LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hoping to cash in on such blockbusters as ``Monsters, Inc.'' and ``Shrek,'' Sony Pictures Entertainment has launched its own animation unit to develop computer-generated feature films.
Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins, who started Dreamworks SKG's animation department, have been hired to head the unit, studio officials said.
Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, called the new division a ``big step forward.''
``Tokyo really loves the idea of us creating original characters digitally,'' he said. ``It's a fulfillment of what they believe the company can become.''
Sony Animation will have its own annual operating budget to cover development; its sister division, Columbia Pictures, will finance the productions and handle marketing and distribution.
The unit will be required to develop at least one animated film every 18 months.
``We're not coming in with any preconceived ideas, though we know we want to make wide-appeal movies with universal themes,'' said Cox, who along with Rabins left Dreamworks last summer to pursue independent projects.
The new division is expected to work closely with Sony's in-house visual effects and digital character animation unit, Imageworks, which has worked on Columbia's recent blockbuster, ``Spider-Man,'' and the Warner Bros. hit, ``Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.''
Both Cox and Rabins worked seven years at Dreamworks, where they produced ``The Prince of Egypt'' and were executive producers of the computer-generated film ``Antz.''
The unit is expected to employ about 150 people once a film enters production.