Producing pair launches animation festival and animation feature studio

It’s an idea whose time has come. A full-fledged, super-sized, international spotlight on animated films. And it’s being launched in late fall by a producing pair who brought their major studio feature to Chicago to be animated here.

The Nov. 6-9 Cineme’, The Chicago International Animated Film Festival, will be the largest venue of its kind in North America, said Lee Litas, partner with Brooke English in both the festival and their animation company.

Cineme’, said Litas, was “the natural extension” of their Dreamation Studios, Inc., which is currently in pre-production of its first studio-financed, 3D CGI feature film and TV series franchise.

A new Disney feature, the outdoorsy, 2D “Brother Bear,” opens the four-day celebration and definitely puts Cineme’ in the big-time column. (“Brother” opens nationally Nov. 9.)

An expected 50-60,000 attendees will screen 150 animated features, shorts, commercials and student films from 21 countries. 16 jury-designated awards will be presented in 10 categories, including features, shorts, sound effects, music videos, web animation and TV commercials.

Workshops and panel discussions are part of the program.

Among several premieres will be the acclaimed short, “Flying Nansen,” from Klasky-Csupo animator Igor Kovalyov, which premieres in Europe the week before at the Fantuche festival in Baden, Switzerland.

Opening night festivities will take place at the Rubloff Auditorium at the School of the Art Institute. Various programs will be held at the Biograph, and theatres at De Paul and Columbia College. The Cultural Center is the venue for the awards ceremony. Other theatres around the city are expected to be added.

Cineme’ at present has a skeleton staff working out of its River West offices, and will expand into a larger space at another location shortly, said Litas. “At the height” of festival activity, she expects to have a staff of 200, including volunteers and interns, working on the festival.

With a 98-minute feature, Dreamation takes its place alongside Big Idea Productions as one of the area’s major animation studios.

The feature, with 300 proprietary characters developed for the huge Hasbro toy company, is in pre-production, going through character design, storyboards and layouts. Litas expects the film to “go to computer in 30 to 45 days and we hope to complete it within 12 to 14 months.”

Aided by international artists, English designed most of the 300 characters. Litas describes the 3D “Shrek” or “Monsters, Inc.”-like characters as appealing to children of all ages. Litas and English wrote the screenplay.

The bulk of the staff, which could easily reach 200 as production progresses, is expected to come from Chicago. “International artists or those from L.A. can work with the local artists remotely,” Litas said.

“A tremendous number of resumes” were submitted by artists and animators from Canada, Mexico and Hawaii — and those moving back to Chicago from L.A. “We hope to grab some of the people who worked on features,” she added.

Litas and English returned to Chicago a year ago to establish Dreamation here after five years in Los Angeles. While in L.A., a major studio (which they asked not to name) picked up a feature script of theirs. That was followed by the development of proprietary software to enhance CGI applications. And that led to a movie deal with the same studio.

In 1998, they produced an acclaimed Chicago low-budget live action feature, “Between Us,” that went the festival and airplane routes.

Aug. 1 is the submission deadline and entries will be accepted until Sept. 3. Entry fees average $30. A poster competition is open to artists for a $5 fee.

Among Cineme’ sponsors are Pixar, the Cartoon Network, Klasky-Csupo, Alias Wavefront, Microsoft and non-profit Northbrook-based New Life Cultural Society (NLCS), which provided seed money to initiate the event.

Cineme and Dreamation are located at 1000 W. Adams; phone, 312/733-3827; see cineme.org for festival entry forms, and see Dreamationstudios.com for job applications.

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