Anima learns from 'Magos' to help fill Mexico's appetite for toons

MEXICO CITY — Mexico continues developing its growing animation business, with Anima bowing its second feature “Imaginum,” Aug. 19 in Mexico. The studio plans to release a third pic by spring 2006.

“We are here for the long term, we hope,” said studio prexy and Imaginum producer Fernando de Fuentes, whose father and grandfather together produced more than 100 films in Mexico.

De Fuentes said Anima learned from the disappointing performance of its first pic, “Magos y Gigantes” (Wizards and Giants), which crashed at the box office in 2003 in Mexico.

De Fuentes says “Imaginum,” which stars the voice of Mexican comic Eugenio Derbez as an alien parasite intent on conquering Earth with an army of mutated stuffed animals, targets an older aud than “Magos.” Also, “Imaginum” will bow after the run of summer blockbusters is over, with fewer prints. Fox Intl. rolled out 270 prints of “Magos” that went up against competition from U.S. toons.

“Imaginum” will bow with around 175 copies distributed by Videocine, distrib for Televisa’s film division. Videocine’s L.A. branch plans a limited U.S. release targeting Hispanics. Long-time Televisa exec Guillermo Canedo is a partner in Anima.

Mexico has a big appetite for toons. “Shrek 2″ was the top grossing film in 2004, with 29.2 million.

“Magos” was the first Mexican animated feature in nearly two decades. Production costs had become too high to justify pics targeting Latin American auds, de Fuentes says. However, he said technological advances now allow studios to produce toons for the same cost as the average Mexican live action pic.

Now Mexico is poised for a mini-renaissance in toon production. Besides Anima’s pics, studio Animex is prepping a $3 million feature “Maya: La primera gran historia” while Metacube is working on $3 million “Un dia de Muertos.”

“Imaginum” was produced for $1.5 million in 18 months compared with a roughly 40-month production schedule for a major animated pic, according to de Fuentes.

Studio’s third pic is a spy story set in the jungle with a budget estimated at $1.8 million.

“Imaginum” was created with CGI and includes 2-D characters with some 3-D backgrounds. Third pic sports 75% 3-D backgrounds. De Fuentes said the studio would hold to that formula until there is enough coin to fund 3-D characters.

“I think we can achieve theater quality for the United States very soon,” de Fuentes said. “We can achieve it now; it is just a question of budget.”

De Fuentes says with a $5 million to $6 million budget, Anima could produce higher quality films that “could have a bite” of the U.S. and European markets.

Anima is doing some work for DIC Entertainment, and de Fuentes said the company plans to beef up a service branch. However, he said the studio’s focus remains on its own productions.

“Contracts (for hire) extinguish when some Columbian builds a cheaper studio,” de Fuentes says.

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