Luc Besson will mark a return to directing with the 3-D animatedfilm, Arthur, which is now in production. Representing the biggestinvestment yet for Besson and Pierre-Ange Le Pogam's four year-old EuropaCorp, Arthurhas a budget similar in scale to Shrek and is currently pegged at $78m(Euros65m). It will be ready for a 2006 release, Le Pogam confirmed yesterday.

Based on the best-selling children's books created by Besson, Arthurwould be the first film directed by him since 1999's The Messenger: The StoryOf Joan Of Arc after which he turned his hand towards creating EuropaCorpand concentrated on writing and producing. However, Le Pogam did not rule outthe possibility that Besson could direct another film in parallel.

The first instalment of the book series, Arthur And TheMinimoys, was published in 2002 followed by Arthur And The ForbiddenCity in 2003 with a third book, The Vengeance Of Maltazard, releasedin 2004.

Le Pogam told that the film mixes 3Danimation with a small amount of live action and is being produced in English.No US studio is tied to the project nor have international sales yet begun, butleading French broadcaster TF1 is signed up as an investor.

Arthur is the story of a boy in search of hisgrandfather who travels to the world of the Minimoys. Le Pogam said, "Lucwanted to direct Arthur because he is so at ease bringing us into thediscovery of a new world." The books have been sold in about 20 differentcountries.

French effects house Buf Compagnie is handling the 3D aspects ofthe film.