Planet Ice (1999), is currently in production in Phoenix, under the direction of Art Vitello, and shortly, the studio is expected to announce the next project from Anastasia producer/directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.

Hit Gets Hot For Production. London-based distributor HIT Entertainment has launched a production studio in Manchester called HOT Animation. The £2 million facility is being headed by producer Jackie Cockle, director Brian Little and cameraman Joe Dembinski, all formerly of Cosgrove Hall Films, which, until late 1997, produced the stop-motion animated series, Brambly Hedge for HIT. The studio has hired a staff of 20 people including animators Paul Couvele and George Laban, and will also utilize freelancers and trainees. HOT Animation will begin production on four new 30-minute episodes of Brambly Hedge in April and 13 ten-minute episodes of Bob the Builder, a new, stop-motion pre-school series, in July. HOT Animation will also be available for third-party production of stop-motion animation for television, commercials, and film. HIT, a publicly traded company, distributes programming to the BBC and broadcasters in more than 80 territories, and launched into home video distribution in September 1997. HIT's managing director Peter Orton said the launch into production represents a "major breakthrough" for the company, and will maximize revenue by ensuring control of rights and the entire production process.

Festivals Form Alliance.
While the growing number of animation events worldwide is resulting in increased competition for patronage and sponsorship funds, organizers of animation festivals in Canada, Holland and Switzerland have established an alliance to work collectively on selective programs, exhibitions and sponsorship proposals. The newly formalized partnership will combine resources of three festivals: the
Ottawa International Animation Festival , the Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF) and Fantoche. The festivals are co-producing an exhibition by Estonian animator Mati Kutt and a retrospective program of films by Russian animator Alexei Karaev, and in the future, plan to build a collective film archive and expand into distribution. OIAF director Chris Robinson said the group is open to expanding the alliance to include other festivals. "The aim is the preservation, maintenance and strengthening of the promotion of independent animation and the artists," he said.

Alliance Allies With Toymakers.
Toronto-based media company Alliance Communications has formed partnerships with three companies: Irwin Toys, Fisher-Price and Sega of America, to develop animated titles based on toys and games. With fellow Canadian company Irwin Toy, Alliance will produce 26 episodes of the Pascal Morelli-designed The 108 Outlaws, aan animated, action/adventure television series combining mythology, Asian legends and medieval tales. A production partner for Outlaws has not yet been named. With U.S. company Fisher-Price (a subsidiary of Mattel), Alliance has already launched production on an animated direct-to-video and series pilot based on Fisher-Price's new Rescue Heroes toy line unveiled at Toyfair. Toronto-based Pictor Entertainment is producing the 2-D/3-D animation, slated for completion in June 1998. Alliance will also produce 13 half-hour episodes of BUG!, a series based on Sega of America's Saturn video game of the same name. The comedy series will consist of three computer-animated cartoon shorts per episode. BUG! will be Alliance's third computer animated series, following Reboot and Beast Wars which were co-produced with the Vancouver-based studio, Mainframe Entertainment. It has not been determined if Mainframe will be involved in the making of BUG!.

For more animation and toy news, see our review of the 1998
Toy Fair, in the March 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine.

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