Par Animation sets ‘SpongeBob’ as first pic

Viacom topper sez new unit is staffing up

The first release from the nascent Paramount Animation unit will be a “SpongeBob SquarePants” pic in 2014, Viacom topper Philippe Dauman told investors on Tuesday.

Par is revving up an internal toon production operation as it preps for the end of its distribution pact with DreamWorks Animation. Dauman told Wall Streeters at the Deutsche Bank media confab in Palm Beach, Fla. that he expects Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob” franchise to generate a warm reception around the world.

But other than dropping the title, Dauman didn’t offer any details about the project, which is not believed to have a writer, director or producer attached yet.

Par previously released “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” which pulled in $140 million worldwide in 2004. Dauman noted that Nickelodeon didn’t have the global presence then that it has today.

Par’s animation push comes on the heels of the studio’s Oscar win on Sunday for animated feature film for “Rango,” which was produced before the studio formally set up an animation wing.

Viacom announced the creation of the division last July, preempting negotiations with DreamWorks Animation over a distribution deal that’s set to expire at the end of this year. Disney alum David Stainton was recruited to run the division, but he resigned as Par Animation prexy last week after a four-month tenure. Par motion picture group topper Adam Goodman will oversee the animation development team.

Dauman didn’t mention DreamWorks Animation in his remarks Tuesday. He said the animation division will have 30 to 40 people and “we are well on our way to staffing that up.”

Overhead will be modest. “There are a lot of companies out there, some of which we have been working with” to get the business launched, he said.

The toon push is being coordinated with a major expansion of consumer products, which Dauman said has also been quietly staffing up and will be more closely integrated with each content division.