CGI studio gears up for ‘Happy Feet’

Penguin saga's scope causes co. to up employees

SYDNEY — Australia’s Animal Logic is ramping up for its biggest assignment ever: serving as the animation production studio for “Happy Feet,” the CGI pic George Miller is helming for Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures.

The visual effects house, which already employs 180 people, aims to recruit a further 50, mostly digital artists, over the next 12 months. And it’s expanding its headquarters at Sydney’s Fox Studios Australia by nearly 11,000 square feet to cope with “Feet” and other work.

Production of Miller’s film will stretch over three years, with a delivery date in late 2005.

“It’s a very ambitious project which will break new ground in CGI techniques, technically and creatively,” said Animal Logic’s managing director and co-founder Zareh Nalbandian, who will serve as an exec producer.

Saga of a penguin

Antarctica-set saga of a young penguin’s adventures will combine music and dance; the lead character will be voiced by Elijah Wood.

Recognizing there’s a limited pool of digital artists Down Under, Nalbandian is hoping to hire staff as they come off VFX-intensive films such as the third editions of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” adventures.

Animal Logic was one of two non-U.S. VFX firms that worked on “The Matrix Reloaded,” continuing an association with the producers that began on the first “Matrix.”

Its credits also include director John Dahl’s “The Great Raid,” Zhang Yimou’s “Hero,” Phillip Noyce’s “The Quiet American” and “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” Alex Proyas’ “Garage Days” and Russell Mulcahy’s “Swimming Upstream.”

It has a satellite office in L.A., primarily to handle TV commercials and as a base for feature film producers, and an agent in Tokyo.

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