Fine-tooning moves

Orphanage's a home for Cartoon Net's Tartakovsky

F/x house the Orphanage has adopted Cartoon Network animator Genndy Tartakovsky to spearhead its move into the crowded feature toon arena.

Tartakovsky, who created “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Samurai Jack” and directed the Emmy-winning “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” will be prexy of creative at Orphanage Animation Studios, a new company the f/x house’s founders are forming in San Francisco.

Helmer has tapped several top animators to serve as his core team, and the group is now developing a handful of projects. They’ll soon pick the first one to go into production, which Tartakovsky will direct.

Orphanage co-founder Scott Stewart is overseeing most business ops for the toon studio and will serve as chairman. Carsten Sorensen and Daniel Gloates, CEO and chief financial officer of the f/x house, will serve in the same role at Orphanage Animation.

Company has raised several million dollars from private equity investors to fund development and is now in talks with studios in hopes of securing a distribution deal and raising production coin.

It’s aiming to bring films in for $50 million-$75 million — substantially less than the $100 million-plus Pixar and DreamWorks Animation typically spend. Execs say they hope creative team’s experience working on lower-cost TV productions, as well as Orphanage’s existing tech infrastructure, will help them keep spending down.

“After 14 years in TV, I was burned out and wanted to express longer stories and experience them with an audience,” Tartakovsky said of the new venture. “We’ll do family comedies, but we also really want to push action-adventure beyond where it has been.”

Helmer said he also talked to Lucasfilm and its ILM effects house before making a deal with Orphanage.

His first feature project was supposed to be CG/live action mix “Astro Boy” for Sony. He wrote a script, but pic never went into production.

Orphanage Animation is being built on a model similar to Pixar, with execs hoping Tartakovsky will be the John Lasseter figure who will helm the first film or two and then oversee a team of inhouse creative talent developing future pics.

It’s also following a path forged by Fox’s Blue Sky and DreamWorks Animation’s PDI, both of which were f/x houses before moving into CG animation.

A number of other players are moving into CG animation in the next few years, including Sony Pictures’ Imageworks effects facility, IDT Entertainment and several smaller players.

“We don’t think that we’re going to be successful just because we have a lot of technology,” Stewart said. “By getting someone like Genndy who has proven himself, we think we separate ourselves from the pack of other startups.”

Orphanage is aiming to release its first pic in 2008, with a new movie every 18 months thereafter.