'Planet 51' conceived with int'l aud in mind

Thanksgiving is when the Hollywood studios traditionally unleash their big-budget blockbusters in the U.S. This year, Sony has grabbed this prime real estate to launch “Planet 51.”

But there’s a difference. “Planet 51″ was created, produced and financed by a Spanish company that’s never made a movie before.

Ilion Studios, based in Madrid, is part of Zed, a global giant in mobile content founded by the Perez family. Zed also owns videogame developer Pyro, where Ilion topper Ignacio Perez and “Planet 51″ director Jorge Blanco cut their teeth before deciding seven years ago to get into animated features.

Perez deliberately set out to make a movie for the global market, with no particular Spanish flavor. He hired “Shrek” scribe Joe Stillman for the script, in which a hapless spaceman (Dwayne Johnson) lands on an alien planet bearing a remarkable resemblance to 1950s America, complete with a paranoid fear of alien invasion.

Starting from scratch, Ilion brought expat Spanish animators back from abroad, trained local artists and hired other experienced international talent. It’s a sign of Ilion’s success that one Hollywood studio recently came to Madrid on a recruiting drive to pick up animators coming off “Planet 51.”

Ilion created much of its own proprietary technology to give the movie a unique look. “The way the light looks goes way beyond what has been seen before,” Perez claims.

The film cost $70 million. Just over 70% of the budget came from Zed, with HandMade Films Intl. raising the rest from various international equity sources. Sony picked up U.S. rights after a deal with New Line stalled amid the Warner takeover. Pyro has invested $15 million in a videogame to launch alongside the movie this fall.

The studio is already in pre-production on its next project, which remains under wraps.

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