Guillermo del Toro is developing a 3D feature for Disney based on the amusement park ride The Haunted Mansion – one of the first films under the Rich Ross regime.

Del Toro announced the project in front of 6,500 Comic-Con attendees on an opening day at the San Diego convention that was heavy on stars but unusually light on news.

“Dark imagery is an integral part of the Walt Disney legacy,” the Mexican film-maker said. “After all, Disney himself was the father of some really chilling moments and characters – think Chernabog from Fantasia or Maleficent as the Dragon or the Evil Queen in Snow White.”

Del Toro appeared during Disney’s Tron: Legacy panel featuring Jeff Bridges, Michael Sheen, Garrett Hedlund and director Joe Kosinski, one of several star-studded promotions that took place in the famous Hall H. Johnny Depp sent a recorded message as Captain Jack Sparrow to plug Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, due out in May 2011.

In the only other newsy development, Buffy The Vampire creator Joss Whedon confirmed rumours during a lively on-stage chat with J J Abrams that he will direct Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, set to open in summer 2012 through Paramount.

Angelina Jolie drew crowds with her first Comic-Con to talk up Sony’s spy thriller Salt that opens this weekend in North America, the Middle East, Caribbean and parts of Asia and Africa. Sony also showed a sequence from its March 2011 action film Battle: Los Angeles starring Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez.

Jolie’s husband Brad Pitt did not make the trip south to San Diego however he was represented by a cardboard cut-out for DreamWorks Animation’s Megamind panel. Co-stars Will Ferrell (mimicking his character in a blue dome helmet) and Tina Fey came in person to promote the November release. Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis and Karl Urban talked up Summit Entertainment’s graphic novel adaptation Red during a lively session.

Willis returned for a brief appearance on Lionsgate’s The Expendables panel, surely as testosterone-fuelled a convocation of performers as Comic-Con has ever witnessed. Writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone regaled fans with stories about the production alongside Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and world champion fighters turned big screen entertainers Steve Austin and Randy Couture. California taxpayers will be heartened to learn that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did not take time out to discuss his small role in the action film.

Amid the tales of body slams and explosions, Stallone explained how Austin broke his neck during a gruelling fight sequence and reminisced about the time his old friend Lundgren hit him so hard in the chest during Rocky IV that he spent four days in intensive care.

Stallone reflected on how fortunate he felt to be enjoying a resurgent career and expressed heartfelt gratitude and no small amount of pride that both Rocky Balboa (2006) and Rambo (2008) became commercial hits.

He singled out 1990’s Rocky V – panned by critics and audiences alike and by far the least commercial North American release in the franchise on $40.9m – as a nadir in his life. “I was so depressed,” he said. “I blew it. I take all the blame for it.” Sixteen years later he got back in the ring with Rocky Balboa and the critics and audiences were back in his corner. “After I made [Rocky Balboa] I was ready to retire.”

Speaking of Rocky, Stallone and Lundgren each received a framed certificate from The Guinness Book Of Records for their participation in what has become the biggest sports franchise in Hollywood with $1.2bn in ticket sales to date. An awkward-looking Guinness Book Of World records editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday hovered onstage to preside over the marketing gimmick.

Now in its 41st year, Comic-Con is expected to draw approximately 125,000 attendees over four days.