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Haim Saban Sets Animated Film Production Venture with Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan

Saban Capital Group is diving deeper into film production with the launch of Zag Animation Studios, a partnership with director Chris Columbus, producer Michael Barnathan and kidvid entrepreneur Jeremy Zag.

The studio will begin producing family films in 2017 and expects to field one 3D animated film and one CGI-live action film annually, the first of which, “Melody,” will be co-directed by Columbus (pictured) and Jeremy Zag. Columbus is expected to be active in most of the films that Zag produces, even though he may not assume the director’s chair on all of them.

The company expects to distribute its films through a major studio and is in discussions with potential partners, according to Andre’ Lake Mayer, a spokeswoman for Zag Animation Studios. The partners have secured funding to develop the films, but Mayer did not identify the source of the financial backing.

“The model is to create global franchises with many projects being developed for both TV and film so they can be merchandised on a global basis,” said Mayer.

To that end, Zag has a slate of 10 features in development. The banner will be based in Glendale, Calif., home to several animation companies.

The company is launching as major studios begin investing more heavily in animation. Once the purview of Dreamworks Animation and Walt Disney Studios, the other major studios have all begun to emphasize animated fare in recent years, producing a number of hits in the process and increasing the amount of competition in the marketplace.

“This is an incredible moment for our business as we partner to create a world-class animation studio that will produce extraordinary feature films,” said Saban, head of Saban Capital Group and Saban Brands.

Barnathan is a film vet whose credits range from “The Help” to the “Harry Potter,” “Night at the Museum” and “Percy Jackson” family film franchises. Jeremy Zag’s Zag Entertainment has produced animated TV series, including the upcoming Disney Channel series “Ladybug.” The company’s website says it has production facilities in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Zag Animation Studios extends Saban’s reach into the film biz. The billionaire investor, whose holdings include a large stake in Univision Communications, launched the Saban Films label earlier this year to acquire and distribute indie films.

Haim Saban made his first fortune in the 1980s by producing animated TV series.

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