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Rhythm & Hues drums up own slate

'The Abbot's Book,' 'Armour Star' in the works

Fresh off creating the computer-generated character work for “Stuart Little,” using the skills it’s become known for, visual f/x house Rhythm & Hues Studios is moving onto its next slate of projects, including two inhouse pics it plans to steer toward a greenlight in 2000.

The Marina del Rey-based shop is already in negotiations with several studios to co-produce a gothic supernatural thriller called “The Abbot’s Book,” with actor-director Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: First Contact”) attached to direct.

Pic concerns a 17th century Italian nobleman who confronts the remnants of an ancient, evil civilization buried in the catacombs of his estate to redeem the soul of his lost son. It will meld live action with a computer-generated monster. The goal is to turn “Book” into a series of pics. R&H technical artist Michael Conelly scripted the first.

A second project in the works, “Armour Star,” is a fully digitally animated pic in the vein of “Toy Story 2” and “A Bug’s Life” about a wily ranch dog who goes up against human hunters, animal predators and wilderness dangers to catch the fastest armadillo in Texas.

Bill Kroyer, a freelance animation director for R&H, is scripting and helming the project.

Digital with attitude

With Pixar’s “Toy Story 2” breaking records at the B.O., Disney readying to release “Dinosaur” next summer and Warner Bros. mulling its own digitally animated pic, Richard Hollander, prexy of R&H’s film division, told Daily Variety that “the attitude toward computer-generated films is better now than before. That’s going to help us: It’s an easier sell. We’re pushing hard. We’re developing everything we can.”

Indeed, R&H is developing six other inhouse pics and TV shows that it plans to begin pitching to Hollywood for financing next year. They include “Hybrid,” a live action sci-fi pic developed by R&H commercials director Richard Taylor about a chase for an organism that contains valuable genetic information; and “Max,” an animated half-hour TV show revolving around a dog’s daily life with his young owner who’s broken up with his girlfriend. A human head is never seen in the show.

R&H is also planning one animated and another live-action pic, developed by two inhouse commercials directors, with extensive f/x work done by R&H.

“Our goal is to produce and own the material,” Hollander said. “That’s the direction for our motion picture, TV, games and Internet work. In my wildest dream, we’d be producing f/x only for our own films. Our current projects have been brewing for months to years, and we’ve only just put them out on the market now.”

A slate of their own

R&H joins several other f/x houses — Digital Domain, Manex Visual Effects, Pacific Data Images — that plan to produce their own slate of pics. None, however, has yet to bring a project into production.

But the announcement that the projects are closer to seeing the light of day signals that R&H’s merger this year with rival VIFX may be paying off.

Deal was expected to add both manpower (operation now has a staff of 390) and additional capabilities to R&H, which until now has been pegged mainly as a 3-D character-animation powerhouse.

R&H’s traditional f/x work is appearing in a record six holiday releases, including 103 talking cat shots for “Little,” 230 shots for “End of Days,” scenes for Disney’s “Fantasia 2000” and key sequences for “Anna and the King,” “Liberty Heights” and “The Green Mile.”

Surprisingly, R&H is next prepping to work on a slate of non-CG-character pics, including New Line’s “Little Nicky,” Sony’s “The Sixth Day” and “What Planet Are You From?,” Universal’s “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” and the Warner Bros.-distributed “Battlefield Earth.”

“There isn’t much CG character work in any of our future projects, but by no means does that mean we’re dropping it from what we do,” Hollander said. “There are currently three character-heavy projects we’re vying for from other studios that are four months to nine months away.”

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