Disney, "Polar Express" director in animation deal

Movie producer Robert Zemeckis attends a news conference at DLP Cinema's "3D: New Dimensions in Digital Cinema" presentation and discussion during ShoWest at the Paris Las Vegas hotel March 17, 2005, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Walt Disney Co. said on Monday it would set up a new film company with Zemeckis to develop three-dimensional animated movies. REUTERS/Ethan Miller

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co. said on Monday it would set up a new film company with “Polar Express” director Robert Zemeckis to develop three-dimensional animated movies.

Three-dimensional animation has had limited release, but movies shown in the format have been profitable. Theater chains charged a premium of up to $4 on each ticket for 3D versions of Disney’s “Chicken Little,” the first modern 3D animated movie released by a major studio.

Zemeckis, who produced the Academy Award-nominated animated film “Monster House,” would produce and direct an undisclosed number of films for the new studio using performance capture technology with longtime partners Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey. Financial terms were not released.

Zemeckis has made two films, “Polar Express” and “Monster House” using performance capture, and is at work on a third film, “Beowulf,” for release for Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures this fall.

In performance capture, actors wear bodysuits embedded with sensors that allow a camera-equipped computer to record their movements. The data is fed into a computer, which renders the movements in three dimensions (3D).

When watched with polarized glasses, such films have effects that appear to jump off the screen.

When Disney showed “Chicken Little” in specially equipped theaters in 2005, the film brought in 2.5 times the revenue per showing of traditional versions of the film.

The digital 3D versions of Disney’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” and Sony’s “Monster House,” released last year, also earned at more than twice the average per-screen box office of their 2D versions.

Disney plans a 3D release for its next animated film, “Meet the Robinsons.”