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Lions Gate, Marvel to Bow Animated DVD Releases

25 May, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Looking to expand upon a theatrical pact that produced The Punisher, a scheduled fall 2005 sequel, and future releases Iron Fist, and Black Widow, Lions Gate Entertainment and Marvel Enterprises inked an agreement that calls for eight, as-yet-unnamed direct-to-video animated features.

The first 66+ minute title, in either 2-D or 3-D format, could be released as early as third-quarter 2005.

A retail price has not been determined.

Under terms of the long-term deal, Lions Gate will pay Marvel licensing fees, and assume all production, development, distribution and marketing costs.

Marvel chairman and CEO Avi Arad, who said discussions regarding direct-to-video properties began with Artisan, a unit of Lions Gate, was impressed with the latter's reputation as a “mini/major studio.”

“We thought the direct-to-video component was sort of center-stage for [Lions Gate],” said Arad. “We like [their] management; we like the marketing group. They understand our franchise.”

Both companies will share in the profits, including television and video-on-demand.

Glenn Ross, president of family home entertainment at Lions Gate, said the animation projects would involve “A-level characters, not B- and C-level” characters.

“We have our pick of the entire Marvel universe,” said Ross.That universe includes such relatively unused mainstream characters as Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Black Panther.

Ross said final decision on the characters and titles will depend on their ability to be branded and the amount of special effects.

“If there is title that we want some 3-D effects, it might have to fall later in the schedule,” Ross said. “We're just starting those conversations.”

Marvel retains creative control of each video, including production partner — a situation that doesn't preclude it from using Lions Gate's animation production partner, CineGroupe.

According Arad, the choice of production company will be depend on the comic character in question, the CGI needed, budget and timing.

“The idea behind the two companies is to put the best possible product together regardless who produces it,” said Arad.

Ross likens future home video efforts involving Marvel's characters to similar home video releases with Mattel's Barbie of Swan Lake and Clifford: The Big Red Dog.

“That's our goal, to build a brand of animated videos that have a very broad demographic,” he said. “Films that will be compelling to Marvel fans but also appropriate to younger audiences.”

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