ILM joins feature animation business

Oscar winners Knoll, Hickel to oversee 'Rango'

Almost lost in last week’s announcement that Paramount would make the Gore VerbinskiJohnny Depp animated feature “Rango” was the news that Industrial Light & Magic is entering the feature animation biz.

ILM now becomes one of a handful of visual effects companies also making high-end motion-capture animated features. Animal Logic took Oscar gold for Warner’s mo-cap “Happy Feet” while Sony Pictures Imageworks did the animation for “Monster House” and “Beowulf.”

None of these companies develop their own material. ILM will be a vendor for hire.

But with an Oscar already in hand for the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, which featured mo-cap animation for tentacle-bearded Davy Jones, it instantly becomes a major player in that growing marketplace.

Two of the Oscar winners from “Pirates,” John Knoll and Hal Hickel, are overseeing “Rango,” and helmer Verbinski tells Variety “Anyone who doubts whether ILM can deliver is going to be blown away.”

ILM had been hoping to make a splash with the announcement, only to be frustrated when the news dribbled out as part of Par’s “Rango” announcement.For George Lucas‘ f/x titan, the move represents a second bite at the animation apple: ILM had an opportunity to get into feature animation once before, when staffers in his graphics hardware division proposed setting up an animation shop in the mid-1980s.

Lucas, needing cash for a divorce settlement and disinterested in making toons, instead sold the division. It became famous under its own name: Pixar.