ILM tunes up for animation feature

Lucas shop teams with Paramount on 'Rango'

Toon town just got more crowded.

Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’ legendary visual effects shop, is jumping into the feature animation business for the first time with Paramount’s “Rango.”

ILM joins a small number of companies doing high-end motion-capture animated features, including Sony Pictures Imageworks (“Beowulf,” “Monster House”) and Animal Logic (“Happy Feet”).

ILM’s “Rango” team is headed by Oscar winners John Knoll and Hal Hickel, who oversaw the motion-capture animation for tentacle-bearded villain Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

ILM prexy Chrissie England told Daily Variety, “To some, (animation) may seem like a departure from our current business model; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

“The blurring of boundaries between visual effects and animation has never been greater. With ‘Rango’ we are in the unique position to take advantage of this convergence and do something truly groundbreaking.”

ILM nosed out Imageworks and other shops for “Rango” largely on the strength of its relationship with helmer Gore Verbinski from the “Pirates” franchise, which Verbinski directed.

Unlike toon giants Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, none of these motion-capture companies develop their own material. They compete for jobs such as “Rango” as they would for a visual effects job.

ILM’s parent company, Lucasfilm, has an animation division in Singapore, but San Francisco-based ILM is a separate business.