Studio launches new animation departments

Fox Broadcasting Co. and 20th Century Fox TV are stepping up their search for the next generation of animation hits with the launch of two departments dedicated to toon development and production.

Fox and 20th have jointly created the Fox Inkubator program to work with animators and writers in developing a range of shortform animated content. The goal is to allow creators to work out ideas and concepts in shorts, rather than just on the page, in the hope that some of the shorts will show promise as the basis for series.

Separately, 20th has established a dedicated animation department within its walls for the first time. Jennifer Howell, formerly exec VP of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Important Films banner and a supervising producer on “South Park,” has been tapped senior veep of 20th’s animation department. She’ll also oversee the Fox Inkubator program on the studio’s behalf along with an exec from the network side.

Fox’s push to drill down on animation development has been spearheaded by Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly and 20th chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden.

Fox and its sibling studio have owned the primetime animation biz for the past 20 years with “The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill,” “Futurama,” “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” Network and studio’s top brass want to ensure that it stays that way for the next 20 years.

“Animation is an enormous part of our brand, and it is an enormous profit center for both parts of our company,” Reilly said.

Animated series “have done so much for us financially and building the brand of this studio,” Walden said. “We felt we needed to shine a bigger and brighter light on the future of animation production at this studio.”

Fox Inkubator will pact with writers and animators to develop and produce a series of two- to three-minute shorts that will be designed to help Fox’s programming execs evaluate the potential of characters and concepts for a traditional toon series.

Experience has taught Fox and 20th creative execs that it can be hard to get a handle on the humor and essence of a toon series through the traditional script development process. There’s also an understanding that animation tends to attract iconoclasts a la Matt Groening of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy’s” Seth MacFarlane.

“Putting them through the traditional process — pitching, writing a script, having 15 people give notes on that script — is not a way to get a pure voice,” Reilly said.There are also plenty of opportunities in digital, cable and other platforms for shortform animation content on its own, which makes the Inkubator program particularly attractive, Newman said.

“It will be cost effective given the way technology has developed” and streamlined the animation production process, Newman said. “This isn’t about paying big premiums or big fees to writers. It’s intended to be done on a less-expensive scale.”

Twentieth’s animation department will oversee the development and production of those shorts. Howell is also being tasked with developing animated properties for outlets other than Fox, and some of those projects may take a more traditional development route, Newman said. Twentieth will also have the flexibility to shop Inkubator projects to other outlets if Fox passes on them.

Marci Proietto, 20th’s senior veep of production, will work with Howell in the animation wing. Proietto has overseen the production of 20th’s animated series since 1995.

Reilly said Inkubator could yield as many as 25 shorts per year. A number of deals with creatives on projects that will be channeled through Inkubator projects are already in the works, the execs said.

“Animation is the perfect product for the world we live in, where DVD sales are so critical, appealing to young men is so critical, and there’s growing digital distribution of shortform content,” Newman said.

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