Walt Disney Studios has boarded Valiant, the $40m animation film to be made at the UK's Ealing Studios.

Although the studio is reportedly paying only 25% of the $40m budget for North American rights to the project, the deal may lead to Disney backing three more films from Shrek producer John Williams' production outfit Vanguard Films, which is producing the film.

Valiant, the story of WW2 homing pigeon, was unveiled at Cannes by Ralph Kamp's international sales outfit Odyssey Entertainment. The production will mark the first film to use Ealing's new animation suite, which is to open for business early next year.

Valiant will mark the launch of a new venture, Vanguard Animation, which is to be based at Ealing and expand Vanguard from an independent production company into a digital animation studio.

Williams will act as CEO of Vanguard Animation and Neil Braun, whose previous positions include chairman and CEO of Viacom Entertainment and senior vice president of HBO, will be president.

"Valiant is a terrific story that will live up to the highest standards of animation, and Vanguard's exciting development slate promises great entertainment that will certainly appeal to all audiences," said Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

Pre-production starts this month in Los Angeles before the move to London, where Ealing head of studio Barnaby Thompson will co-produce with Vanguard's Eric M Bennett. Thompson unveiled a first-look deal with Walt Disney-owned Miramax films at Cannes.

"We have set-up a unique approach to funding and making these movies," said Williams. "Our production approach is best summarised by the fact that we will make these films for under $40m each, and they will be delivered within two years of their start date. We will deliver 'Toy Story'-to-'Dinosaur'-to-'Shrek'-level animation. We came to Disney with confirmed financing, completed scripts, completed budgets, multiple CG tests for each film, and advanced character designs, and production design concepts."