CGI guru toons up for new gig

Yeatman effects change to animated pix

HOLLYWOOD — After years of using computers to create special effects, Hoyt Yeatman will use the same tools to create animated films.

The Oscar-winning effects vet has launched Whamaphram Productions as a producer of both computer-generated animated films and projects that integrate animated characters into live action settings.

The Burbank-based company has already begun shopping its first project around town, a live action family pic called “G-Force” that revolves around a top secret unit of the NSA comprised of intelligent, talking animals. Yeatman will direct.

Yeatman’s long-time producing partner David James, has joined Whamaphram and will run the company’s production unit.

James most recently worked as a visual effects producer at Dream Quest Images and the Secret Lab. Before that, he worked for Industrial Light & Magic.

Meanwhile, Ed Kashiba has been tapped to head up Whamaphram’s development efforts.

Kashiba served as veep of development for online entertainment venture IFILM. Before that, he co-founded Script Shark, which IFILM acquired.

The formation of Whamaphram comes several years after Disney shuttered The Secret Lab, the visual effects studio Yeatman most recently headed.

Company had previously operated as Dream Quest Images before being acquired by the Mouse House in 1996, and turned into an in-house facility to produce effects work for Disney’s pics later in 1999, as part of Walt Disney Feature Animation. The company’s final credits were “102 Dalmatians,” “Reign of Fire” and “Kangaroo Jack.”

Yeatman co-founded Dream Quest Images in 1979, and as visual effects supervisor, has worked on such films as “Armageddon,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Mission to Mars,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Rock,” “Con Air” and “Kangaroo Jack.” He won an Oscar for his effects work on “The Abyss.”

The creation of Whamaphram also occurs as the worlds of visual effects and animation are blurring.

Digital characters created for live action tentpoles like “The Hulk,” “The Matrix,” sequels, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Spider-Man” and “Van Helsing” now essentially resemble and use the same techniques for characters created for the animated “Shrek” franchise and Pixar’s pics. Industryites had debated whether “Stuart Little 2” should campaign for Oscar nominations as an animated film.

“We are all witnessing the natural evolution of visual effects houses becoming more involved with CG- animated features and content development,” Yeatman said. “What is going to decide who crawls out of the pond alive will be which companies can develop and create interesting characters and compelling stories for a reasonable cost.”

Other effects facilities, including ILM and Rhythm & Hues, have dabbled with the idea of producing their own animated films, but have found it difficult to juggle that with their core business of serving as work-for-hire studios for effects-heavy Hollywood fare.

Privately financed Whamaphram will initially employ a small staff of story artists and other animators to develop its slate of pics, but will outsource the rest of the animation work to animation studios, as the productions progress.

Company is seeking studio distributors for its projects.

Since The Secret Lab shuttered, Yeatman has been offered a number of high-profile films to oversee as an effects supervisor. But the drop in computer costs made making animated films more financially viable.

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