French CGI shop tackles animation

At 25, Buf is eager for challenges

As the animation world enters a new phase, Buf, a respected Gallic vfx shop known for its “haute couture” effects, is stepping into the production of ambitious, full-length animated features.

Buf, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009, gained international acclaim after creating vfx on various high-profile U.S. pics including “The Matrix,” “Fight Club” and “The Dark Knight.” In addition to visual effects, the company started working on Luc Besson’s big-budget “Arthur” trilogy (“Arthur and the Invisibles,” “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard” and “Arthur and the Two Worlds War”), a mix of live action and animation, more than eight years ago.

Luc Besson gave us the opportunity to do three ambitious films and gain an expertise,” explains Pierre Buffin, Buf founder. “It also proved we were capable of doing an animated feature film from start to finish.

We’d done animated shorts and commercials before, but we weren’t sure we could handle the huge demands of doing a feature film.”

Nearly a decade later, the “Arthur” adventure led Buffin to make large investments, hire and train approximately 700 animators at the peak of production, buy more machines and rent bigger offices.

Buffin launched his toon and film production company AngeleFine three years ago along with India Osborne, former head of Seaside Entertainment, Europa­Corp’s U.S. branch. “One of the key reasons for launching Angele & Fine was to create a one-stop shop and capitalize on the investments made for ‘Arthur,'” explained Osborne. “We also have more control over the company’s workflow.”

The mandate is to produce family adventure films with budgets starting at $20 million that can travel well.

They have what it takes to succeed at making animated features for the international market,” observes Olivier-Rene Veillon, prexy of the Ile de France Film Commission. “Their major strengths are their creativity, industrial capacity and cost-effective model of fabrication that can lure production partners (from) virtually everywhere — from Europe, Asia and the U.S.”

Some of the projects in development at AngeleFine include “Nureyev’s Dog,” a co-production with Tony Award-winning producer Jack M. Dalgleish, based on the German short story “Nurejews Hund.”

The toon, which is budgeted at approximately $30 million, is in pre-production, and Buffin is considering doing it in stereo 3D.

Another project in development is a prequel of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” centering on Captain Nemo, to be directed by Thierry Poiraud (“Atomik Circus”).

Buffin, who’s the only vfx producer in France to work exclusively with his own inhouse software, has been developing animation technology that he plans to use on “Nureyev’s Dog.” The technology was tested on “Martine,” an experimental short film about a small boy who must honor his father’s prestigious legacy after discovering his death.

“We don’t want to copy what American studios like Pixar and DreamWorks are already doing so well,” says Geoffrey Niquet, “Martine” director and vfx supervisor at Buf since 2006. “The technology we’ve developed allows us to design realistic-looking, elegant characters in the vein of old Disney films like ‘Cinderella,’ and add a modern touch.”

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