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Disney Animation Arm Adds Depth With 5 New Films

They also showed off the animation tools they are using as Disney makes the transition from traditional 2-D pen-and-ink animation to 3-D computer animated features.

A team of Disney executives on Tuesday made an impassioned plea for the Los Angeles Professional Chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH – the area’s premiere computer graphics artists – to join the animation studio during a session at the ArcLight cinema complex in Hollywood.

With “Chicken Little,” the studio’s first 3-D animated film, set for release Nov. 4, Disney’s animation division is undergoing a transformation in the wake of several unsettling developments. Last year, “Toy Story” producer Pixar Animation Studios ended talks about extending its deal with Disney. Internally, Disney issued a controversial corporate mandate to end all traditional animation processes in favor of computer animation. And over the past year, several key animation executives departed the studio.

The Disney team touted the company’s new Glendale-based computer animation building, which is earmarked for “Toy Story 3” production, which Disney is proceeding with under its contractual right to produce sequels to the Pixar films. The story follows Buzz Lightyear as he is recalled to Taiwan after a series of malfunctions. Learning of a productwide recall, all the toys in Andy’s room, under Woody’s leadership, head to Taiwan to save Buzz from doom.

The program included preview material from five 3-D computer animated movies in the pipeline, which will comprise the studio’s homegrown animation slate through 2008.

Nearly 10 minutes of scenes and set pieces from “Chicken Little” demonstrated how Disney is tackling such technical and artistic computer animation challenges as fluid simulations, chicken feathers and fur, subjected to sophisticated wind modules.

A second project, tentatively titled “A Day With Wilbur Robinson,” based on the book by William Joyce, follows a time-traveling 12-year-old orphan who hooks up with a 13-year-old kid from the future in settings that recall 1930’s “Metropolis” and the cartoon television series “The Jetsons.” The project stars stylized young human protagonists and a mustachioed and bowler-capped villain.

Ten minutes of rough story boards, hand-drawn animatics, and raw computer animation were shown from the tentatively titled “American Dog,” from director Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”), which is scheduled for release in 2007. Sanders’ canine, a TV star, drinks martinis with starlets and showboats on sets until he is suddenly abandoned in his trailer in the Nevada desert where he meets up with a radioactive rabbit and a one-eyed cat who are trying to find new homes.

Also shown were brief test shots from “Rapunzel Unbraided,” scheduled for release in 2008. Longtime Disney animator Glenn Keane, best known for animating the Beast in 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” is making his directorial debut with the movie starring a computer-animated princess.