Bob Morane is a contemporary animated adventure program of 26 half-hour episodes that are based on a series of French-language adventure books that were very popular with French, Belgian and Canadian children age eight and up in the 1950s and `60s. Bob Morane’s creator was Henry Vernes, who wrote more than 170 stories in the series. The rugged hero at the center of the modernized storyline is a French-speaking cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Luke Skywalker, who travels through time and space to face unimaginable dangers.
Ellipse Animation, France
Cactus Animation, Canada
France 3, France
How the partnership began:
Montreal-based television and film entertainment company Coscient Group buys the rights to Bob Morane, contemplating three possible routes for developing the property: a live-action feature, a live-action series and an animated series.
April 1994 (MIP-TV)
Ellipse producers Robert Rea and Stžphane Bernasconi meet for the first time with Coscient, which has never before produced an animated project. Impressed by Coscient’s success in other areas of the entertainment industry, Ellipse expresses an interest in being a co-producer on an animated Bob Morane series, which appears to hold great potential for international distribution.
Summer and fall 1994
Negotiations continue between Ellipse and Coscient.
Ellipse signs an extended co-development, production and financing agreement with Coscient that initially covers three animated series that will be produced at Coscient’s new Montreal-based animation studio, Cactus Animation. The three series are Bob Morane, Blake and Mortimer and Fennec.
Although the funding formula varies somewhat according to the individual series, the two companies each agree to cover roughly one-third of the production and development costs of the new shows. The budget for Bob Morane is US$9.5 million.
Initial scriptwriting and storyboard production for Bob Morane begins in France, although the bulk of the production work will be done in Canada. Bernasconi persuades Cactus president André Bélanger that the new studio’s first project should be the less elaborate Fennec, giving Cactus a chance to build a solid foundation and iron out any bugs that may be present in the start-up venture. The decision delays production on Bob Morane.
Despite his cautious approach, Bernasconi doesn’t want to be paternalistic and interfere with Cactus’ work, since he feels it is important for Cactus to have a strong sense of ownership on the programs it helps to create. With Fennec, says Bernasconi, ‘I tried not to be a pain in the ass by going to see them all the time. And they did great. We couldn’t have done a better job ourselves.’
Canal+ and France 3 come on board as European broadcasting partners for Bob Morane.
Pre-production begins. Scripts are adapted into English.
Although Bernasconi says Ellipse and Cactus speak the same ‘technical and artistic language,’ he admits to facing difficulty deciding how to split the work between the two companies. The two companies continue to spend a great deal of time working out the tone and direction of Bob Morane.
Under Canadian director Norman Leblanc, production finally begins on Bob Morane. Storyboards, design and ink and paint are split between Ellipse and Cactus.
Post-production starts in Montreal.
Bob Morane will be shown at MIP-TV for the first time. The program will be delivered in September, when it is scheduled to air on Canal+ in France. Canadian broadcasting commitments are still limited to French-language specialty cable channel SuperEcran and regional English broadcaster Global Television Network, although negotiations are ongoing with over-the-air broadcasters in Quebec. France 3 will air the program in 1999.
Evaluating the Partnership
‘Bob Morane wasn’t an easy show to do because it’s an action-adventure,’ says Bernasconi, adding that it was often tough for the partners to come to an agreement on the direction of the design and the scriptwriting for the show, while staying true to the spirit of the original book series. Yet, despite the challenges, Bernasconi vows that the partnership with Cactus turned out to be an ‘excellent collaboration.’
Says Robert Rea of Ellipse, who admits he wasn’t thrilled with the early designs that he saw for the show: ‘The main challenge was creative. We really had to modernize the characters and find the right tone for the series.’ He says several designs were tested and dismissed before everybody finally agreed on the bold, modern design elements now featured in the show.
Despite the creative doubts that arose throughout the development of Bob Morane, Rea says he found Bélanger and his team to be true professionals who were as budget-conscious as he was, a critical attribute in his view. An added benefit, he says, is that he has always found Canadians to be more flexible to work with than Americans.
For his part, Bélanger says that while it might have taken awhile for everyone to agree on the look of Bob Morane, they eventually settled on a style that everybody was happy with. Referring to the ‘give and take’ nature of co-productions, Bélanger says there is always something to be learned when working with new creators, writers or artists.
‘That’s why I love to co-produce,’ he says, ‘because the other partners always bring something new with them that you can use. In a co-production, you have to synchronize yourself, because you can’t have half your show done in one style and the other half done another way. It’s a fun challenge.’
Now that Ellipse and Cactus have concluded work on Fennec and are close to completion on both Bob Morane and Blake and Mortimer, they are set to begin pre-production on XCalibur, an animated series that will be ready by the end of 1999. The companies are also now working out the co-production details on a new animated project called Pirate Family, which will likely have a German co-producer on board as well. Other projects in the works include at least one animated feature.
In this report:
- Kids reality shows sell ‘edutainment’
- They’ve got the whole world in their plans
- Local programmers emphasize local character
- Sonic Underground
- Bob Morane
- The Myth Men: Guardians of the Legend
- Mumble Bumble
- Fix & Foxi
- Princess of the Nile
- MIP-TV Roundup