Sprite Animation Studios has set up shop over at the Howard Hughes Center in West Los Angeles. The image above is from their first absolutely cool short, MONSTER SAMURAI, which will premiere in competition a couple weeks from now at the Annecy Animation Festival. The short was directed by Moto Sakakibara, whose biggest credit to date has been as co-director of FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (2000). Sakakibara is Sprite’s creative director and has no intention of making a photo-realistic film ever again. Based on this short and other tests I’ve seen, I believe him. In fact, the big news from Sprite is that they are looking to staff up in Los Angeles. They’ve got the greenlight to produce a feature based on the Masashi Tanaka’s manga classic, GON (pictured at right). Positions are open now for storyboard artists, 2D layout, 3D modelers and riggers, as well as systems administrator. Bill Perkins (art director of Disney’s ALADDIN) has been hired as the film’s art director, and Leslie Hough is producing. The feature is targeted for a 2008 release. To apply for a position, click here for more information.This studio is offering a refreshing change from the copy-cat CG styles that Hollywood thinks an animated feature should be. The future of feature animation will lie with independent studios, like Sprite, with their own storytelling voice and original vision. We wish them well – and from what I’ve seen, they’re off to a great start!