'9' helmer enlists vidgame technology for toonpic

ANNECY — U.S. toon helmer Shane Acker and Ireland’s Brown Bag Films are teaming with vidgame developer Valve to slash costs and amp up flexibility on Acker’s “Deep.”

Acker made his breakthrough with feature debut “9,” which was produced by Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov and Jim Lemley, and distributed by Focus Features in association with Relativity Media.

Like “9,” “Deep” is set in a post-apocalypse world, devastated by World War III. But here what’s left of humanity shelters undersea in the hulks of sunken ships. The action adventure turns on Sullivan, a captain of a nuclear sub. He makes contact with a splinter group of superior scientific intelligence, the Wayfarers, which has the power to save the earth. But that could come at a terrible cost.

“Deep” was written by Jack Barton Mitchell, and produced by Brown Bag’s Darragh O’Connell and Gregory R. Little, who heads Brown Bag’s L.A. production office.

Its working budget is €15 million ($18.7 million), high-end for Europe but low for the U.S., O’Connell said at a Work in Progress presentation Friday at the Annecy festival.

The contained budget reflects Dublin-based Brown Bag’s alliance with Valve whose hit titles include the “Half Life” and “Portal” franchises.

Valve’s tools and technologies, based on its Source game engine, allow Acker and Brown Bag real-time rendering, and editing, simplified character animation and economical lighting, O’Connell said.

He added that game engine production also facilitates a vidgame version, and Valve’s online game distrib network, Steam, offers an alternative way of distributing a movie.

With “Deep” in pre-production, Mitchell is working on its screenplay. Brown Bag has begun talks with potential distributors and sales agents, said O’Connell.

Founded by director-producers Cathal Gaffney and O’Connell in 1994, Brown Bag has won Academy Award nominations for toon shorts “Give Up Yer Aul Sins” (2002) and “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” (2010).

Disney Junior launched its most recent production, TV series “Doc MacStuffins,” in March. It is the highest-rated pre-school show in the U.S.

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