Vanguard Films,the production company headed by Shrek 2 and Shrek producer John Williams and Neil Braun, is exploringEuropean investment sources to bankroll an initial slate of five animationfilms.

The long-termfinancing pact is aimed at building on the company's foray into theindependent sector with Valiant, Happily N'Ever After and Space Chimps.

Braun told ScreenInternational that he is pursuing talks with several potential partners but twooptions are most likely. In Germany, he is in talks with investment partnersfrom Happily N'Ever After to access tax-driven funding for an initial five animation films. Thepartners would have an option of extending the relationship to ten titles.

Braun, a formerhead of Viacom Entertainment, is also in talks with other potential investorsto arrange equity from two or three sources, which would be topped up with bankdebt to make up to 15 pictures. The German deal is exclusively for CG animation,but the other is not. If Braun ties up both deals this year, the second couldboost Vanguard's live-action activities.

Braun sees along-term financing deal as the next step for Vanguard after it startedoffering independent distributors animation titles through UK-based salescompany Odyssey Entertainment. Vanguard already has development and overheadfunding after selling a minority stake to the animation offshoot ofdeep-pocketed telecommunications company IDT.

"We haveenough capital in the company to develop scripts and cover overheads forseveral years without raising money, but each time we are ready to go intoproduction'we have got to assemble financing on a standalonebasis," Braun said.

Odyssey isshowing footage from the $40m Valiant at Cannes ahead of an anticipated Easter release inthe US through Walt Disney, which has a multi-picture deal with Vanguard, andEntertainment in the UK.

Space Chimps, tobe voiced by Seann William Scott, starts this year at London's EalingStudios once Valiant is finished. Williams added that the biggest factor inkeeping budgets down for independent distributors is reducing the productioncycle.

"Ourproductions take two years from start to finish," he said."Features I know about at studios take three years at least'Theywill be spit balling, finding the story along the way. We work much more like alive action film; we don't start until we have we have a greatscript."