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Spielberg, Jackson to each direct animated Tintin films

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Tintin, arguably Belgium's most famous export, is on the threshold of superstardom. The fictional reporter created by Georges Remi, alias Herge, is to star in three animated films directed by the two of Hollywood's most celebrated directors -- Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.

The filmmakers said they would each direct at least one film about the bequiffed hero, with the first instalment expected in 2009.

Tintin and his companions, who include the whisky-soaked sea dog Captain Haddock and the idiosyncratic Professor Calculus, will be animated using performance capture technology, the technique that Jackson used to create Gollum in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Actors wearing special body suits create movements that are recorded by a computer and augmented with digital effects.

Spielberg said that one problem with a live-action version of Tintin's adventures was that it was difficult to recreate the look of the cartoon strip.

"We want Tintin's adventures to have the reality of a live-action film, and yet Peter and I felt that shooting them in a traditional live-action format would simply not honour the distinctive look of the characters and world that Herge created," he said.

Spielberg bought the option to create a Tintin film from Herge in 1982, a year before the cartoonist died. The option lapsed in the late 1980s and became the subject of negotiations with several producers until Spielberg bought the option again in 2003. His company DreamWorks exercised the option in February.

A source at Moulinsart, the company that manages Herge's estate, said it had rejected other offers from Hollywood because none gave the company enough control over the script. Nick Rodwell, who is married to Herge's widow and is a producer on the films, will ensure that Spielberg and Jackson do not take liberties with the character.

The source said that Tintin would not be allowed to have a love interest, for example. "We have approval over that just to make sure they don't totally ruin it ... but there is room for some artistic licence."

The directors are understood to have chosen three stories from the 23 titles, but none has been confirmed. It is likely that later stories will be chosen because they feature colourful characters such as Captain Haddock, whose fondness for Scotch frequently throws Tintin's investigations off course.

Variety magazine suggests that Spielberg will be free to direct his version in the fall after he finishes the fourth Indiana Jones film. Jackson is expected to begin work when he finishes his adaptation of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones at the end of the year.

Tintin's adventures, which Herge drew between 1929 and 1976, have not been distributed widely in America. Although the stories were animated for television, his only cinema outings were a pair of French live-action films in the 1960s.

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