This year’s edition of the annual Euro toon fest in Annecy, France saw attendance increase to about 670 companies (despite the continuing absence of U.S. participants) as prodcos scrambled to form alliances that are more crucial than ever in an increasingly competitive market. Evident at this year’s MIFA marketplace were more Web initiatives, more animation start-ups and a penchant for new styles, including the innovative use of computers and a higher demand for stop-motion animation.
Like many other Euro-based prodcos of its size, Paris-based France Animation was shopping about eight series in different stages of production, with an eye on retaining more rights and plans to launch a Web initiative within a year.
Topping the prodco’s production slate is Aliens Among Us, a 65 x 5-minute blend of live action and animation aimed at kids ages eight to 12. The co-production with New York-based Babelfish Productions stars a 3-D CGI teenage alien called Cosnok who contacts live action earth-bound kids all over the world to discuss their hopes, dreams and worries. Budgeted at US$2.3 million, the series has already stirred interest among U.S., French and U.K. broadcasters and will begin production next fall.
Other France Animation projects include The Mars Brothers (France Animation, Ciné-Groupe; 52 x 13 minutes), Vampires, Pirates and Aliens (France Animation, France 3, Disney France, Millimages, Itel/Cosgrove Hall, ITV; 26 x half hour), Cows (no partners yet; 26 x half hour) and a 70-minute holiday TV special called Nutcracker. As well, France Animation chairman Giovanna Milano says the 26 x half-hour cel-animated Titeuf will hit the airwaves next spring on Canal J and France 3. Reflecting the need to launch new properties as multimedia entities, a licensing program, launched in partnership with co-pro partner and publisher Editions Glénat, will kick off with a Color Game Boy title from France-based Infogrames hitting shelves around the air date. Additional licensees in textiles, school supplies, games and toys are currently being sought.
In the future, Milano says the prodco will continue to distribute, finance co-pros and launch three new series a year, but will diversify into live action. Internet-wise, Milano is coy, saying that she is currently trying to lock down rights to a well-known kid brand ideal for anchoring a cross-platform project encompassing broadband, TV, publishing and computer games.
Madrid-based interactive, animation, advertising and branding company MSL Audiovisual tested the Annecy waters for the first time this year to announce the debut of a new kid production division. The unit is launching with plans for at least four new animated kid series: Marco Antonio, The Vegetarian Lion (Leo Natura), The Moojies and The Geometrics.
Marco Antonio, a 26 x half-hour co-production with Hong Kong studio Full Action, Montreal-based Voice Art and Spanish public broadcaster TVE, is the furthest along with an air date set for mid-2001. Budgeted at US$5.5 million, the series is based on a comic by Mique Beltr‡n that is read by about 2 million people a week in Spain. The series aims for families and kids ages five and up with the adventures of Marco (a kid with telekinetic powers), Cleopatra (his actress mother), Bertin (the smartest kid in the world) and Armando (a gorilla in human clothes). MSL director general José Félix Garc’a says 15% of the budget was up for grabs at press time for pre-sales and distribution, with all territories free except Spain and South America, where TVE has distribution rights. Merchandising rights are available worldwide, except for Spain, which MSL will retain.
Preschool offerings Leo Natura, The Moojies and The Geometrics are all in early development with each budget set at about the US$5.5 million mark. Garc’a says MSL is currently looking to hire writers and animators for a new Madrid-based studio the company is building to work in conjunction with the Full Action studio in Hong Kong.
Lending his marquee value and Spanish translation services, David Feiss, the creator of Cartoon Network hits Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel, accompanied the MSL crew to tout a few projects of his own. Topping his list is Private Weenie, a project he hopes to see greenlit by Cartoon Network UK in the near future. With the tag ‘God help him, because sure as shooting nobody else will,’ the evolving story line concerns a 40-year-old misfit whose top goal in life is to graduate into fifth grade. With talking toes, light-emitting nipples and a vengeful alligator stalking the Weenies’ lighthouse dwelling, the series has all the markings of a seriously twisted hit. Other Feiss projects include Lost Cat, which has a pilot airing August 4 as part of Cartoon Network’s Internet competition for greenlight status, Harold’s Gut, in development at Ottawa, Canada-based Funbag Animation Studios, and Fred Flower and Uncle Italian Moose, which features a bad-ass teen flower who hops around in his pot causing trouble, currently being pitched to Warner Bros.
Over at Millimages, U.K. chief executive Jonathan Peel was showcasing The Way Things Work, Da Mob, The Wolf, The Little Ghosts, Albert and Atom and Ethelbert the Tiger. Peel says production is just beginning now on Canamedia/Dorling Kindersley co-pro The Way Things Work (13 x half hour, US$4 million budget) with a eye on a fall 2001 air date on Discovery Kids followed by debuts on Germany’s ZDF and France’s La Cinquième. The Little Ghosts (26 x 5 minutes, US$2.4 million budget), the first ever stop-motion series for Millimages, is looking for distributors following commitment from France 3. The series aims for kids ages four to eight with brightly-colored clay ghost tikes who have fun scaring a janitor and his wife living in their mansion.
The rich cel animation of preschool series Ethelbert the Tiger (52 x 5 minutes, US$3 million budget) will hit screens this fall via the BBC and La Cinquième. Peel says BBC Worldwide has secured global interactive rights for the Millimages/Link co-pro and plans to release an ‘edutainment’ CD-ROM featuring geography lessons and games to mark the series debut.
Paris-based Alphanim used its MIFA booth to showcase on-line ambitions and a move towards startling new animation styles. The Delta State, a 26 x half-hour series featuring slacker anti-heroes who have super powers but still can’t seem to pay the rent on time, targets a 14 and up audience. The series is shot live in front of a green screen with distortions, coloring, backgrounds and special effects added frame-by-frame on computer. Budgeted at US$9.1 million, the co-pro with New York’s Sunshine is generating strong interest at MTV and from Cinar, according to president-director general Christian Davin. Following in the new-look vein, 26 x half hour CGI series Gardener is perhaps the first kid animation series based on a real line of underground dolls. The elaborately clothed figures, created by Hong Kong artist Michael Lau, have also been discovered by Sony, which snapped up merch rights in Japan and plans to spin the dolls off into video games. The Alphanim series is in very early development with a storyline in the works.
Other projects underway at Alphanim include Cosmic Cowboys (26 x half hour, US$8.3 million), to be pitched at Cartoon Forum, X-duckx (26 x half hour), G-Shifters (26 x half hour), in development with France 2 (may spin off into a Flash animation Web series), and Shorts of Steel (26 x half hour), which will probably debut as a Flash animation series on the Web.
Davin was also pumping the launch of www.verysmallcity.com, a community Web site going live this September. Aimed at ages 15 to 25, the site will include underground news, do-it-yourself Web pages and verysmallTV, which will feature four Flash animation channels and three streaming video channels. One three-minute ep will be broadcast on-line per week for 13 weeks in each of four ‘seasons.’ Davin says Alphanim has invested US$4 million in the site for its first year alone, with plans to open a new Flash studio in Angoulme, France by the end of the year.
Out on the Imperial Palace terrace, RTV animation developer Alexandra Schatz was touting two new series which originally came to life as 35 mm film pilots on the international film festival circuit, only one of which is presently linked to RTV. Cel-animated Big Cat, Little Cat (Small Screen Developments, SWR, Matthias-Film, RTV; 26 x 5 minutes) is currently waiting for broadcast approval with a tentative delivery set for the end of 2001. Marvellous Milly (SWR, Hahn Films, Alexandra Schatz Filmproduktion; 13 x 5 minutes; US$980,000 budget) is set for a December 2000 delivery and will air on German broadcaster SWR in early 2001 as part of the venerable ‘Die Sendung mit der Maus’ kid block. Meanwhile, at RTV Family Entertainment, Hoota and Snoz (RTV, The Pacific Film Commission (Australia), Barron Entertainment; 26 x 1 minute) is in early development.
Finally, on the feature side of things, Spain’s Dygra Productions presented 3-D CGI family flick The Living Forest (El Bosque Animado). Based on a popular Spanish novel from the 1940s, the US$2.5 million film will have a running time of about 80 minutes when it hits 100 to 150 screens in Spain via distributor Buena Vista in summer 2001. Dygra, which funded the film mainly through MEDIA II assistance and regional government grants, is looking for distributors in other territories, as well as Spanish licensees and co-pro partners for a possible 26 x half-hour CGI TV spin-off.