Blomkamp well known in the ad world

Universal and Fox have tapped the 26-year-old Neill Blomkamp, whose only credits are in advertising and f/x video work, to helm Microsoft’s vidgame adaptation “Halo.”

While the hiring could mark the biggest helming assignment ever given to a director with no film experience, Blomkamp is well known in the ad world, racking up awards for his innovative CGI-driven spots.

“Halo” is being exec produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and produced by Mary Parent, Scott Stuber and Peter Schlessel. U and Fox paid Microsoft $5 million for “Halo” rights and a script by Alex Garland.

Probably the most familiar of Blomkamp’s work to American TV viewers is his “Evolution” spot for Nike, which showed a sneaker sitting on a basketball court, surreally transforming itself into different styles. He has also drawn plaudits for his Citroen “Alive With Technology” spot, in which a compact car transforms into a robot who grooves to a techno song.

The closest thing to feature work the South African-born filmmaker had previously done is 4½ minute short “Alive in Joburg,” which has served as Blomkamp’s calling card in Hollywood, and his name has surfaced before on other projects, including when DreamWorks was looking for a director for “Transformers.”

“Joburg” is styled as a documentary about alien creatures who have come to Earth but end up living under apartheid conditions in the townships outside Johannesburg.

“It was very important to Peter and Fran that they find a genuine filmmaker who will make a distinctly personal film. They wanted someone who would have things to say, display a unique point of view and be able to etch their personality into it,” said their rep, Ken Kamins of Key Creatives.

Microsoft made a big splash when CAA offered “Halo” rights to all the major studios last summer, sending messengers dressed as the game’s Master Chief character to deliver the script.

The computer software company had worked with Schlessel, who in turn hired Garland to write a draft. The pricey terms, especially the gross points sought, ultimately dampened enthusiasm. In the deal U and Fox signed, Microsoft stands to receive 10% beginning with the first dollar from the pic. U is running lead on the project and will handle domestic distribution; Fox will distrib internationally.

Both studios declined to discuss Blomkamp’s hiring. The news leaked out when the Microsoft-owned XBox.com carried a newsflash about him on Wednesday. Report was quickly withdrawn as the studios were not yet ready to confirm the hire.

Microsoft was aiming to get the pic quickly into production to tie in with the 2007 release of “Halo 3.” But development has taken longer than expected. The earliest the film can be expected in theaters now is summer 2008.

That means Universal and Fox will miss out on the opportunity to integrate the marketing and launch with Microsoft’s own “Halo 3″ push, but Microsoft is still expected to use its vast ability to reach gamers, especially via the Xbox Live online gaming service, to help promote the pic.

Guillermo del Toro had been in talks to take the reins of “Halo” but ultimately decided to helm a sequel to his “Hellboy,” which U recently bought from Revolution as part of its wind-down with Sony.

“I was in negotiations to come on board,” del Toro told Daily Variety, “but it was always on parallel with my other projects, most importantly ‘Hellboy 2,’ and for artistic and personal reasons, I couldn’t let that one go.”

Del Toro added that when he watched Blomkamp’s demo reel, “I was blown away.” While del Toro was more interested in the monsters in the “Halo” games, he says Blomkamp’s style is well suited to the mechanized soldier characters.

“The ‘Halo’ he’s attracted to is great news to the fans of the game who are into the Master Chief aspect,” del Toro said.

While del Toro was in “Halo” talks, U and Fox hired D.B. Weiss to write a draft under his supervision. The Garland draft hews very closely to the narrative of the original “Halo” videogame, but that approach is now being reconsidered.

“You’ve got Microsoft and Bungee, who are consulted, but they understand that it has to honor the fanbase, but it’s got to also expand the fanbase,” said a source involved in the project.

When it goes into production, pic will employ Jackson and Walsh’s Weta Digital facilities in New Zealand.

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