China’s Original Force Animation Launches Motion Picture Unit

Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox are heading up the division.
Original Force Animation
Currently in production in the feature unit is 'Duck Duck Goose'

China’s Original Force Animation has been quietly setting up an animated motion picture unit while getting its first batch of features off the ground, and it is holding its debut event on Wednesday evening during CG conference Siggraph in Los Angeles.

The new unit is based in Culver City and headed by co-presidents Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox, who are partners in the venture, along with Original Force founder Harley Zhao. The company seeks to produce at least one CG feature film approximately every 18 months.

Rabins and Finkelman Cox are vets from the early days of Sony Pictures Animation and DreamWorks Animation. The pair were producers on DWA’s The Prince of Egypt and executive producers on DWA’s Oscar-winner Shrek. As execs at Sony Pictures Animation, they were involved in oversight of films such as Open Season and Surf’s Up. Most recently, the pair had been working with Original Force.

Since starting the motion picture unit, they have been building a team of veteran artists, writers and filmmakers, among them Christopher Jenkins, producer of DWA’s HomeJohn Eng, director of Rugrats Go Wild; and Bob Bendetson, exec producer on Home Improvement. Marketing vet Peter Adee, who formerly was president of marketing at Universal Pictures and MGM, is consulting on the launch of their initial titles. 

Original Force employs roughly 1,000 people and will also continue to create CG animation for its television and gaming clients, which include Disney, DreamWorks Television, Sony, Tencent, Activision and Electronic Arts.

During the launch event, the filmmakers revealed concept art and some details from their first projects. Currently in production in the feature unit is Duck Duck Goose, directed by Jenkins from a screenplay by Jenkins and Rob Muir. So far, confirmed voice cast includes Zendaya, Lance Lim, Greg Proops, Diedrich Bader, Rick Overton, Ken Jeong and Jennifer Grey. Finkelman Cox and Rabins are producing the feature along with Viola Chen

In the story — set in a world that the filmmakers are giving a painterly look — a free-wheeling hero, Peng, rejects the community of his tight-knit flock of geese in an attempt to live life on his own terms. But after he narrowly rescues two young ducklings from a deadly cat named Banzou, Peng agrees to look after them.

The studio’s second film, currently in preproduction, is OldZilla, written and directed by Bendetson, and co-written with Art Everett. The film, the story of an aging monster who moves to a senior community, was described by the filmmakers as "Godzilla Meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and will be produced by Finkelman Cox and Rabins.

Another Original Force Animation project in early production is QQ Speed, a co-production with Tencent Holding Ltd., which is based on a popular online racing game in China. The story is set in a futuristic China and focuses on the first female racer (voice of Debby Ryan), with a confirmed voice cast thus far that also includes Tom Kenny. Eng is develpping and directing.

Also in the works is Ratchet And Clank, a co-production with CNHK, Rainmaker and Blockade. Based on the Sony PlayStation game, the voice cast includes Bella Thorne, Sylvester Stallone, Rosario Dawson, Paul Giamatti, John Goodman, James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye and Jim Ward.

Original Force’s development slate includes Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, based on the Newberry Honor book by Grace Lin, and Riding Giants, to be adapted by Greg Johnson from his original manuscript.

Original Force has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, in addition to Culver City. According to Finkelman Cox, motion pictures will be made in both countries. Development and storyboarding will largely occur in Culver City, with animation and VFX largely in Nanjing.

Said Rabins. “After years of successfully working as a studio-for-hire, Original Force is creating its own content and global IP, and we believe we have an inaugural slate that will resonate all over the world.”

Rabins and Finkelman Cox also maintain an independent production entity, Patchwork Productions, which executive produced 2006’s Snakes on a Plane. Patchwork is currently developing projects with studios in Japan and China, and plans to release its first movie in 2016.