14 January 2020 07:15

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ANNECY — In an expansive mode after the huge critical, commercial and Academy Award validation for "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," Sony Pictures Animation announced at Annecy on Wednesday that China's Tencent has boarded Jackie Chan's "Wish Dragon," plus a reimagining of "The Boondocks," horror series "Hungry Ghosts," comedy series "Superbago" and two new Genndy Tartakovsky movies. All the moves are encompassed in the creation of two new bold production lines unveiled by Kristine Belson, SPA president, at an Annecy SPA presentation on Wednesday which proved one of the hottest tickets in town: An international initiative, headed by producer Aron Warner, and a slate of alternative animation taking in not only "The Boondocks" with Sony Pictures Television and original creator Aaron McGruder, but the horror anthology "Hungry Ghosts," "Superbago" and adult-skewing animated features "Black Knight" and "Fixed" from revered animation director Tartakovsky. The new international and alternative production lines will expand Sony Pictures Animation's output and allow it to reach audiences of all ages in all places across the globe. Having introduced herself and Sony Pictures Animation and its drive to make movies which are "different, which will stand out from the pack," Belson also unveiled unseen scenes from the "The Angry Birds Movie 2" directed by Thurop Van Orman, opening later this year, and SPA's 2020 releases "The Mitchells vs. The Machines," produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and "Vivo," Sony Animation's first-ever musical featuring original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, with Belson announcing in Annecy that "Zootopia" director Rich Moore has joined the filmmaking team as a producer.

"We love that we're following up a moody ultra sophisticated "Spider-Verse" with "Angry Birds" because we're never going to make one type of film," Belson said. In style and substance, if scenes, shown at Annecy were anything to go by, they still push the envelope, however, creating unique visual styles, using some of the learnings and techniques from "Spider-Verse," but in a completely different way. There's the human, portraying a chaotic mundane family world which the film celebrates in a painterly handmade way not so far from French 2D animated movies. "As in the 'Spider-Verse,' we're trying to find new ways to break the CG mould," Belson said. Received with whoops of applause the first time that Belson mentioned the title, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" received a behind-the-scenes analysis from SPA head of production Pam Marsden who drilled down to a hushed audience on production methods invented in partnership with Sony Pictures' Imageworks on the film.

Marsden spent some time analyzing the creators' innovation in attempting to give the movie its original comic-book look by shooting character animation every second frame ("on the twos") as in traditional 2D but sliding the character over every other frame to avoid a spectator's sense of choppiness pf movement. "'Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse' is our most visionary and innovative film to date," Marsden said at Annecy. The announcements, strategic and new titles, bore out what Belson, in an introduction, called a commitment to "making big, bold movies, where the hand of the artist, the hand of the filmmaker, is strongly felt,." Not having a house style was a bonus: "We intend to continue down the path that we're on – bringing all audiences stories from around the world, stories no one else is telling – and do so in a way that pushes the boundaries of animated storytelling." "SPA is committed to making big movies, bold movies," said Belson. That boldness was to be seen in SPA's new logo, which Belson unveiled on stage in a work in progress version, with Sony Pictures Animation now in big uppercase, "animation" blocked out, rather than the cute, child-friendly white lettering of before on aquamarine background. We decided to send a message that we don't have a housestyle, the dominant word "animation" will work like a blank screen," Belson said.

Now set up as a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation, Jackie Chan's label Beijing Sparkle Roll Media, Tencent and Base Media, which originated the project, "Wish Dragon" was first unveiled by director Chris Appelhans ("Coraline") at Annecy as a work in progress in 2017. Warner, an Academy Award winning producer ("Shrek," "The Book of Life"), sneak peeked art and scenes at Annecy of what SPA bill as an "imaginative and touching tale about the power of friendship set in modern-day Shanghai." The film celebrates "hard work, honesty, family and friendship," Warner said. With its international initiative, Sony Animation will collaborate with storytellers around the world to develop and produce a broad gamut of animated features for both local and global markets, Warner said, adding that there are "countless great stories" out there that most of the world has never heard. Presented at Annecy by Sony Pictures Animation vice presidents Katie Baron and Kevin Noel, who will head up SPA's alternative animation drive, TV series "Hungry Ghosts" is based on a Dark Horse Graphic Novel by the late Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose. The title was previously developed as a feature film at Sony Animation, but was more appropriate as a series, said Noel.

SPA's first R-rated comedy, with Tartakovsky once once more on board to direct, dark comedy "Fixed" is the story of an average dog who learns that he is going to get neutered the next morning.It's really funny and heartwarming, it's not all about balls, we're trying to make it a character comedy," Tartakovsky said. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison is making another big move behind the camera, as Variety reports that the "Black Panther" and "Mudbound" talent is in negotiations to make her feature directorial debut. The project in question would make a strong fit for Morrison: it's a true-life boxing drama that was penned by Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins and follows the story of 17-year-old Claressa "T-Rex" Shields. Jenkins was hired to write the script in 2016, and per Variety, "had been eyeing the project as a potential directing vehicle for himself, but chose to stay on as a producer instead, making room for Morrison to take on the movie." Morrison made waves when she was nominated for her work on Dee Rees' "Mudbound" back in 2018, though she ultimately lost out to Roger Deakins, as the beloved DP finally won his first Oscar for "Blade Runner 2049." Morrison followed "Mudbound" with another starry turn, serving as cinematographer for Ryan Coogler's Marvel hit "Black Panther." So it's all the more ironic that the definitive film biography of his contentious life and death would be made by Australian director Andrew Dominik, with the help of English director of photography and one of the most celebrated cinematographers of the modern era, Roger Deakins. Released in 2007 to mild acclaim, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford has since settled into the quietly respected place that many epic Western films occupy in the years after their release, and Deakins' photography is a defining part of its legacy. In applying his unique style and approach to the open plains and ghostly landscapes of the Old West, Deakins photographed one of the definitive films of its kind more than a century after the genre first appeared in cinema. For this sequence, Deakins heightened the black level of the film stock through bleach bypass and had a powerful light fixed to the front of the train. Director Sam Mendes and Actor George Mackay(r) on set of Sam Mendes new film 1917 during filming at Govan Docks in Glasgow.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Director Sam Mendes (left) thanks cast members on the set of his new film 1917 at Govan Docks in Glasgow. Actor Mark Strong on the set of Sam Mendes' new film 1917 during filming at Govan Docks in Glasgow. Actors Mark Strong (right) and George Mackay on the set of Sam Mendes' new film 1917 during filming at Govan Docks in Glasgow. Little is known about the project's plot, only that Sam Mendes has co-written the script (a first for the director) and it's his first movie since he left Bond behind, following his work on Skyfall and Spectre. It's being produced by Steven Speilberg, and has Roger Deakins behind the camera, so there's plenty of pedigree involved in the project. Director Sam Mendes and Cinematographer Roger Deakins on set of Sam Mendes new film 1917 during filming at Govan Docks in Glasgow.PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. "I've been working on this script for over a year, so it's very exciting to start making the movie itself a reality." Roger Deakins has been instrumental to no shortage of iconic directors, the English cinematographer having cultivated indelible visuals for the Coen Brothers, Stephen Daldry, John Sayles, Sam Mendes, and Ron Howard, among many, many others. So long as he knows how to make sand look good, Fraser should be a solid replacement—he got an Oscar nomination for his work on Garth Davis' Lion and was awarded by the New York Film Critics Circle for Zero Dark Thirty.