M. Night Shyamalan by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage.com; Avatar courtesy Nickelodeon
The 28th annual Licensing International Expo kicked off this morning in New York City with director M. Night Shyamalan previewing his next big project, The Last Airbender. Based on the popular Nickelodeon toon Avatar, the live-action film is set to open July 2, 2010. Shyamalan showed concept art to the audience, and said that he will be using CGI for the first time. "It always scared me," he admitted, but added that the movie "won't just be about CGI. It's an extension of the storytelling."

The script is written and production will begin later this year in Greenland and Vietnam. The lead role has been cast, though Shymalan wouldn't name the actor who will play Aang, a mystically powered "airbender" who seeks to bring peace to the Four Nations (Earth, Air, Fire, Water). "I believe we've found the next superstar that the world is going to fall in love with," Shymalan said.

Shymalan, who rarely lacks for confidence, has typically high hopes for the movie. "The Monday after we open every kid will be trying to bend the milk out of their cup," he predicts. "If they're not doing that, we haven't done our job."

Also on display at the annual trade show, a gathering of intellectual property owners and their admirers, is everything from American Gladiators action figures to Planet Earth branded eco-friendly baby wipes to a line of Looney Tunes healthy foods for kids. Making appearances were Leonard Nimoy (to promote next year's Star Trek movie), and Miranda Cosgrove, star of the Nick series iCarly.

The show (which is not open to the public) runs through Thursday and is expected to draw 25,000 industry professionals from 82 countries. - Rich Sands