'Astro Boy' studio Imagi closes

'TMNT' producer lost $93 mil in half-year to Sept. 30

HONG KONG -- The Hong Kong studio behind "TMNT" and "Astro Boy" has shut down as its parent company tries to recover from losses.

Imagi International Holdings Ltd. said in a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange that it stopped funding its computer animation studio on Friday "to further preserve its limited liquidity and shareholder value." The studio will ask a Hong Kong court to name liquidators, the statement issued Monday said.

But Imagi said it will continue to develop movie ideas and outsource the actual animation work to China and other countries, where costs are lower.

Starting out as a Christmas tree manufacturer, the Hong Kong company went into computer animation in 2000 and was touted as a successful transition to a high-tech economy. In 2007,
Imagi released its first feature movie, "TMNT." The English-language production based on the characters from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon series in the 1980s earned a solid $95.6 million worldwide, according to the boxoffice tracking Web site Box Office Mojo.

But Imagi's second release, "Astro Boy," fared poorly last year. Despite hiring an all-star cast including Nicolas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson to voice the characters from the Japanese comic book series by the same name, the film only made $23 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

In its latest financial results, Imagi said it recorded a net loss of 726 million Hong Kong dollars ($93.4 million) for the six months that ended on Sept. 30, 2009 -- just before "Astro Boy" was released in October.

Imagi also owes some HK$36 million ($4.6 million) in back pay to the 350 employees it laid off, Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing labor organizers working with the former employees.

A woman handling press calls for Imagi said the company had no comment pending a further statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange. She declined to give her name.