LONDON — Soho-based f/x house Framestore CFC has launched its own feature film production arm in partnership with former DreamWorks exec David Lipman.

Framestore Feature Animation has already started work on its first big-budget project, Sylvain Chomet’s “The Tale of Despereaux” for Universal.

The pic is adapted from the award-winning children’s book by American author Kate DiCamillo. Producers are Allison Thomas and Gary Ross, whose shared credits include “Seabiscuit” and “Pleasantville.”

Lipman, who joins as managing partner of Framestore’s new feature division, served eight years at DreamWorks Animation, first as co-head of production, then as co-exec producer on “Shrek” and producer of “Shrek 2.”

He will divide his time between Los Angeles, where he lives, and Framestore’s London HQ.

“The creation of a new film studio in London’s Soho is a real cause for celebration in the U.K.’s film and cultural community,” said William Sargent, joint CEO of Framestore CFC. “We have long wanted and planned to take this next step in our creative ambitions.”

Lipman commented, “The talent pool in the U.K. and Europe is second to none, and we are looking forward to building an extraordinary team.”

Sargent explained that FFA will aim to produce movies for the Hollywood studios, rather than making indie pics for lower budgets. As well as partnering on existing studio projects, such as “Tale of Despereaux,” it will also develop its own scripts.

The venture was welcomed by British Film Commissioner Steve Norris, who said, “The U.K. is home to some of the best animation talent in the world. The opening of Framestore Feature Animation — a major breakthrough in studio-supported animation here — is great news for these talented people, and a milestone for the U.K. film industry.”

Framestore, which currently employs around 500 people, will be hiring a further 200 staffers as “Tale of Despereaux” gears up through 2007.

The company, which is owned by its management and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has recently done extensive special effects and computer animation work on movies such as “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Nanny McPhee,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Constant Gardener.”

On the TV side, it worked on the BBC’s blockbuster doc “Walking with Dinosaurs.”