Start-up Animation Lab Launches High-tech Filmmaking in Israel

If all goes well, in another two years or so you will be able to see the movie at a local theater, alongside the offerings of Hollywood giants like Pixar and DreamWorks.

The movie, titled "The Wild Bunch," is the debut film of JVP's Animation Lab studio, and is an adventure comedy about a group of wild flowers that must contend with an evil gang of genetically-engineered plants.

The work is being supervised by director Alex Williams, an animator who has worked on many Hollywood projects, including "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "The Lion King" and "Robots."

The film's producer, Jim Ballantine, who was in charge of the production of "Bambi II", will come to Israel to contribute his expertise to this effort. Philip LaZebnik, who was on the "Mulan" and "Pocahontas" screenplay teams, is in charge of the wild flowers' dialogue and the unfolding of the film's plot. The actors behind the voices in the film will also be recruited from overseas.

The budget for the film is about $20 million.

"We are working like a startup," says Ayelet Weinerman, CEO of Animation Lab. "Most of the work will be done in the studio in Israel, but we have offices in Los Angeles, which are handling the marketing."

Both JVP and Weinerman have high expectations of this project. Animation Lab will also not be making do with just one film, but has already begun gathering material for another. The films are being designed for international distribution, at movie theaters worldwide.

"We plan to compete with the world's big studios," says Weinerman, who has years of experience in advertising and production.

She has worked in advertising in London and Los Angeles, produced commercials for big companies, including Jaguar, Mercedes, Ford and Mastercard, and was responsible for the establishment of the American branch of the European production company NSF.

Animation Lab was born about two years ago following a meeting with JVP founder Erel Margalit, in Los Angeles.

"Erel told me about all sorts of entrepreneurs trying to find a way to combine technology with content," recalls Weinerman, "and the conversation quickly turned to animation. From the first moment it was clear that we had to aim for international standards."

It was actually her background in advertising and post-production, says Weinerman, that led her to believe in the potential of animation in Israel. She had seen how fast the local post-production industry was developing here.

"There is certainly no lack of talent in Israel," she continues. "What was lacking was a leadership team from abroad."

"The Wild Bunch" is still in its early production stages, with some 20 animators working on the project, but Weinerman says that after the actual production starts, the number of employees at Animation Lab will swell to more than 100.

Some of the animators will come from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, as part of the planned future cooperation between the design academy and Animation Lab.

A project of this magnitude naturally needs a very sizable budget, but still one much smaller than common elsewhere in the film world.

"In other countries, the budget for an animated movie is in the hundreds of millions of dollars," says Weinerman. "Here, the sums are much smaller. The budget itself has already been finalized."

Even though sources at JVP declined to divulge the exact figures, information published on the entertainment news Variety Web site indicate a budget of about $20 million.

Since Animation Lab is part of JVP, content from the future movie will be incorporated into other platforms in which the venture capital fund is involved.

Uri Adoni, a partner at JVP and manager of the new media and animation field, says JVP plans to create a virtual world on the Web, based on content from the film. "We want to take the movie's world and transfer it to a 3D Web platform," says Adoni.

The work of developing the virtual world is due to be undertaken both in Israel and abroad, and Adoni says JVP is treating the virtual world as a product in its own right, and not just as an adjunct to the movie.

"The interaction and potential in this project are very complex," says Adoni.

"The idea is for viewers to spend more time with the story and the movie's environment. A product like this also has its own business model. We are looking at it not just as a promoter for the film, but also as a commercial operation," he explained.