Meeper intros Sony CG toon unit

Short bows in front of 'Men' sequel

An awkward alien named Meeper is introducing Hollywood and auds to Sony’s new toon unit.

When Sony Pictures Imageworks revealed plans last year to throw its hat into the feature animation ring, industryites questioned whether the f/x facility behind “Spider-Man” would be able to compete artistically with the likes of Pixar Animation Studios (“Toy Story”), Blue Sky Studios (“Ice Age”) or DreamWorks/PDI (“Shrek”).

The company surprised critics and auds at “Men in Black II” with “The ChubbChubbs,” a 5½-minute all-CG short featuring Meeper, who tries to save the otherworldly patrons of the Ale-E-Inn from impending danger. Short bowed in front of the sci-fi sequel.

Imageworks previously created CG characters for the two “Stuart Little” pics, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Spider-Man.” However, “The ChubbChubbs” is the first all-CG animated short Imageworks has produced.

Test project

However, the facility never promoted the fact that it was produced.

“We never intended for this to be released,” says Tim Sarnoff, CEO of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “It was more to see if our system works. But when we finished, we thought, now what are we going to do with it?”

Helmed by Eric Armstrong, the animation supervisor for both “Stuart Littles,” “ChubbChubbs” was chosen in December as the first project to move through Imageworks’ all-CG feature animation production pipeline.

“The whole intent was to set something that would allow us to pull people off of one project and put them onto another really quickly, without disrupting the production process,” Sarnoff says. “We needed something that would let us test whether we could work on an animated film and create f/x for live-action films at the same time.”

Designs were created in January, with production beginning in late February. More than 2,500 animators ended up working on the short, bouncing over from “Spider-Man” and “Stuart Little 2” once shots on the live-action pics were completed.

Going out with mouse

“ChubbChubbs” was finished and shown to Sony brass in June. It generated enough positive responses from distribution and exhibition execs to find it a home on roughly 3,000 theatrical prints of “MIB2.” It’s also expected to be screened in front of “Stuart Little 2.”

“It’s been very fun to hear from people today, since we really didn’t announce the film,” said a Sony Pictures Imageworks rep. “We kind of let people discover it.”

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