Bill Dennis is developing a reputation for rescuing East Asian animation studios from the brink of extinction. After 20 years in feature animation for Disney, working on such hits as The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Dennis took off for Manila and in two and a half years, he turned around the ailing Fil Cartoons for Hanna-Barbara, which then sold it for a ‘very nice’ profit.
On the strength of this quick turnaround, Mumbai, India-based United Television (UTV) recently asked Dennis to head up both UTVI Animation in Singapore and UTV’s United Studios Limited-owned RM/USL studios in Bombay. His assignment? To grow both studios and develop worldwide partners for animated co-productions and commercials. ‘That’s a direction we’re trying to take the studios in,’ says Dennis. ‘We want to build up our library of animation, and in doing so, we’re going to be getting involved in doing a lot of co-production deals.’
So far, RM/USL is primarily known only for producing a 13 x 30-minute series for Singapore’s TV Twelve called Jokilat, and producing the Meena and Sara series for Unicef. But Dennis is already talking with Australia-based Burbank Animation-which produces direct-to-video features based on traditional fairy tales-about co-producing its next five or six videos. Dennis is also in meetings with a Canadian company about co-producing its first series, to be called Harry’s World, which Dennis says will be similar to Klasky-Csupo’s Stressed Eric. The recent start-up, named Harry’s World Ltd., wants Dennis to handle international distribution as well.
As his studios develop co-production deals, Dennis wants to grow the production capabilities of Bombay-based RM/USL through acquisitions in Manila and China, where labor costs are low. Already he is looking at acquiring Animasia and other local studios. This network of studios will do production work on projects coming out of UTVI, as well as contract work for American production companies. Meanwhile, at UTVI, Dennis will be looking at forming a creative development hub specializing in co-productions and animated commercials.