Toonheads dial up global animation net

IDT hopes to attract talent with GAS system

What does a phone company do with its digital hardware to make a bit of extra cash? Turn it into the world’s largest animation studio.

That might be too flip a description of IDT, which, through shrewd acquisitions and planning, is a turnkey digital animation studio with 700 artists on call around the world.

“It gives us a very scalable operation,” says Morris Berger, IDT CEO. “IDT is very entrepreneurial. We are always looking for high-quality production companies that own content. We’re always looking for libraries and individual properties.”

With production hubs in Hollywood; Newark, N.J.;Vancouver and Toronto in Canada; and Israel; in all, 2,000 affiliates in 38 nations, and its home entertainment distrib Anchor Bay, if the company were a baseball team, it would be the 1927 Yankees.

IDT’s Global Animation Studio, or GAS, is an array of networked animation studios that can act together as a unified whole. “We’re flexible … producers love that it’s a turnkey operation,” says Steve Brown, IDT chair.

It’s a boon for producers who know nothing about animation but have a great idea.

Now, IDT is stepping on the GAS with features it has fully financed. Indeed, Christopher Reeve is one of the first in the biz to use the GAS system.

He’s directing and exec producing an untitled 3-D animated feature with the company. An animation virgin, Reeve’s ideas for the script, which was developed at IDT Entertainment, bowled Berger and Brown over.

“He will be doing most of (the film) from his house. It’s the perfect medium for him to direct. He took our original story and tightened it up,” says Brown. “With the global protocol, (filmmakers) can manage everything at home. We hope to attract more major talent (with this as a selling point).”

IDT looks at Pixar’s John Lasseter as a role model, despite the high-tech bent of the company. Another big project slated for 2005 is “Starfleet Academy,” based on two projects written by the late Gene Roddenberry.

“It has a ‘Harry Potter’ element and a ‘Star Trek’ element. It’s a very ambitious project,” says Berger.

Like the Reeve film, IDT will shop the pics to the studios for a distrib deal.

John Williams’ (“Shrek”) “Happily N’Ever After” is also on the slate, although that is just a for-service project, “to prove to the world we can do a Pixar-type film,” says Berger.

The company is targeting three features a year, a big goal but “once we have the main hubs and global protocol in place, we have the ability to achieve that goal,” says Berger.

The IDT universe is expanding; it’s signed a deal with Pat Robertson for family-friendly entertainment, and is looking at ways to best utilize the properties it has, such as the Archie comics’ characters.

“We are creating an appealing business venture for productions both in the 2-D and 3-D markets. What gives us an advantage is the global reach,” says Brown.

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