Projects fuse local flair with high production value

Argentina is becoming a Latin American hot spot for animation, with producers entering the field with projects that fuse local flair with international standards.

Illusion Studios, behind blockbuster “Patoruzito” with Disney-backed Patagonik Film Group, has refashioned its pencil-based production operation into a digital studio with 2-D Toon Boom and Maya 8.5 3-D software.

It gained financial muscle last year with the entrance of the Exxel Group, a Buenos Aires-based private equity fund, as 80% owner. This made it possible to expand its one-feature-a-year capacity to three — plus content for the Internet, mobile phones, theater, TV and other outlets. Illusion has 120 animation artists in Argentina and this year will open a Mexican house with 25 artists.

“Our aim is to expand the reach of our animated films with U.S. market standards and without leaving behind the essence of the Argentine characters,” says Gaston Cami, head of international relations. “They are strong characters for films and TV series.”

Cami, a frequent attendee of fests and markets, has rallied co-production coin for three projects this year budgeted between $2 million and $4-million.

With Perro Verde Films, one of Spain’s hippest toon pic producers, and Canada’s Copernicus Studio Animation, Illusion is producing the hard-boiled hoodlum satire “Boogie, the Aceitoso” for a late-2008 release.

Another is tween-skewing “Valentina es como vos,” which it will first put out as a TV series with Fandango Animation of Canada and then as a feature for release this July in Argentina and soon after in Mexico.

“Valentina” also will be produced for theaters in Argentina and Mexico, part of a strategy to expand the outlets of each property.

The third is “Gaturro,” a 3-D feature about a cheeky male cat aimed for a 2009 release.

The production of toon pics with international standards is part of Argentine cinema’s shift to projects with wider audience appeal from simple arthouse esteem.

“Animated films do very well in the winter holidays in terms of spectators here, and there is an international market so we can export,” says Oscar Kramer, a partner at K&S Films in Buenos Aires.

The producer of Gael Garcia Bernal starrer “The Past” has teamed up with Eyeworks Cuatro Cabezas, a leading TV producer in Argentina with offices in Chile and Spain and a network of global partners, on the production of an animated feature starring lab rats, with pic to be released during the June-July winter break of 2009. Fox is tipped to distribute.

The drawback on animated pics is the high cost and risk of a flop, says Juan Vera, artistic director of Patagonik.

Shop is producing B.O. hit sequel “El raton Perez 2″ (The Hairy Tooth Fairy 2), about a tooth-fairy rodent, with Spain’s Filmax Entertainment for release at the end of 2008.

“Not even by a long shot can you make back costs with the local release,” Vera says. “It is indispensable that you have a foreign partner and a project with international appeal.”

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