Performance-capture films slated

Imageworks planning 3 pics using technology

After the Comic-Con unveiling this week of 20 minutes of Robert Zemeckis’ performance-capture feature “Beowulf,” Sony Pictures Imageworks, which pioneered the technique with “The Polar Express” and “Monster House,” is developing three more movies using their proprietary Imagemotion technology.

Paramount releases “Beowulf” on Nov. 16.

Imagemotion is able to bring photo-realistic human characters to life in a wide range of fantasy environments. “The projects will range from photo-real to stylized,” said Sony Pictures president of digital entertainment Yair Landau. “We can use this technology in the service of many different stories.”

Producer Avi Arad has optioned film rights to James Patterson’s young-adult bestseller “Maximum Ride” with hopes of turning the property into a major franchise. (There are 12 books in the series.) Patterson has written 17 No. 1 bestsellers; his detective series have sold 12 million copies in North America and 130 million worldwide. He is the creator of the Alex Cross detective series, which spawned the films “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls.”

Arad was able to convince the author that performance capture was the best way to bring “Maximum Ride,” a fantasy adventure about six children who can fly, to the screen.

“We want to bring this world to life in a way you’ve never seen before,” said Arad. “With performance capture you are absolutely free to watch the heroes go anywhere and everywhere and manifest their powers onscreen.”

Sony Imageworks delivered the elaborate visual effects for the “Spider-Man” pics. Avi Arad, Ari Arad and Seaside Prods. with Steven Paul will produce “Maximum Ride,” and they are looking for a writer.

Two other projects are being developed for Sony Pictures Animation. Director Jon Favreau and Jay Redd are developing the caveman comedy “Neanderthals,” while Jerome Chen, the visual effects supervisor of “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf,” is creating an untitled feature inspired by Japanese mythology. According to Landau, Chen’s project will fall into the classic action realm of a film like “300.”

“The core of our business is imagination,” said Tim Sarnoff, prexy of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “Developing Imagemotion was a lengthy and complex process, and we couldn’t be happier with the results of our efforts as filmmakers embrace its possibilities.”

Sony Imageworks worked closely with Zemeckis on the innovative “Polar Express,” “Monster House” and “Beowulf.” Now Zemeckis is making performance-capture movies exclusively for Disney.

“A lot of artists and technology are in place that were built to suit his vision,” said Landau. “We used some of this technology on ‘Surf’s Up” and ‘Spider-Man 3.’ We’re going to use it all on these upcoming three projects.”

The three films are targeted for release in 2010 and 2011. They will be released by Sony Pictures Animation or Columbia Pictures.

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