DPS, Vanguard Animation Ramp Up For CG Features

IDT Media’s animation unit, Digital Productions Solutions (DPS), has entered into a partnership with Vanguard Animation to co-produce and co-own all Vanguard properties including feature film releases, direct-to-DVD and broadcast. The announcement follows on the heels of DPS’s acquisition of a majority stake in Film Roman Inc. IDT’s investment in Vanguard will be in the 8-figure ballpark.

As DPS-Film Roman builds the company’s TV library, IDT Media hopes to do the same in the feature film arena with its partnership with Vanguard Animation. “We’ve built what I consider the killer app. for computer animation, literally creating a CG animation studio to die for,” says IDT CFO Steve Brown. “We’re also acting as the production financing partner for Vanguard, which is quite unique and advantageous for both of us. We are going to have a minority stake in Vanguard. They’re sitting on several projects that can make a lot of money.”

DPS will work with Vanguard CEO John H. Williams and Vanguard president Neil Braun. In addition to being a producer on DreamWorks’ blockbuster Shrek, Williams’ credits include Seven Years in Tibet and the Jackie Chan action/comedy The Tuxedo. Braun has served as president of NBC, chairman and CEO of Viacom Ent., president of Imagine Ent. and senior VP of HBO.

According to Williams, the deal with DPS will dramatically raise Vanguard’s production capital base and help it become a significant player in the CG animation arena.

Braun comments, “When we started this company, we wanted to find a different paradigm for computer animated films, a system that would allow us to reduce the production cycle to two years from four to five years. We wanted to do Pixar and Shrek level animation for 50 percent of the cost … After looking at various production solutions around the world, we zeroed in on [DPS] because they offer a valuable combination of creative and production partnership, with the added clout of financial capabilities.”

“Our company uses a combination of engineering solutions and proprietary programs,” adds DPS president Morris Berger. “It’s an agnostic system that works with lots of different workstyles, neither really expensive North American system nor outsourcing.”

Vanguard Films has had a first look deal with DreamWorks for the past eight years and is currently working on the feature Toad Trip for the studio. Williams is also serving as a producer on Shrek 2. Other upcoming projects include Roald Dahl’s The Twits, adapted by John Cleese for Disney, and three films with Nickelodeon/Paramount – Alien Pet, Ted and Gateway to the Gods.

Vanguard recently signed a four-picture CG animation deal with Disney. The first film of that slate is in pre-production. Valiant, the story of a brave young pigeon who enters England’s homing pigeon service during World War II and finds himself flying over enemy lines, is budgeted at 40 million dollars.

“Disney is our U.S. and Canadian distribution partner and co-financee for Valiant and three other films,” notes Brown. “It’s an engagement period that’s going to be followed by a marriage in the future … we have the ring!”

DPS through its subsidiaries, DPS Films and DPS Film Roman, is currently in production on two theatrical 3D productions including Gene Roddenberry’s Starpoint Academy. In addition, the company is working on direct-to-video and broadcast releases for The Simpsons, King of the Hill, X-Men, Jim Jinkins’ Monster Monster Trucks and the Cabbage Patch Kids property.