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Imagi draws a nimble ‘Ninja’

Animation house has big projects in works

Hong Kong- and L.A.-based animation house Imagi is putting on one of the largest shows at AFM this year.

Company, which takes iconic Western properties and produces them in an Asian anime style, has brought in a 92-seat portable theater to demonstrate quarter of an hour of footage from its animated version of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Pic is first off Imagi’s inhouse production line. Warner will distribute in North America, with The Weinstein Co. handling international territories. Screening bus extravaganza is intended to display effects and animation in better conditions than are available in Loews booths.

Company, headed by Francis Kao, has previously acted as animation subcontractor on DreamWorks’ “Father of the Pride” and developed its own property the “Zentrix” TV series. But over the last two years, it has changed direction and now seeks to own the movie properties it develops and produces. “Turtles,” which bows in March, is the first.

New addition is “Astro Boy,” for which it has rights from Japan’s Tezuka Prod. Co., and it is on course to deliver the picture in 2009.

New pic will be put together using the company’s cross-Pacific structure. Development, storyboarding and casting issues are handled through the L.A. branch, Imagi Services (USA), with physical production and animation done in Hong Kong.

“We are a Hong Kong company, but we want to be Pixar,” said Imagi Services prexy-CEO Thomas K Gray. “We have about 450 animators on staff in Hong Kong and use all the same Renderman and Maya software. This means we can produce Pixar-quality movies for a fraction of the price of what we’d do in the U.S. Our plan is to expand that to 700 animators and deliver a completed movie every 18 months.”

Imagi is also in post-production on a 2D animated version of “The Highlander” and in development on “Gatchaman” (aka “G-Force”), a full CG movie based on one of the most eminent Japanese manga and set for delivery in 2010.

Imagi, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange and has a market capitalization exceeding $300 million, is also bolstering its executive suite. Company has just appointed industry heavyweight Douglas Glen as co-CEO, with Kao. Glen is a former general manager of LucasArts, head of business development at Sega and senior VP of toymaker Mattel.

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