Toon producers eye increased market share with stereo

The box office success of stereoscopic 3D has had the unexpected side effect of causing a boom in animation in Gaul.

With 3D boosting toon grosses, not only are more animated features being made — at wildly varying budgets — but more companies, including post houses, digital labs and vfx and TV animation vendors, are becoming producers to get into the toon game.

But in an increasingly competitive 3D market dominated by Hollywood tentpoles, the financing stakes for French toon producers are higher than ever.

“There are multiple incentives driving this upward trend,” says Erwan Maigret, a DreamWorks alumnus who co-founded the Bakery, a French 3D technology company specializing in developing software for 3D computer graphics industry. “For a 10% to 15% budget increase, French producers and distributors know they can take a bigger market share with a 3D animated film, and typically, animated films sell up to three times more DVDs.”

Plus, France is well-positioned to ride the 3D toon wave.

For a foundation, Gaul boasts a pool of industry vets — Buf founder Pierre Buffin, Mac Guff co-founder Jacques Bled, Cube Creative topper Lionel Fages and Team To co-creator Guillaume Hellouin, among others — who have developed the software and industrial capacity to make animated features cost-effectively.

“Moving into feature-length animated projects is a necessary step forward for these companies,” says Olivier-Rene Veillon, prexy of the Ile de France Film Commission. “It allows them to perfect their tools and acquire even more skills.”

For top commercials and TV toon shingles like Team To and Cube Creative, leaping into stereoscopic animated features is the next step, one which doesn’t require a massive investment in equipment, software and staff.

“These outfits are able to use the same pipeline, generate recurrent revenues with their TV activity and optimize their business expenses,” says Maigret.

Cube Creative, for instance, has been working on stereoscopic animation for a while, notably on high-concept 3D commercials and park rides. Shingle delivered the first French TV toon pilot in stereo 3D, “Kaeloo,” to paybox Canal Plus in 2007.

But in an increasingly competitive 3D market dominated by Hollywood tentpoles, the stakes for French toon producers are higher than ever.

“There seems to be more opportunities to find partners, but at the same time, the market is tough. Buyers and distributors expect top-notch product to come onboard,” explains Hellouin.

Fages concurs: “You can manage to find €8 million in France with the French TV pre-buys, subsidies and tax rebates, but you need about €12 million to make a 3D film. To fill that gap, you must make concessions in order to meet potential partners’ expectations.”

Fages says he’s reworking the script on “Flying Bazaar!!” and is in the process of making another pilot with a more elaborate design to be eligible for CNC funds and close a deal with a distributor and sales agent.

Pascal Herold, founder of Paris-based production outfit Herold Family and its animation and vfx studio, Delacave, shares somewhat similar concerns over the financing of his feature, “Cinderella 3.” He explains he’s working on a bigger budget and placing a larger emphasis on the story than he did for his previous toon, “Le Chat Botte.”

“We’ve already raised about €1 million in pre-sales and we’re hoping to reach €2 to €3 million at Berlin and Cannes,” Herold says.

Adds Maigret: “In the age of 2D films, producers basically just needed a few talented animators to pull it together, because the film’s quality was mainly based on the drawing.

“Today, if you want to make a stereo 3D animated hit, which can travel well and generate twice or three times your investment, you need to assemble about 10 departments with experts, ranging from directors to animators and vfx supervisors. And it’s difficult to do that with a budget under €20 million.”

Harold Van Lier, topper of Studio Canal’s international sales, says that while the 3D element continues to spark buyers’ curiosity and has a commercial impact on most animated films, there will likely be a saturation of 3D products hitting the market.

“Buyers will concentrate on films which truly need 3D technology to provide a real spectacle, as did Ben Stassen’s ‘Sammy’s Adventure,’ or films which stand out artistically like Michel Ocelot’s ‘Tales of the Night,’ where 3D highlights the shadow-play animation.”

Bled, who previously co-produced “Azur and Asmar” with Nord Ouest Films and “Dragon Hunters” with Futurikon film, says that “in France, we have talented animators and we’re up-to-date on the technical stuff, but we’re lacking real storytelling skills, which the U.S. studios have been cultivating for decades.”

One way to bring the best of both worlds is to tap a U.S. director to work on a French project, says producer Dimitri Rassam. Rassam tapped “Kung Fu Panda” director Mark Osborne to helm and co-pen “The Little Prince,” which he’s developing with partner Aton Soumache.

More from the French VFX and Animation report
3D fuels French animation boom | Pics on board for new TRIP | 3D F/X stalled in Gaul

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