Lakeshore Entertainment is prepring Underworld 3: The Rise Of The Lycans, the prequel to its $200m worldwide franchise about warring werewolves and vampires that will open in North America through Screen Gems.

Lakeshore and Sony Pictures Releasing International hold international rights to the film, which is set to begin production in Auckland, New Zealand, in January 2008.

Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy reprise their roles as Lycan master Lucian and ruling vampire elder Viktor. Rhona Mitra will play Viktor's daughter Sonja.

Underworld creator Len Wiseman will relinquish his role as director and instead will serve as producer with Lakeshore chairman and chief executive officer Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi and Skip Williamson.

Franchise creature designer and supervisor Patrick Tatopoulos, who first met Wiseman on Roland Emmerich's 1997 sci-fi adventure Stargate, will direct from Danny McBride 's screenplay.

Set in the Middle Ages, Underworld 3: The Rise Of The Lycans follows Lucian and his secret lover Sonja as the Lycans rise up in revolt against their former masters, the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers.

'For the first time we will experience the Underworld universe through the eyes of the Lycans,' Wiseman said.

Aside from the Underworld series, Tatopoulos has worked with Lakeshore on Crank and the upcoming thriller Pathology, and his wider credits include Independence Day and the upcoming thriller I Am Legend.