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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Resurface

30 Aug, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are making a comeback with a $40 to $60 million CGI feature film from Peter Laird’s Mirage Studios, which owns the Turtles rights, and Digital Rim Entertainment, whose John Woo and Terence Chang will produce the film; a new animated Saturday morning TV series, a live action mini-series that will air on the Hallmark Channel, and a new series of next-generation video games.

“Back in the mid-'90s, when the Turtles were at their peak, the decision was made to stop trying the same old stuff and wait a while to bring something new to the table,” said Frederick Fierst, managing partner, Fierst & Pucci Attorneys at Law, who has been negotiating the Turtles deals on behalf of the Mirage Group.

"After a half-dozen year hiatus, Mirage is thrilled to be in a position to bring a fresh take on the Turtles comic book roots to a whole new generation of kids and the vast, existing TMNT fan base,” said Gary Richardson, c.e.o., the Mirage Group. “This high level of creative excitement, combined with today's astounding multimedia technologies and methods, provides Mirage fabulous opportunities for fully realizing the classic action and adventure of the TMNT and capturing the Turtles unique brand of irreverent humor.”

The first up for the Turtles will be a 2D animated Saturday morning TV series that will have a new look and feel for the property, similar to the "Batman Beyond" take on that established property, according to Fierst. Mirage has reached an agreement and is close to executing a deal with a major network for the development of the series, which could launch as early as September 2002. Fierst expects the TV series to sustain itself for several seasons, as the original animated series did.

As soon as the TV deal is signed, Mirage has narrowed down six video game publishers to bid for the Turtles rights. Fierst expects a publisher to be chosen within 60 to 90 days of the TV deal being complete. A Game Boy Advance Turtles game is expected to ship next fall with the launch of the animated TV series. PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube Turtles games would launch in spring 2003, at the earliest. Fierst expects multiple games to ship based on the Turtles property. Depending on the game publisher that Mirage signs with, Rainbow Studios may develop one or more of the Turtles games.

Steve Barron, the director of the original TMNT feature film, which New Line Entertainment distributed, is attached to direct the Hallmark Entertainment mini-series. The two-night, four-hour mini-series will blend CGI Turtles with live actors, replacing the prosthetics of the past Turtles films and live-action TV series. If green lit, the mini-series will launch after the animated series and before the feature film, between May 2003 and May 2004 on Hallmark.

“The Ninja Turtles mini-series that Hallmark and I are developing will be a darker more street-wise view of the characters,” said Steve Barron. “Taking its tone from the original comics it will be an atmospheric and spectacular re-invention of the franchise using today's CGI technology to leap into the 21st century.”

Collaborating on the development and production of the as yet untitled filmare Woo & Chang's Lion Rock Productions, Laird's Mirage Studios, Rainbow Studios and Digital Dream Studios. The picture will be developed by Laird, Woo, Chang and Digital Rim President Earl Jarred with the actual animation production produced by Rainbow and DDS. The William Morris Agency will represent the project once the creative is completed and Digital Rim begins looking for a distributor.

Chang said that he expects the CGI film to be released in less than four years, although the story has yet to be decided upon. The film will feature “PG-rated versions of Woo’s trademark action.”

“We had to wait for a while for the kids who enjoyed the original Turtles to grow up,” said Chang. “We need to re-invent the Turtles. We’d like the film to appeal to all ages, like Shrek, but by using CGI, we’ll be able to retain a different feel than the original live-action films and be more faithful to the source material.”

Rainbow Studios, which created a 5-minute CGI demo of the Turtles for the TV series, which the networks nixed in favor of traditional 2D animation, will work on the feature.

“The CGI we employed in the demo has a more 2D look than traditional 3D animation, retaining the look and feel of the comics,” said Nicolas Napp, v.p. of animation, Rainbow Studios. “Although the look may be a bit different on the big screen, the technology we’ve developed will likely be used with the film production and could be used for the video games and any special projects that Mirage might want to do down the line.”

Playmates Toys is expected to unveil the new Turtles toy line at Toy Fair in 2002 and ship the line for fall 2002. The company, which created the original line of toys and action figures, has been working closely with Mirage in re-inventing the property. Turtles remains one of the top-selling action figure lines of all time.

“We want to coordinate everything and build the property, one step at a time,” said Fierst. “Retailers told Playmates that they’re extremely interested in a new Turtles line. And we’ve found great interest from Hollywood and the video game industry in this property, so we’re working to unveil everything to the public in the 2002 to 2004 time frame. We’ll focus on the creative and let the commercial follow naturally, if compelling TMNT entertainment products are released and attract an audience.”

Created in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Laird, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had three feature films from New Line Cinema and a live-action and animated TV series, as well as a live touring stage show, during their heyday. Konami brought out a number of arcade and home video games featuring the Turtles for the NES, Super NES, Game Boy, Genesis and PC, which sold over 18 million units. The Turtles IP accounted for over $4 billion in toy, licensed merchandise, film and television programming revenue.

Digital Dream, Rainbow, Woo and Chang formed Digital Rim in October 2000, opening the market for digital entertainment around the world by leveraging its creative, technological, marketing and business expertise in the production and distribution of digital movies, video games, computer-generated imagery for film and television and other entertainment based on digital technology among top-tier film directors and computer game developers. Turtles is expected to be its first feature. The company is also developing a CGI film called Ark.

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