Igor is a so-ugly-he's-cute cartoon character, soon to star in his own animated feature, and his creators hope become the inspiration for school backpacks, action figures, computer games and cell phone ring tones.


And for a minimum $30,000 investment, you can get a piece of the action.


Early next year, DVDs of a six-minute animated short called "Igor: UnHoly Frijoles," are set to start making the rounds of film festivals, and the home theater systems of potential investors in Exodus Film Fund I LLC, one of the entertainment industry's first private equity animation film funds.


The fund is being raised by Exodus Film Group, a Venice-based production company that created Igor and wants to amass $50 million to finance three computer-graphics animated films, including a full-length "Igor" costing at least $20 million. Also in the pipeline is a live-action take on the Paul Bunyon legend, featuring a CG-animated Babe the Blue Ox.


While production company executives are talking with private equity and hedge funds, most Exodus investors are wealthy individuals from outside the entertainment industry making $100,000 average investments.


"A lot of them buy animated videos for their kids who watch them 50 times before they break and they start wondering 'how do I get a piece of that?'" said Exodus President John Eraklis.


While there may be greater cachet to backing Bob and Harvey Weinstein's new film production company, Eraklis sells his investors on the potentially larger return on investment for family friendly films.


Exodus' prospectus includes excepts from a 2004 study by the Dove Foundation, a Grand Rapids, Mich. advocacy group that sponsors its own movie-rating program. While Hollywood has produced 12 times more R-rated films than G-rated films over the past decade, the study concludes, the average G-rated film generated 11 times greater profit than its R counterpart and has greater product licensing opportunities. Exodus investors will share in both the film and licensing revenues of its productions.


The fledgling studio has attracted some well-known talent, including executive producer Max Howard, who was involved in numerous animated hits, from "The Lion King" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Contributing their voices to "Igor," a retelling of the classic mad scientist tale from the hunchbacked assistant's point of view, are Christian Slater in the title role, with John Cleese and Jay Leno in supporting roles.


Exodus officials won't disclose what percentage of the fund has been raised, but say that sufficient cash is flowing in to meet the production timetable on all the projects. And they expect that once the short is finished, they can keep up the pace with more aggressive marketing of the fund next year.


The group has its executive offices in Venice's Abbot Kinney neighborhood, but the animation production studio has grown to the size where the company recently relocated it to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Northridge.


Exodus is Howard's first turn at an independent production and he's finding the lack of bureaucracy refreshing.


"I'm convinced that one of these small studios is going to make a very big and successful animated film on relatively small budget," he said "A few years ago a small studio couldn't come into this market, but the change in the cost of software and hardware has created accessibility."

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