Toon success spurs local animation

Dygra, Filmfax, Milimetros planning feature releases

MADRID — Until recently, Spanish animated theatrical films were few and far between, but many companies are now switching from TV production to take a shot at them.

One of the reasons is the success of Dygra Films’ $3.3 million CGI-feature “The Living Forest,” which has pulled in over 725,000 spectators worldwide and counting.

“Forest” is also the second highest-selling Spanish DVD in history. Coupled to this is the fact that Spanish TV broadcasters are refusing to co-produce series and buying little or on the cheap.

“A series almost solely depends on the broadcaster for funding, which right now they’re not interested in doing,” says Dygra Films president Manuel Cristobal. “But there are financial structures in place to make features.”

Subsidies from Spain’s ICAA Film Institute, regional funding, TV station investments and international co-producers help cover toon feature budgets, which typically range netween $3 million and $10 million in Europe.

“We have ten to 20 times less than the budgets of Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks,” says Paco Rodriguez, exec producer of Filmax Animation. “But now there’s a certain demand in Europe for animated features, so what was once thought of as impossible (existing with Hollywood majors) is feasible.”

Filmax releases its first toon pic, “El Cid: the Legend,” Dec. 12 in Spain. Save for the U.K., Germany and the U.S., “El Cid” has been has presold worldwide.

Its next project, 3D “Pinnochio 3000,” a co-production with Canadian CineGroupe and France’s Animakids, is currently in post. Other upcoming Filmax movies include “Donkey Shot,” a CGI take on Don Quijote and “Nocturna,” a 2D/3D mix to be co-produced with France and possibly the U.K.

Universal Spain is distributing Video/DVD of 2002 Goya-award winner “Dragon Hill,” the first feature by long-time Spanish service animators, Milimetros.

Milimetros’ upcoming projects include the $4.5 million “RH+,” written by “Cow and Chicken” creator David Feiss, a straight-to-video sequel to “Dragon Hill” and 3D feature, “Oscar the Lion.”

Spanish toon maker BRB has launched prod-arm Screen 21, a division dedicated to theatrical feature film production. Screen 21 aims to produce two toon features by 2006: “Romeo & Juliet,” with cats and dogs, and “Zip & Zap,” turning on a pair of Spanish comic-strip twins.

Dygra is prepping its follow-up to “The Living Forest,” “Midsummer’s Dream,” a loose, comical take on Shakespeare’s tale.

Using the same characters from “Forest,” “Dream” is set four centuries later with delivery skeded for 2005.

“Until very recently, there was never a Spanish-produced animated feature that could hold the big screen,” says Milimetros artistic director Antonio Zurera.

But now that’s obviously changed.

“Animated features offer many more avenues: theatrical, video/DVD and merchandising,” says Filmax’s Paco Rodriguez. “I just hope the market isn’t saturated overnight,” he cautions.

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