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Mickey Mouse seeks inspiration in Zurich

Zurich will help create the next generation of Walt Disney animations thanks to a new partnership between the movie giant and the city's premier seat of learning.

The Walt Disney Company, creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, will set up its first research laboratory outside the United States at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology.

The deal represents another coup in the institute's drive to position itself as a global centre of excellence following the announcement of a $90 million (SFr98 million) joint nanotechnology laboratory with IBM in June.

Zurich researchers will soon begin work on producing animations to rival and better those on Disney films such as The Lion King, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.

"Creating the next generation of sophisticated technologies requires long-term vision and collaboration with world class innovators," said Ed Catmull, president of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

The Zurich-based Disney Research Laboratory will be operational in October. The initial five-year collaboration will tap into the institute's expertise in the fields of computer animation, computational cinematography, autonomous interactive characters and robotics.

The partnership will also generate joint PhD projects, research contracts, teaching services from senior Disney researchers and grant joint intellectual property rights from the research.

Opening doors

Professor Markus Gross, head of the institute's department of computer sciences, told swissinfo that the new research lab will present exciting new opportunities.

"Our research will explore novel algorithms to bring both traditional animation and 3D computer animation to the next level of perfection. We will investigate how artistic knowledge and rules can be incorporated into computer-assisted production and content creation," he said.

"Additionally, we plan to design the next generation of cinematographic technology. The nature of the research and development is exploratory, and, depending on how the research progresses, other areas of study could open up."

The collaboration could also open up opportunities for students to move on to work at Disney, Gross added.

The creative team is expected to comprise 20 researchers split into small groups specialising in specific areas, such as artificial intelligence. The research will also draw in expertise from other departments at the institute.

Peter Chen, vice-president of research, said the collaboration represented a major strategic milestone. "To be chosen as the European location for Disney Research is further proof of Zurich's [Federal Institute of Technology's] excellent international reputation and the quality of our research and development, in this case in information technology and visual computing," he said in a statement.

No financial details of the collaboration were released.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Disney Research Laboratory

Disney have announced the creation of two research laboratories to help the company produce the next generation of animations – one in Zurich and the other at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US.

The Zurich lab will be opened at the Federal Institute of Technology's main campus in October.

Walt Disney is one of the world's largest film studios. It has produced such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Fantasia (1940), The Jungle Book (1967), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (1995) and The Incredibles (2004).

The Walt Disney Company turned over some $35 billion (SFr38 billion) in 2007 and employs 137,000 staff worldwide.

Founded in 1855, Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology is part of a wider group of science and technology teaching and research establishments.

In 2007, the Zurich Institute had 14,000 students (up 500 from 2006) and 368 professors from 16 departments. A total of 21 Nobel Laureates are associated with the Institute.

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