Canuck group, known for TV toons, sets pic goal

TORONTO — Nelvana, best known for producing animated TV series, is stepping up feature film production with a goal of making one movie a year, says chairman Michael Hirsh.

“Babar, King of the Elephants” is currently in production and Nelvana will deliver the animated movie “Pippi Longstocking” this fall, Hirsh said Tuesday at the group’s annual meeting.

Nelvana also plans to add some of 117 half-hour episodes to its TV program library this year as it boosts proprietary production and scales back service production work.

Hirsh said two new series are in development: “Anatole,” based on the classic books by Eve Titus; and “Dumb Bunnies,” based on books illustrated by Dav Pilkey and published by Scholastic.

President Patrick Loubert said Nelvana plans to add a 3-D computer animation production center to its Toronto headquarters later this year. It is completing financing for its first in-house 3-D animation production, “Rolie Polie Olie,” in development for delivery in 1998.

Nelvana is the second company in North America to use computer-generated imaging (CGI) on an animated series, Loubert said. “We see 3-D animation evolving into an important new business.”

In a management reorganization, Hirsh and Loubert have become co-CEOs of Nelvana, and outside director Michael Harrison, the president of investment dealer MacDougall MacDougall & MacTier, becomes chairman.

Fox Kids Network’s acquisition last week of the U.S. Family Channel will add daily demand for 12 hours of children’s programming in the U.S., and three new children’s specialty channels could be launched there over the next three years, Hirsh said.

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