Sony Taps Six to Direct Animated Slate

Sony Pictures Animation, which celebrates its first anniversary this week, has brought on directors Jill Culton, Anthony Stacchi, Roger Allers, Brenda Chapman and twin brothers Paul Brizzi and Gaetan Brizzi to helm a number of CG features. The announcement was made by Sony Pictures Animation exec. VPs Sandra Rabins and Penny Finkelman Cox.

“We select directors in the same way that the live-action division would. We know the talent, we know the strengths and weaknesses, and we try and assess and make good matches,” Finkelman Cox tells Animation Magazine Online.

Culton will direct and Stacchi will co-direct the comedy adventure Open Season, based on the humor of cartoonist Steve Moore. Open Season tells the story of what happens in the wild when the animals turn the tables on unsuspecting hunters. The film will be produced by Disney veteran Chris Jenkins (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). John Carls (Where the Wild Things Are) and Steve Moore brought the project to Sony Pictures Animation, and are serving as exec. producers.

Culton comes to Sony from ILM, where she was a key creative in the development of Curious George for Universal. Credited with the original story for Monsters, Inc., she served as both head of story development and conceptual artist. She also served on the story team for both Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Other credits include Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (storyboard artist) and Warner Bros.’ Cats Don’t Dance (directing animator).

Stacchi also comes from ILM, where he was hired to write and develop digital feature content like Curious George. Other credits include DreamWorks’ Antz (story artist) and Disney’s James and the Giant Peach (visual effects).

Sony Pictures Animation is reuniting directors Roger Allers (The Lion King) and Brenda Chapman (The Prince of Egypt), whose past collaborations include the Disney features The Lion King, Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Allers and Chapman will work with internationally acclaimed and best-selling artists Brian and Wendy Froud on Tam Lin.

Tam Lin is loosely based on the Celtic folk ballad of the same name. Acclaimed fantasy author Neil Gaiman (Coraline, Stardust, Good Omen, Princess Mononoke) will write the screenplay. Robert Gould will produce with Lois Sarkisian will serve as exec. producer.

The Brizzi brothers have come aboard to helm Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, based on the children’s book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett. The feature will take place in a land where food falls from the sky as weather. Wayne Rice (Dude, Where’s My Car, Lost and Found, Little Green Men) will adapt the screenplay.

The Brizzis won critical praise as the directors of the Firebird sequence in Disney’s Fantasia 2000 and as sequence directors on The Hunchback of Notre Dame. They will also direct and supervise the development of Sony’s Surf’s Up!, a film Rabins describes as a “boy-meets-girl-Romeo-and-Juliet story set against the high-energy world of surfing." Christian Darren (Count Three and Pray, Six Bullets From Now) is writing the screenplay.

As to which project will make it into theaters first, Rabins says, “We don’t know. They are all moving forward very quickly.” Finkelman Cox notes that Open Season is in the lead so far. “That’s slightly further along in that we have storyboard artists working on it and we’re starting to get some of the sequences on boards. On the other hand, the Brizzi’s, who are more self-contained, are working away and their office is filled with artwork. I think the one that we’re obviously waiting on written material for is Tam Lin and that will move quickly once we get [that].”

Describing the Brizzi brothers as “self-contained” says a lot about the working environment that Rabins and Finkelman Cox are striving to cultivate at Sony Pictures Animation.

Rabins explains, “Our Philosophy is to bring the visions of the talent to the screen. Each of the directors has their own vision and their own style and their own way of pulling together stories and telling stories and we want each one to be very individual.”

Finkelman Cox adds, “Sandy and I don’t want this company to be about our vision. We’d love it to reflect new, different and fresh artist visions. Each artist that we’ve known over the years has something unique and special that they want to say and we’d love to be able to give them a forum for it.” She goes on to say, “Disney was always about expressing Walt Disney’s extraordinary vision. Pixar, even though now it is expanding with other artists, has at its core John Lasseter and his amazing genius. And DreamWorks is very dominated by Jeffrey [Katzenberg] and his vision. We want to take this to a very different place and not have a dominant artistic vision.”

Rabins concludes, “What we’re trying to say is that each individual movie will have it’s own particular vision, flavor, taste and style to it, and that it won’t resemble the next movie coming out.”

Sony Pictures Animation is also in active development on a feature length version of Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Academy Award-winning short film The ChubbChubbs.