Regional Toon Spotlight: Canada

Starz preps pipeline for original productions

Toronto-based Starz Animation has spent the last 2½ years producing other people’s movies, polishing its animation pipeline on such projects as Disney’s “Gnomeo and Juliet” and the Weinstein Co./Kanbar Entertainment co-prod “Hoodwinked 2: Hood vs. Evil.”

But if things go according to plan, it could be generating its own features before long, starting with “Q,” a “Don Quixote”-inspired toon written by “Toy Story” scribes Alec Sokolow and Joel Cohen about adventuring marionettes.

“As we go forward, we are now starting to get involved at an earlier stage with projects. We’re either optioning scripts or working with partners that are at more of an infancy stage,” explains Starz Animation prexy David Steinberg.

For every feature it handles on behalf of a client, Starz finds opportunity to evolve its Maya-based system. On Focus Features’ “9” (the feature-length version of Shane Acker’s Oscar-nominated short, about a rag doll charged with saving the world), engineers developed custom tools that allow animators to adjust shots on the fly without re-rendering or generate environments that hold their resolution and detail at any angle or scale.

These innovations — combined with attractive Canadian incentives — allow Starz to keep costs down for outside clients, whose projects will continue to supply its primary business, while making possible Starz’s ability to produce original pics on reasonable budgets.

Last week, Starz Animation became the first media company to win a grant from the Ontario government’s Next Generation of Jobs Fund, allowing it to expand beyond the 200 or so people currently employed by the company.

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