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Shadedbox to Develop Francis Feature at Disney

Hot off its Student Emmy Award for the clever animated short LITTLE RED PLANE, Shadedbox, the Pasadena-based animation studio formed two years ago by a group of college buddies, has optioned its first CG-animated feature to Disney. LETS GET FRANCIS is a fast-paced comedy about two hamster brothers, Joe and Francis, who live inside a mall pet store, and compete for the attention of customers during the busy holiday season.

After the success of LITTLE RED PLANE, we met some pretty powerful people, Joey Jones told VFXWorld. They asked us our ideas and we came up with this idea of a pet store, and before we knew it, Disney optioned it.

In addition to Jones, Shadedbox is comprised of recent Art Center of Pasadena graduates Wira Winata, Mike Frantum and Jason Du. UC Santa Barbara graduate Kazu Kibuishi soon joined them. The company.

The four of us went to school together and we knew we wanted to work together. We hooked up with Kazu and have been doing contract vfx and animation work to pay the bills until this feature project came along. Shadedbox recently did cinematics for an upcoming Sony video game, created a CG spot featuring former Laker star Robert Horry for the Bacchus Energy drink (South Koreas answer to Red Bull) and did visual development and character concepts for a Vanguard Films project based on the noirish childrens book, CHET GECKO. These can be found on the websites for Shadedbox ( and Vanguard (

More importantly for Disney, Shadedbox also did the 3D intro menu for the upcoming PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL DVD. We had some very ambitious ideas for a feature, and we even thinking about producing it in-house ourselves, Jones continued. But then we looked for a self-contained story with one or two environments. Kazu and I are both older brothers and could relate to [sibling rivalry] and found it easier to write LETS GET FRANCIS.

The Shadedbox team came up with a verbal pitch and Kibuishi and Winata drew some 60 storyboards, which got whittled down to 25 for the presentation. In addition to Disney, they pitched Sony, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks, Tom Hanks Playtone and Robert Zemeckis ImageMovers.

So far, Shadedbox couldnt be happier with Disney, as they hone in on a treatment and then a script. This is new for Disney, Jones offered Were attached to direct this and theyre not known for going outside and reaching out to first-time directors like this. We have also been told that we will have a lot of say in the script. My feeling is that the script is the most important thing. Pixar is a constant inspiration for us. Their motto, Story is king, is ours as well. Thats how we succeeded with LITTLE RED PLANE and its gotten us this far.

Bill Desowitz's picture

Bill Desowitz, former editor of VFXWorld, is currently the Crafts Editor of IndieWire.