FX Movie News: 11-6-06

Today’s Headlines: Incredible Hulk Release Date Announced; Transformers Movie “Making Of” Book In The Works; 16 Films Vie For Animation Oscars; Wellywood Looks At Future Of Special Effects & Animation; DemonWars Invading The Screen; Peter Jackson Launches Biography; Green Ogre = Greenbacks For DreamWorks; Lucas Empire Strikes Back At British Costume Maker; Star Wars And Legal Squabbles; Filming “Transformers” Movie “was like war”; VFX Pro Lorne Peterson: Sculpting His Journey; Harry Potter Phoenix Sneak Peak Goes On Demand; VFX Tentpole Biz Needs Fresh Blood;

Incredible Hulk Release Date Announced

(Marvel Entertainment, Inc.) Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures will unleash Marvel’s renowned, larger-than-life green Super Hero onto moviegoers everywhere in summer 2008 as they have announced a June 27th release date for the action-packed, new big screen adaptation: The Incredible Hulk. The announcement was made today by Michael Helfant, President and COO, Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige, President of Production for Marvel Studios.

Directed by top rising star Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, Unleashed), The Incredible Hulk will return to the roots of the long-running comic series, combining a well-developed storyline with incredible action and fun. Zak Penn, who previously collaborated with Marvel on X2 and this summer’s smash hit X-Men: The Last Stand, is writing the script. The project is being produced by Avi Arad, Kevin Feige and Gale Anne Hurd and will be executive produced by Michael Helfant, David Womark, and Ari Arad. Marvel Studios is currently casting the project.

The Incredible Hulk is being independently produced by Marvel Studios through its $525 million, non-recourse film finance facility and will be distributed domestically and in several international territories by Universal Pictures.

Feige commented, “‘The Incredible Hulk’ will be the type of fun, high-octane event film people have come to expect from Marvel. We could not be more excited about this project and our summer 2008 prospects now that we have both our green goliath and our highly-anticipated ‘Iron Man’ set for release.”

Helfant added, “We’re very happy that Universal is distributing ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ We have a history together and this is a great opportunity for both Marvel and Universal to take the ‘Hulk’ film franchise to another level.”

Transformers Movie “Making Of” Book In The Works

(seibertron.com) So what is up on Transformers? The film is being edited. The film is being sculpted. The CG is being rendered. Basically- the film is becoming the film. Nothing real exciting there. Everyone always gets excited about the shooting of a film but the film really becomes what it is going to be during post production. That is where it is for the time being. Nothing much to tell there.

I started talking with some people to see what is going on with something I am looking forward to- the MAKING OF deluxe hardcover book. Full of behind the scenes photos and artwork and stuff. Nothing to be announced yet but everything feeling good.

Also, as Diabetes linked a few weeks ago, MIGHTY FINE the clothing company is gonna do some great shirts for the film. They have offered to make a special one for the fans. I know it will have GIANT FUCKING ROBOTS are coming, and probably some Jolin artwork, Will let you know how to get one- for free!- when I have more info.

Source: http://seibertron.com/news/view.php?id=8801

16 Films Vie For Animation Oscars

(upi.com) A field of 16 films from the United States and abroad have qualified for the animation category for the 79th annual Academy Awards.

The list includes current Hollywood releases such as “Happy Feet” and “Flushed Away” as well as “Cars,” “Monster House,” and “Over the Hedge.”

Foreign qualifiers include “Paprika” and “Arthur and the Invisibles.”

The large field means as many as five animated features could be formally nominated in January, the first time that has happened since 2002, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Wellywood Looks At Future Of Special Effects & Animation

[Editor’s Note: GOD NO! Please don’t start calling it “Wellywood”!!!]

(stuff.co.nz) A giant ape with a crush and a gang of hairy hobbits with attitude have given Wellington a cut of the world’s special effects industry. But what will it take to keep up with the big boys from overseas?
Wellington’s reputation as a hub for special effects and animation is growing, but it still has a long way to go to become a major player in the global industry.

Over the weekend the city played host to AnimfxNZ, its first conference covering the two hi-tech crafts, attracting top-notch speakers and more than 200 attendees from around the world.

Organised by the country’s leading special effects company, Weta Digital, the conference was an opportunity for Kiwi companies to hobnob with overseas industry players, and find out more about where technology is headed.

Weta is well-known for its work on special effects for Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Based in Miramar, it’s a long way from Hollywood, but visual effects supervisor Matt Aitken says this isn’t much of a problem any more.

Better video-conferencing technology bridges the distance in real time, and Wellington’s size and climate offers a lifestyle that attracts talent from the United States, he says. Roughly half of Weta Digital’s 300 staff are from overseas.

New Zealand’s reputation in the two fields is growing, built almost entirely on the success of Weta Digital.

Warner Brothers head of animation Sander Schwartz, a keynote speaker at AnimfxNZ, says that, though New Zealand now shows up on the global radar, it’s just one blip among many. However, the country’s importance is likely to grow, helped by favourable exchange rates and the falling cost of video-conferencing.

He says he has seen “great work” from some Kiwi animation firms, and singles out Auckland’s Huhu Studios, responsible for the animated TV series Buzz and Poppy.

His address to AnimfxNZ dealt with changes in how animated content is distributed, particularly over the internet. This has “democratised” the industry, letting anyone make content using affordable software, then show it to millions on websites such as YouTube. This is where to find the future stars of the animation world, he says.

There’s still room for traditional animation or at least traditional-looking animation, too, he believes. The US comedy series South Park, for example, is made on computers and rendered to look like stop-motion animation, as is the newest British Noddy series.

Even with the huge advances in technology in recent years, Mr Schwartz says Warner’s collection of classic cartoons such as Looney Toons are still a good earner for the company. He believes a good story and good direction will always pull in viewers.

With the rise of computer animation, special effects and cartoons now use the same technology to weave their magic. But Mr Schwartz says there are still big differences between them. Special effects is more about solving problems, he says, and has no “creative germ” at its beginning. “It’s an art, but it’s a different one.”

Viewer’s don’t demand photorealistic cartoons, he says, and most people don’t want cartoon humans to be too realistic. Special effects are another matter, though. Viewers demand that movies be as realistic as possible, and anything that looks faked makes it harder to suspend disbelief.

Many people have trouble telling what’s real and what is digitally produced in today’s movies, Mr Aitken says. Some moviegoers were convinced Weta had scaled up a real gorilla for some scenes in King Kong, he says, while others complained that Weta hadn’t edited out back ground traffic in some of the scenes – a backhanded compliment when the traffic was created digitally.

Weta’s current projects include effects for upcoming movies The Silver Surfer, Bridge to Terabithia and Titanic director James Cameron’s next project, Avatar. It will also be starting work soon on Peter Jackson’s next project, a remake of the classic war film The Dam Busters, and will be involved in the now-delayed Halo movie based on an Xbox game.

Weta has yet to move into a sister field of special effects – gaming. Both use computer graphics to create realistic characters and environments, and the lines between them are quickly blurring.

But there are still differences. Games are limited by the need to process an interactive environment in real-time, where the player can do many different things or look in different directions while the environment changes. Making games seem truly real, without slowing down the action by overtaxing the console’s processors, is a constant challenge.

While games have to be rendered on the fly, single frames produced by Weta for movies can take days to render using thousands of powerful blade servers. This means they can be much more complex and detailed.

IBM makes the servers that power Weta’s rendering and the chips that render games in the three next-generation gaming consoles – the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.

IBM 3D rendering researcher Bruce D’Amora, also in the country to speak at the conference, says game animation is often limited by the processing power of the chips. The mathematical models used to simulate real-world behaviour are constrained in today’s games, because processing them fully to give a highly realistic simulation would simply take too long.

“You don’t always want things to behave properly because it would detract from the playability of the game,” he says.

“If it’s not fun, then it doesn’t matter how good the graphics look or the physics are, it’s not going to sell. The same could be said for movies.”

Complex animation in today’s games is often left to “cut scenes” – short skits between levels. Mr D’Amora says as processing power continues to increase these will be wrapped into the action, making for a more seamless experience.

Many of the advances in rendering technology have been driven by the entertainment industry, games in particular, but this has spilled over into other industries, such as aerospace, defence and medicine, where animations can be used to train people and to visualise situations that can’t easily be directly observed.

Mr D’Amora says such industrial uses of the technology will play a bigger and bigger role in years to come. “That’s going to drive special effects and animation as much as movies in the future.”

Despite the advances made in the past decade, Mr Aitken says there are still many special effects challenges left to conquer.

In particular, simulating natural phenomena such as fire, smoke and flowing water is still difficult, as is creating digital environments with realistic but individual rocks and trees. “As an audience we all know what they look like so we’re very good at judging what’s right and wrong.”

“So while the visual effects in King Kong might take an audience’s breath away in 2006, they’re not likely to pass muster in 10 years’ time. “It is a very fast moving field.”

“We’re constantly staying one step ahead of the audience.”

That doesn’t mean audiences in the future won’t enjoy movies made today. “People go to films for good stories and in many ways the technique is somewhat secondary. If I go back to the original King Kong, and that was built on very crude technology, I can still enjoy that film. The technology will always be superseded. It’s what you do with it that counts.”

DemonWars Invading The Screen

(empireonline.com) The ancient fantasy sprite is still burning strong in the world of entertainment � as another series of novels has been optioned by a company aimed at cranking out films, TV and comics.

Writer RA Salvatore�s DemonWars series (obviously he can�t find the space bar when he�s writing his titles) kicked off in the late �90s and now boasts eight novels set in a realm of magic and weird creatures, where organised religion controls society. So, America, then?

Now small press company Devil�s Due is upgrading from comics and graphic novels and has decided that the DemonWars books will make the perfect stepping stone as they launch as a fully-fledged entertainment company. �It does have these fantastical elements like monsters and goblins, but it also has this world where everything revolves around these gemstones that are controlled by a religious order,” Devil’s Due chief Josh Blaylock told The Hollywood Reporter. “It has more going on to it than the usual standard fare, and Salvatore has been able to tell fantastical stories or very grounded stories all set in the same world. It’s like Da Vinci Code with a more fantastical feel.” There�s no writer or director attached yet.

It had better be more fun than The Da Vinci Code, or we�re taking our demonic powers and we�re going home.

Peter Jackson Launches Biography

(stuff.co.nz) Peter Jackson launched his first authorised biography, A Film-maker’s Journey, as part of The Dominion Post Write Stuff series last night. And Jackson had a tip for budding film makers at the event: You won’t learn how to make films at school or even film school.

Jackson gave the advice to more than 170 guests at the book launch.

“There’s nothing that anybody can do at school, no exams you can sit that are really going to help you in the film industry.
“There’s nothing I could suggest that anyone does.

“Even film schools, if you’re a real film maker, in some regards you probably don’t need them.”

More than 2700 Dominion Post readers entered a competition for 10 double passes to the event. The biography, by British writer Brian Sibley, is published on Monday.

Jackson, interviewed by Tom Scott, detailed the back stories to his filmmaking career, including how Viggo Mortensen won the Aragorn role in Lord of the Rings after Jackson, his partner Fran Walsh and co-writer Philippa Boyens rented all of the actor’s previous films to watch his acting.

Green Ogre = Greenbacks For DreamWorks

(money.cnn.com) The tale of a pair of cartoon rats and their adventures in the sewers of London wasn’t enough to beat out Kris Kringle and a faux Kazakh journalist at the box office this past weekend.

“Flushed Away,” released by DreamWorks Animation SKG, generated $19.1 million in ticket sales. That put it in third place behind Walt Disney’s (Charts) “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause” and the surprise box office champ, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” released by Fox studio.

Although “Flushed Away” had a better opening weekend than last year’s “Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” a clay animation movie released by DreamWorks that was produced by the same team behind “Flushed Away,” the film’s returns were not nearly as strong as many other computer-generated (CG) films.

DreamWorks’ “Over the Hedge,” for example, debuted in May with more than $38 million in ticket sales.

More: http://money.cnn.com/2006/11/06/news/companies/dreamworks/?postversion=2006110612

Lucas Empire Strikes Back At British Costume Maker

(timesonline.co.uk) AS SCIENCE fiction battles go, it has echoes of a lone X-wing fighter taking on the Death Star at the climax of Star Wars.

A British engineer who works out of a modest workshop in Twickenham, southwest London, is about to engage in a legal battle with George Lucas, the multibillionaire film-maker and creator of the Star Wars franchise, over the right to make replica costumes.

Andrew Ainsworth, who helped Lucas to design more than a dozen characters for the first Star Wars film in the late 1970s, is seeking legal representation to defend himself against a $20 million (�10.5 million) claim lodged at the High Court by the American producer.
Lucas, who has made an estimated $3.5 billion fortune from his series of sci-fi films and related merchandise, sued his former designer when he discovered that Mr Ainsworth was reproducing costumes of Stormtroopers � the distinctive foot soldiers used by the evil Empire to crush rebel forces.

The first round of legal action went to Lucas, who won a district court judgment in California last month awarding him damages of $20 million. Solicitors acting for the director have issued proceedings in Britain to enforce the Californian judgment.

Mr Ainsworth told The Times that he would contest the action because he believed that he held the intellectual rights to the design. Andrew Hobson, a solicitor who has discussed the deposition with Mr Ainsworth but will not be acting for him on the case, said that he had seen no evidence that Ainsworth had surrendered his design rights. �In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the designer is the first owner of the copyright,� he said. �In the particulars of the claim Lucas has served, they don�t give any details of how transfer of title came about.�

Mr Ainsworth claims that his relationship with Lucas�s film company, Star Wars Productions, was an ad hoc arrangement without contracts. He made approximately �30,000 for his work in 1976, but his recent costume business has been more lucrative. He sells complete replicas of Stormtrooper outfits for up to �1,500, and has sold more than 500 helmets, which cost at least �300. He said that his finances had been drained by the �150,000 legal costs of contesting the US court�s jurisdiction.

�Any legal assistance would be greatly appreciated,� he said.

�I am looking for a little force to be with me.�

Star Wars And Legal Squabbles

George Lucas�s distributor, 20th Century Fox, secured an undisclosed settlement in 1979 after it sued the makers of Battlestar Galactica over similarities to Star Wars
Luther Campbell, an American rapper, was forced to change the name of his record company from Luke Skyywalker Records to Luke Records after Lucas claimed that it was a rip-off of his hero, Luke Skywalker
Lucas sued the hip-hop artist Dr Dre for sampling a sonic boom sound from Star Wars. The case was settled for a substantial sum
Lucas failed in his suit against the makers of Starballz, a pornographic film featuring characters based on Star Wars. A judge ruled that it was a parody, which is protected by the American Constitution, and that the public was unlikely to confuse it with the feature films
Minrad, a manufacturer of laser-guided surgical equipment, was sued after it called one of its devices a �light saber�, the name of a weapon used in Star Wars. The case was settled out of court

Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2439226,00.html

Filming “Transformers” Movie “was like war”

(rottentomatoes.com) “Shia LaBeouf, who plays a teen involved with giant robots in the upcoming “Transformers” movie, told Rotten Tomatoes that it wasn’t all fun and games making the Michael Bay epic.

“It was like war,” he said. “I’ve never been in that much pain in my life, emotionally, physically. It was just a hard movie to make,” he said.

When press visited the “Transformers” set in August, Labeouf was all smiles and excitement about performing stunts for Bay. “Shows you what people turn on for press, huh?”

LaBeouf in the limited release “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”

Labeouf still hasn’t seen any of his scenes with the transformers added in, but he has confidence that all his suffering will pay off. “And I think it’s going to be good. Who knows? I’m not involved like that. It’s not a ‘come visit the editing room’ kind of relationship. I know that what we’ve shot, I’ve seen dailies, looks nuts but I don’t know how the assemblage is going to be.”

“Transformers” opens July 4, 2007.”

VFX Pro Lorne Peterson: Sculpting His Journey

(fieldsedge.com) Lorne Peterson is marveling about historian Stephen Ambrose�s Lewis and Clark chronicle �Undaunted Courage.� With wonder in his voice, he recounts the twists and turns of fate and luck and guidance and the chain of small miracles that made their pioneering journey possible.

The last two years have been that kind of trek for the charter member of Industrial Light & Magic: He�s seen three-decade-plus journey through the Star Wars film saga reach its end; he�s taken a long trip back along that road by working on his upcoming book; and he�s found himself a in a new creative home with Lucasfilm�s sell-off this year of the famed model shop Peterson helped establish.

Peterson�s book, �Sculpting A Galaxy: Inside the Star Wars Model Shop,� is set for a November 14 release in two editions. While both versions include the 216-page main tome and its 300-plus photos and illustrations, the deluxe limited edition will be packed with hands-on extras like models, figurines, and a DVD of documentary material.

The veteran model maker took the lead in assembling the bonus goodies, which began, Peterson recalled, with the publisher�s suggestion to include a simple collectible with the tome. Peterson figured a re-creation of a small model of Luke Skywalker�s landspeeder � the roughly 6.5-inch version that appears onscreen as barely a blip from the Tusken Raiders� cliff-top vantage – would be ideal.

�We did it to the scale of the German soldiers you get in (model) tank kits,� he said. �As the nacelles of the three jet engines, I used Sharpie � caps.�
Funny thing, though: When Peterson rebuilt that speeder for the book release, he did his job too well: The rough spots and chipped paint he had painstakingly re-created caught the eye of the sculptors working in the production process, who asked if they were supposed to refine the speeder. Peterson had to then explain that�s just how he meant it to be.

The original landspeeder model, he added, became a gift George Lucas presented to the head of Toho Studios in Japan following the success of Star Wars. �(Maybe) it�s in a studio closet somewhere, or maybe it�s on display at a studio somewhere,� Peterson mused. �I imagine when the book comes out, the stories will probably resurface in Japan about it.�

The publisher of �Sculpting A Galaxy� asked his input for another bonus item, too, Peterson said. �Originally, they just asked for one other idea, and my own tendency (is that) I overload people � if they like one idea, I have to pile on another one, and another one.�
And here�s where it took him: Besides the speeder and the DVD, the limited edition includes two extra booklets, spaceship cutouts and replicas of chunks of the Death Star and Millennium Falcon surfaces.

�It keeps opening up like a click-clack box,� Peterson said. �You open up one door, and it reveals one thing, and then another, and another.�

Even though he was witness to everything preserved within its pages, Peterson was stunned at the emotional impact the first edition off the press had on him. Though that copy was offered to him on the spot, he said, he felt uneasy about taking it home. That night, he couldn�t sleep until after 3 a.m. thinking about it, and the next day he went back to get it. He still has that true first edition.

Peterson also speaks enthusiastically about the DVD of bonus material, particularly a portion he calls �talking galleries,� wherein his narration and recollection is played over a collection of photographs he shot during the early days of ILM. Peterson offered around 800 of his personal shots to editor Van Ling, and the pair recorded about four and a half hours of storytelling to go along with them.

�It was about how we started out (in the model shop), and who the players were,� Peterson said. �(Van Ling) made the story have continuity. I have to admit, the first time I saw it � I really got misty-eyed. I hope the general audience can get a sense of what ILM was at that time, and what a seat-of-your-pants operation it was.�

Another 2006 DVD release also has Peterson grinning these days: When we spoke in mid-2005, he had lamented the fact that the original, pre-Special Edition trilogy had not been released in a digital format. That changed this fall, and he says it does mean something special.

�It�s almost unimaginable to think of the (original) Star Wars films sitting somewhere and rotting within your own lifetime,� he said.
But 2006 was also marked by an ending: Lucasfilm sold off its model shop operations to longtime employee Mark Anderson and a group of investors. Though the new company, Kerner Optical, has right of first refusal to any Lucasfilm or ILM modeling projects, Peterson admits it�s a little odd not being beneath the ILM umbrella these days. For instance, there�s the disconnect of not having the muscle of the Lucasfilm name, which, as Lorne puts it �can get people to do backflips for you.� And in a way, he said there�s almost a feeling similar to the early days of ILM, with a sense of uncertainty in the air.
�It has been kind of an emotional roller coaster for a number of people,� he said. �Me, maybe a little bit less than most, in that I have an awful lot of things under my belt already.�

Still, Peterson seems to see it as just one more step on the path, one more turn in the road. And look where his journey�s taken him so far.

Source: http://www.fieldsedge.com/Lorne_Peterson.html

Harry Potter Phoenix Sneak Peak Goes On Demand

(slashfilm.com) HBO On Demand will feature a sneak peak at Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix starting on November 20th, only three days after the theatrical release of the official teaser trailer, which will debut before Happy Feet on November 13th.

The Phoenix sneak peak coincides with HBO’s airing of the making of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which begins airing on November 7th. The movie will then debut on the channel on November 19th.

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix will hit theaters on July 13th 2007.

VFX Tentpole Biz Needs Fresh Blood

(variety.com) In recent years, Hollywood’s biggest series have produced massive returns. Consider just seven of the largest: “Harry Potter,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “X-Men,” “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Star Wars.” The 19 individual films in these series have generated $15 billion in worldwide box office. More tellingly, since 2001 one out of every nine movie tickets sold in the U.S. has been for one of these franchises.
“They have brand awareness and allow you to cut through the clutter of the marketplace,” says Warner Bros. Pictures production prexy Jeff Robinov.

And yet the studio appetite for franchises — successful ones, that is — has never been so ravenous.

Even when a film like “Superman Returns” underperforms, a studio is reluctant to abandon the franchise. Last week, Warner Bros. announced that it is moving forward with plans for a sequel, inking Bryan Singer to produce and direct.

But all good things tend to come to an end: “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings” have concluded. “X-Men” has ended (though spinoffs are planned). And others are getting long in the tooth.

After next May, the studios behind “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” will be pondering whether the numbers add up enough to justify fourth installments.

Of Hollywood’s current super-size sequel franchises, only Warners’ “Potter” franchise looks locked in for several more years: J.K. Rowling has written seven “Potter” books, and the studio is readying the fifth “Potter” pic for release next summer, leaving it several years before it works through Rowling’s tomes.

Those concerns, as well as serious misfires like this year’s “Poseidon,” are leading some studio chiefs, such as Universal’s Ron Meyer, to question whether it pays to be in the tentpole business. Calendar crowding in the prime summer and holiday seasons have left little room for error for opening a picture when studios are placing $200 million bets nearly every weekend.

“Every independent producer that pitches you a film says, ‘This is a franchise!’ ” says MGM chief operating officer Rick Sands. “But there are a lot of forces at work on whether something becomes a franchise, and obviously, one of the biggest factors is luck. If it were possible to predict the creation of a franchise, you would shoot three of them back to back, but no one does that because it’s not possible.”

For studios, the idea of life without franchises is worrisome. Since 2001, 22% of 20th Century Fox’s entire domestic box office has come from either “Star Wars” or “X-Men” films; in the last six years at Warners, the four “Potter” pics (out of the 125 titles it has released) have generated 17% of all its U.S. grosses.

“If you go through the top 20 movies of the last 10 years, you see that franchises can prove to be critically important anchors for a motion picture studio,” says Fox production chief Hutch Parker. “The things that qualify as a franchise become rarified air and it’s hard to find them.”

But such concerns show no signs of stopping the franchise search. So far, studios are returning to the kind of source materials that generated the current crop of super-franchises: comicbook heroes, kidlit series, their own film libraries and, of course, in very rare cases an original idea.

“Occasionally you’ll make a movie from scratch with the right idea and the right character that allows you to go on and make a sequel,” says Robinov. “But it’s tricky.”

Studios have to walk a fine line. Positioning pics as tentpole franchises and talking about sequels before the first one is even released may raise expectations too high. But at the same time, studios have to plan for sequels (such as locking in talent deals) before a foot of film has been shot on the first pic.

New Line chief operating officer Rolf Mittweg says contracts on big pics now typically contain terms for sequels. “The talent deals are done in that fashion because you don’t want to make a film with franchise potential and not have the deals in place for the second and third films.” (New Line, of course, learned the hard way the difficulty of deal-making for sequels when Chris Tucker held out on coming back for “Rush Hour 3.”)

For Warners — so heavily reliant on tentpoles — and the other majors, comicbooks remain the backbone of the tentpole franchise biz because they have brand awareness and are designed for serialization. But audience tastes are always changing.

There have been many missteps along the way, including “The Rocketeer,” “The Saint,” “Elektra” and “The Phantom.”

But one blockbuster like “X-Men” and the studios are once again sold on the idea that comicbooks are the fountain of the franchise.

Fox is betting heavily that a second “Fantastic Four” film will provide another franchise, while also investing heavily in exploring possible “X-Men” spinoffs like “Wolverine.”

Books also can be easy prey. Warners, for instance, has been downright blessed with the “Potter” series, a worldwide phenom.

Disney has high hopes that the C.S. Lewis “Chronicles of Narnia” book series will provide for more big pics after the 2005 “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” brought in $745 million worldwide. Lewis wrote six more books in the series, and the second film, “Prince Caspian,” is due in theaters next summer.

Based on the success of “Rings,” “Potter” and “Narnia,” other studios have been snapping up other youth-skewing fantasy literary series. But one or two hits does not a craze make.

That’s why competing studios will be paying close attention to how Fox’s dragon fantasy pic “Eragon,” which opens Dec. 15 and is based on the first book in a trilogy by Christopher Paolini, does at the box office.

Fox also is high on spinning an adaptation of “Jumper,” a kidlit series by Steven Gould about teleportation, into a film series. (The pic reunites “Star Wars” thesps Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson.)

At Shepperton Studios in London, New Line is shooting “The Golden Compass,” the first in Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” young-adult fantasy trilogy. Later this fall, the studio will be putting “Inkheart” into production, the first of a trilogy by German author Cornelia Funke.

In recent months, Warners bought film rights to Philip Reeve’s children’s book “Larklight,” the first of a Victorian-era space adventure trilogy centered on a brother and sister.

Sometimes the search for the next big thing doesn’t go much further than the studio gates. So hungry are executives for fresh franchises, even old titles are being resurrected.

MGM is readying the release of a sixth “Rocky” movie on Dec. 22 (see story, next page). And Fox is high on a new “Die Hard” series, with “Live Free or Die Hard” in production.

“We’ve never wavered in our belief that the audience wants more of (Bruce Willis’) John McClane,” says Fox’s Parker. “The challenge was finding a story that could serve as a ‘first’ and not just a derivation of the previous film.”

Successful hits are also being looked at for possible serialization. Disney hit pay dirt last year with sleeper hit “National Treasure,” an action-adventure. The Mouse House hadn’t viewed the pic as a potential franchise, but the thinking has changed. Studio is hoping that a successful sequel to “National Treasure” will launch a series.

With the smash “Pirates,” Disney has gone back to its theme parks for inspiration, commissioning a script based on its “Jungle Cruise” ride. But the lackluster results of “Haunted Mansion” prove that making a ride into a successful film is, as they say, very much execution dependent.

Studios that haven’t been big franchise players in recent years, such as Paramount and Universal, have also been looking through their vaults for inspiration. Earlier this year, Par tasked J.J. Abrams with reviving “Star Trek” on the bigscreen, and U is busily developing everything from the “The Wolf Man” to “The Mummy 3” as potential tentpole series.

“Our biggest successes have been homegrown properties that have become popular enough to become franchises,” says Universal chair Marc Shmuger. “No one was going into ‘American Pie’ thinking this was going to be the next big comedy franchise.”

Strictly at the discussion level, creative execs at Warners have tossed about the idea of bringing “Tarzan” back — as one studio exec says, “In the old days, a serial like ‘Tarzan’ would be a franchise” — along with pursuing redos of “Westworld” and “Clash of the Titans,” all of which could spawn sequels if done right.

Every franchise aspires to the success of James Bond. The series has lasted for more than 40 years, earned $3.6 billion and defied all the rules about the dangers of changing casting. Daniel Craig makes his debut as 007 this month when Sony releases “Casino Royale.”