Doug Sweetland, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his 2009 Pixar-produced computer animated short film Presto (which was attached to WALL-E theatrically) is finally set to direct his first feature length film.

A student of CalArts, Sweetland decided to leave school in his final year to join Pixar to become an animator on their first feature film Toy Story. He has since severed as animator on A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo. He was promoted to lead animator for the Bud Luckey’s Oscar-nominated short film Boundin’ , worked as an animator and storyboard artist on Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, and stepped up to supervising animator on John Lasseter’s Cars. He won two Annie Awards for his work on Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo and earned one nomination for his character animation on Toy Story 2.

It seemed pretty obvious that Disney was grooming Sweetland to direct an upcoming Pixar feature. Some even speculated that Doug was to be named to director of the announced Monsters Inc 2 (which still has no announced director). So the news that Sweetland will be graduating to a feature film comes as no surprise. It is a bit shocking however to learn that the Pixar vetren’s feature directorial debut won’t be for Pixar, but instead for Sony Pictures Animation.

Based on the children’s book by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson which was published in September, the story follows three young wizard apprentices who must rely on their animal companions, or familiars — an alley cat, a blue jay and a tree frog — to escape an evil queen. Here is more information on the book from the publisher:

Running to save his life, Aldwyn, the street-wise orphan alley cat, ducks into a strange store. Moments later Jack, a young wizard-in-training, comes in to pick out his familiar – a magical animal companion. Aldwyn’s always been clever. But magical? Apparently Jack thinks so–and Aldwyn is happy to play along. Anything to get out of town!
Once home with Jack in Stone Runlet, Aldwyn thinks that he’s got it made–a life of ease with a boy who loves him. He just has to convince the other familiars–the know-it-all blue jay Skylar and the friendly tree frog Gilbert–that he’s the telekinetic cat he claims to be. Then, after the sky lights up with an omen, the unthinkable happens. Jack and the other young wizards are captured by the evil queen of Vastia. Together Aldwyn, Skylar and Gilbert must save them–but how? On their thrilling quest across the land, the familiars will face dangerous foes, unearth a shocking centuries old secret, and discover a mysterious destiny that will change them all forever. Their magical adventure–an irresistible blend of real heart, edge-of-your seat action, and laugh-aloud humor–is an unforgettable tale of fantasy and friendship.

THE FAMILIARS are the magical animal companions to a wizard or witch. When three young wizards-in-training get kidnapped by the evil queen of the land, it is up to their familiars to go a dangerous journey to rescue them. You’ll meet Aldwyn, an orphan alley cat pretending to have telekinesis; Skylar, a know-it-all blue jay who can cast illusions; and Gilbert, a hapless tree frog with the ability to see visions of the future in pools of water. See what happens when these three animal assistants — typically relegated to the background or found sitting quietly on their wizard’s shoulders — go on a heroic adventure of their own!

Sounds like an attempt to capture the box office “magic” of the soon concluding Harry Potter series. The 368-page book is available on Amazon for $11-12. HeatVision reports that authors Epstein and Jacobson are writing the screenplay. Sam Raimi and Josh Donen are executive producing the film adaptation.

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