Hollywood producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are stepping into the animated film business in hopes of taking advantage of the booming — and increasingly competitive -- market for family movies.
Grazer and Howard's production company Imagine Entertainment has teamed with Australian animation firm Animal Logic to develop, produce and finance six movies during the next five years, they said. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Animal Logic, based in Sydney with offices in Vancouver and Los Angeles, is best known for doing the animation for hit films including Oscar-winner "Happy Feet" and "The Lego Movie," both of which were released by Warner Bros.
The move comes amid animation's continued dominance at the box office. Four of the top 10 movies last year were computer animated -- "Finding Dory," "The Secret Life of Pets," "Zootopia" and "Sing." The grown-up mid-budget movies Imagine has built its brand around face growing difficulties at the box office.
Imagine, based in Beverly Hills, is best known for live action adult-oriented fare, including "The Da Vinci Code" trilogy and "Apollo 13." The company has long wanted to dive into animation, but couldn't afford to take the gamble, Grazer told The Times.
"We've always had an interest in animation," said Grazer, whose company previously has done family-oriented material including the "Curious George" television series and the 2000 live action picture "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." "It was, at that time, prohibitively expensive... but when this [opportunity] came about, it was a perfect chemistry."
The companies are aiming to make movies that cost $75 million to $85 million to produce, which is relatively low for animated features. Computer animated spectacles from behemoths such as Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks Animation typically cost well above $100 million. Animal Logic, which is also working on a part-animated take on "Peter Rabbit" for Sony Pictures, relies on Australian production incentives to make its animated movies more affordable.
Illumination Entertainment, Chris Meledandri's studio that makes animated hits such as "Minions" and "Despicable Me" for Universal, has succeeded with its own modestly-budgeted cartoon strategy.
Imagine and Animal Logic would not say what films they are developing, but they are expected to start hitting theaters in late 2019. The companies are raising outside financing to fund half the production and development costs for their upcoming films, at least one of which is expected to be directed by Howard.
Through its deal with Imagine, Animal Logic plans to do more movies that blend live action with animation, and also try to make content for virtual reality headsets, said Animal Logic Chief Executive Zareh Nalbandian.
"We're at a point where there's a convergence between animation and live action, and those lines are blurring," Nalbandian said. "All of those things are on our radar."