'Ice Age' producer inks to develop toons

Fox Feature Films has locked up a multi-year deal with a second top exec behind “Ice Age,” last year’s most lucrative animated film, by signing Lori Forte to an exclusive production pact.

Forte had the sole “produced by” credit on “Ice Age,” which grossed $176 million domestically and was an even bigger hit on video. Under the deal announced by Fox Animation prexy Chris Meledandri, she will continue to develop several animated features for Fox and serve as producer on a potential “Ice Age” sequel.

“Lori is a spectacular producer and a critical part of the future that we are building with Blue Sky,” Meledandri said.

Blue Sky Studios was the animation house behind the computer-generated 3D comedy, which followed the misadventures of a trio of prehistoric creatures returning a human infant to its father. Fox also just announced a five-year, multi-picture deal with “Ice Age” co-director Chris Wedge, a founder of Blue Sky who called Forte “a very fun, funny lady” with a great sense of story and character.

The deal marks a surge in Fox’s fervor for animation, which hit a nadir after the failure of 2000′s “Titan A.E.” The financial failure of that film and so-so numbers for predecessor “Anastasia” led Fox to shut down the Phoenix studios it backed for creators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.

With Forte and Wedge, however, Fox execs are investing heavily in a team working on animated projects for the studio at a time when the studio does very few overall production deals.

“Working on ‘Ice Age’ was a rich and rewarding experience primarily because of the people involved,” Forte said. “Throughout the entire process, everybody at Fox was amazingly supportive. It’s great to continue to call Fox my home, and I hope this relationship goes on for a long time.”

Forte has been with Fox Animation Studios since 1996. She previously worked at Disney Feature Animation, as creative exec on “Toy Story” and “Runaway Brain.”

She also was a TV development and comedy exec at NBC and was VP of comedy development for Columbia Pictures TV.

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