Telco, animator team up

Vanguard Animation — the toon shingle of “Shrek” producer John Williams and former NBC, Imagine and Viacom Entertainment topper Neil Braun — has sold a minority stake to and signed a co-production agreement with telco IDT’s media division.

“The two of us combined can be a major, major powerhouse,” said IDT chief financial officer Steve Brown.

The eight-figure stake is the latest move in IDT Media’s roll-up strategy in animation, after the recent acquisition of major L.A. animation house Film Roman (“The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill”).

IDT Media’s Digital Production Solutions unit now has Film Roman, other production hubs in Newark, N.J., and software and telecom infrastructure that allow it to farm out and oversee work at 2,000 affiliated small animation studios.

“What we have is what every other major studio has wanted to do: create a worldwide virtual studio,” Brown said.

The Digital Production Solutions unit already is producing a CGI animated feature based on a Gene Roddenberry concept, along with direct-to-video projects based on the Cabbage Patch Kids toys and other properties.

Under the deal, Vanguard would use the Digital Production Solutions to make its films where possible, beginning with “Valiant,” the 3-D CGI feature already in production for Disney as the first of a four-picture deal. IDT would co-own and co-produce all of Vanguard’s feature and direct-to-video projects.

Williams, who also produced “The Tuxedo” and “Seven Years in Tibet” through his live-action shingle, said the network of animation studios and ability to closely monitor work progress from afar made the partnership particularly attractive.

He and Braun created the company with the intention of creating major animation projects in half the time and cost. The IDT deal will give Vanguard vital funding and access to production facilities as it pursues its projects.

“What we found was that DPS and IDT offered a production solution that is incredibly valuable,” Williams said. “Their added clout will help us become a creative and production force.”

Williams surprised the animation business last fall when his company signed its Mouse House deal, leaving behind DreamWorks after helping create the hugely successful film that won the first animated feature Oscar.

Williams and Braun pacted to make modestly budgeted features (between $35 million and $40 million in cost), providing Disney with a lower-cost second outside source of turnkey toons to go with its Pixar Animation deal.

“Valiant” follows the misadventures of a pigeon pressed into courier duty in WWII.

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