Animation biz looks outside country for coin

Spain offers no state aid to animated projects

MADRID — Spain produces more hours of animation than any country in Europe except for France (149 hours in 1999). Its product is beginning to penetrate principal markets, including niche TV distribution in the U.S. and Japan, and is considered one of the country’s main programming exports.

But toons also have problems. Meet a Spanish animator, and you’ll find a grouch. One issue is that, unlike France, Spain offers no state aid to these animated projects, and local broadcasters only earmark 3% of their children’s programming budgets to homegrown fare.

“That means that when setting up a production, you have to think about international options,” says Nacho Fernandez Vega, CEO of the Arbol Group’s toon arm Anima2. The division has teamed with Italian companies RAI and Publiglobo on its first international animation project, a new version of Spanish TV megahit drama “Family Doctor.”

“Indies are struggling to survive when confronted by vertically integrated toon studios,” complains Neptuno Films’ Josep Viciana, who confirms a co-production deal with Germany’s Victory Film on series “Puss in Boots” and “Ambi & Lance.”

Spanish toon production’s international thrust can yield spectacular results, as with Cromosoma’s “The Triplets,” which sold to more than 170 countries. Company’s “Tom” will become the first Spanish co-production backed by European Broadcasting Union members.

Given the stiff challenges of series production, some companies are moving into filmmaking.

“Features open up the possibility of state aid and theatrical B.O.,” explains Paco Rodriguez, senior VP of international sales & co-productions at Filmax Animation.

“We can turn out animated movies with a quality that will stand up to comparison with the U.S., and get our money back from the European market,” says Carolina Godayol, BRB’s director of co-productions and new development.

She will head up Screen 21, a new theatrical feature production of BRB Internacional, which is planning a cats-and-dogs version of “Romeo & Juliet,” and “Zip and Zap,” about a pair of Spanish cartoon-strip twins. Filmax Animation has “El Cid” in production, and Avanzit Media’s toon arm Animagic is working on “The Three Wise Men.” All the budgets are in the $4 million-$6 million range.

Tween and adult animation is also emerging, such as Cromosoma’s “South Park”-style “Motel Spaghetti.”

Stylistically, 3-D animation is becoming increasingly common as seen in series such as D’Ocon’s “Scruff,” Anima2’s “Defensor5,” and Disney’s first Spanish pickup, Cromosoma’s “Juanito Jones.”

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