New companies open in sunny South

PARIS — With its sunny weather, scenic coastline and sumptuous villas, Provence could almost be California.

The similarity hasn’t escaped a growing number of French animators who have ankled well-paying jobs in Hollywood to return home — but can’t face the idea of life back in cold, gray Paris.

“It’s about quality of life,” says Erwan Maigret, a former R&D technical lead at DreamWorks Animation, who spent 10 years Stateside working on films such as “Shrek 2,” “Madagascar,” “Over the Hedge” and “Shrek the Third” before returning to his native land.

Last September, Maigret, fellow DreamWorks transplant Arnauld Lamorlette and a group of like-minded animation colleagues came to the region to found the Bakery Animation, a studio aiming to be a European challenger to Pixar and DreamWorks. Backed by Turkish entrepreneur Yalcin Cevikel, the Bakery is developing its own proprietary software and says it will begin production on its first feature-length toon two years from now.

Company is hoping to woo U.S.-based talent at this year’s Siggraph with promises of the good life in the picture-postcard village of Gemenos, pop. 5,000.

“To motivate professionals to come back home to Europe, as well as having ambitious projects to work on, you have to offer them a lifestyle as good as the one they had in California,” Maigret says.

Eighteen months ago, another Hollywood-based Gaul, Eric “Bibo” Bergeron, made the same move, setting up an animation facility in nearby Nice to make the EuropaCorp-backed CGI feature “Un monstre a Paris.”

But one company in the region that has already beaten both newcomers in the CGI feature-film stakes is Action Synthese.

The Marseilles-based studio produced France’s first entirely homemade CG animation feature, the 2005 Pathe-backed kidpic “The Magic Roundabout.”

A sequel is in the works, and Action Synthese recently put the finishing touches to a “Magic Roundabout” TV series for French web M6 and Nickelodeon UK.

The company’s next project will be a CGI “Wizard of Oz” to be directed by John Boorman, which is slated to enter pre-production shortly.

The Paris region remains France’s biggest media industry hub by far, but for Action Synthese’s Paris-raised founder, Pascal Rodon, there’s no question that the south’s the right place to be.

“There is a pool of trained talent in the region, and you aren’t in competition with lots of other companies to hire them,” says Rodon.

Just up the road, in Arles, the Supinfocom is a top-rated computer graphics school whose students are frequently among festival prizewinners.

So far, the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region hasn’t been the quickest off the mark in offering financial incentives to the animation industry — the Paris region already has a system up and running — but that is set to evolve.

Lydie Fenech, director of Cinema au Soleil, an org representing the region’s film and television industries, believes the future’s rosy for CG animation a la Provencal.

“When you are recruiting for an animation studio, you’re hiring people who are 25-30 years old, and they want sun, sea, good living. That’s what they get here.”

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