Studios, France, Emerging Industries Energize Annecy

World’s biggest cartoon confab also suggests where the industry is going

ANNECY – Regaled with Disney world premiere “Feast,” first glimpses of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and “Big Hero 6,” plus work in progress presentations of “Boxtrolls,” Sony’s next “Smurf” movie and Aardman’s “Shaun the Sheep” – and all that’s just on one day – the 38thAnnecy Intl. Animation Film Festival also bids fair to become the biggest cartoon industry confab ever.

Through Friday, confirmed attendance at Annecy’s Intl. Animation Film Market (MIFA) was tracking 3% up vs. 2013 at 2,150 participants, said MIFA head Mickael Marin,

Exhibiting companies were 10% up at 513. More than 1,100 companies were sending execs to MIFA. Driving the uptick is participation from India, China, Taiwan, Chile, Brazil and Colombia, Marin added.

Kicking off Monday, the Annecy Fest unspools in a lakeside town that “could be a setting that came out of our visual development department, a life imitates art moment,” said “Feast” producer Kristina Reed at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Few would disagree.

But Annecy’s quaintness, however beguiling, should not deceive. Along with the Annecy Animation Festival at large, MIFA will showcase a clutch of the world’s biggest upcoming toon attractions: Potential Oscar candidates, big indie plays, studio properties that can hope to punch well beyond $500 million in global B.O.

Also, Annecy is a tale of multi-part narratives, capturing many main thrusts and challenges galvanizing and tensing the international toon industry at large: Hollywood and Japan’s ongoing re-invigoration of their animation business; the growing attempts of France’s movie/TV cartoon production sectors, industries under pressure, to rationalize their production; the build in international production outside the traditional mainstay hubs of Japan and Western Europe.

For the last three-years or so, the U.S. studios have pretty well all had a presence at Annecy, said Marin. Apart from Paramount, which looks set to have a large roster of animated features for 2015, all the studios will be staging some event, sneak peek, panel, or share-with presentation at Annecy.

If anything, in 2014 Hollywood presence will grow, in event terms at least, with Nickelodeon for the first time hosting an opening party and Cartoon Movie a picnic.

Reasons for Hollywood’s embracing Annecy cut several ways. Annecy, rather like Comic-Con for actioners, has a large fan-boy presence, here for toons. It is also foreign fan-boys (and fan-girls) based at a time when overseas markets continue to rep a growth business, whether in international movie box office or cable channel roll-out.

And, thanks to the globalization of the Internet, what goes down well in Annecy will tend to go down well in the world. Buzz reverberates back to the U.S. The raucous enthusiasm for “Despicable Me 2” at its first sneak peek audience screening in Annecy last year was a first bellwether of its $1 billion-plus b.o. trawl.

But there’s a larger picture. As new generations of kids and new players emerge, from Pixar downwards, a significant clutch of industry leaders number are in the process of

re-animating their animation business. Here, Annecy can offer a priceless sounding board and promotion platform for properties that click with audiences.

“Annecy feels very unique. It’s incredibly well-attended by artists and big animation lovers,” said Reed, who produced John Kahrs’ b/w dialogue-less 2D/3D “Paperman,” which world preemed at Annecy in 2012 and went on to win an Oscar.

Ever since the arrival of John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, Walt Disney Animation Studios has been trying out new story ideas – “Wreck It Ralph,” “Big Hero 6” and “Frozen” – Reed said.

She added: “Animation is a crazy labor of love. When you work on something for a long time, in privacy, you want to take it on the road and know if it’s worthy. Annecy is where you find out.”

Equally, at Nickelodeon, thanks to classics such as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” plus an injection of new creative talent, after a ratings slump in 2011 and 2012, Nickeoldeon saw five consecutive quarters of year-on-year growth among kids 2-11. At Annecy, Jay Howell and Jim Dirschberger will talk audiences through their creation of “Sanjay and Craig,” which, launching only in May 2013, in the U.S. this year-to-date through May, rates as the No. 2 animated show across all TV with kids 2-11.

“Annecy has always been an exciting market for Nickelodeon. As a creator-driven content organization, Annecy gives us the chance to screen a wide variety of new work as well as unearth brand new up-and-coming European talent that might resonate across Nickelodeon’s global portfolio of brands,” said Nina Hahn, Nickelodeon SVP international production & development.

Nickelodeon’s Global Animated Shorts Program has just closed its submissions period for the second season of Global Animated Shorts Program and is now negotiating deals to close the shorts. Hahn will also take meetings at Annecy with creators of season one shorts, plus creators of potential longer-form formats, she added.

In other Annecy drives for reinvigoration, Sony Pictures Animation will present a third “Smurfs movie,” a play at a fully-animated franchise reboot closer to Peyo’s original artwork; Toei Animation will world preem “Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary,” its first CG movie in the manga-to-TV-and-movie property; Aardman Animations’ Peter Lord will explain how he is breathing new fire into “Morph,” the plasticine stop-frame character he co-created with Dave Sexton back in 1977.

In film and TV, Annecy catches much of the established international independent business as it attempts to adjust to new market realities.

For France’s remarkably resilient TV toon biz, the biggest in Europe, the game-changer has been its entry into the digital age, said Mathieu Bejot, TV France Intl. exec director.

“With the 2008 crisis, broadcasters migrated some animation slots onto new DTT channels. Richer, these DTT now buy at higher pricing points, though not at pre-crisis free-to-air terrestrial channel levels.”

New VOD animations platforms, which account for about 25% of French toon animations sales, again reduced production and acquisition budgets, though some are now paying minimum guarantees.

“For distribution, things are looking a little brighter, but financing is much tougher, and sales companies have to make far more sales,” Bejot said.

The future of indie toon film production looks far more cross-grained.

Over the last decade, independent production has built steadily.

“Looking at the great films and success of Pixar, DreamWorks, Disney, Fox and so on, independents have followed,” said Simon Crowe, at London-based SC Films, which is pushing out healthy pre-sales on TeamTO’s “Yellow Bird,” the subject of a case study and sneak peek at Annecy.

He added: “Technical improvements have bought the costs of production down, especially in Far East; 3D technology and viewing habits are perfect for the family; Family film-going is a massive audience, plus it buys DVDs and other ancillary.”

“What I normally say about the overcrowded competitive schedule for live-action films – “there are only 52 weekends during the year” – works the other way round when it comes to animation films,” said Ivan Boeing, at Brazilian distributor Imagem. “You have plenty of slots during the year to fill when no studio titles are opening for a few weeks in a row.”

Yet, unlike in the early part of this decade, in the last 12 months few indie titles have seen really stellar figures worldwide.

Crowe cites single territory highlights:  “Free Birds,” which soared to $55.8 million in the U.S.; “Nut Job” which cracked $64.3 million Stateside; “Postman Pat: The Movie,” which posted a solid first 10-day $4.o million in the U.K.

Elsewhere, Juan Jose Campanella’s “Foosball” scored $14.3 million in Argentina; “Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants” was big in France, with $12.5 million, the Ben Stassen co-directed “The House of Magic” pulled $9.0 million out of the hat at Gallic theaters,$5.7 million in South Korea, and $5.6 million in Russia, for a $28.7 million cume, and counting; Toei Animation’s “Space Pirate: Captain Harlock” plundered $6.7 million for Italy’s Lucky Red, and $6.3 million in France for Ocean Films.

Apart from “Minuscule,” recent toon art pics releases, some showcased at Annecy as WIPs, have largely underperformed, though one exception at the end of the year could well be “Song of the Sea,” Tomm Moore’s follow up to “Song of Kells,” which France’s Haut et Court releases this December, a show of confidence in its crossover potential.

“It is very hard to release an art house film for kids, since they do not work well in traditional art house cinemas – kids prefer to watch films with popcorn in multiplexes, I’m afraid – while at multiplexes you have to compete with studios and their CGI animations,” said Jakub Duszynski, at Poland’s Gutek Film.

“Some people say ‘arthouse is dead’ but it’s just not true. When you get a great screenplay and great talent behind it, there is room for quality in the market,” said WestEnd Films’ Eve Shoukroun, which has seen encouraging early pre-sales on “Song of the Sea.”

In the recent past, Europe, especially France, has boasted a clutch of Oscar-nominations and significant box office from a brace of high-art animated features: Michel Ocelot’s “Kirikou” movies; “The Triplets of Belleville,” Folimage’s “The Cat in Paris,” “Ernest and Celestine,” backed by Les Armateurs, Maybe Movies and Studiocanal. How to nurse broader audiences for European animation will be the subject of a Europa Distribution/MIFA panel on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a larger sense of realism seems to be settling over the French animated film industry.

“Obvious as it may seem, if you’re doing a film primarily for the French market, you have to limit the budget,” said Christophe Vidal, at Natixis Coficine, “Animated features don’t get as much money from French broadcasters, so if you move up in budget you have to look for backing from a French mini-major or Hollywood studio or tailor your film completely for the international market with a sales agent, minimum guarantee and pre-sales to a French mini-major and expect maybe only a quarter of the budget from France.”

Running a gamut from Folimage’s “Phantom Boy” to, at the high-end of the spectrum, Onyx Films’ “The Little Prince,” – helmed by Mark Osborne (“Kung Fu Panda”) with a declared $80 million budget, and Paramount on board for U.S distribution – and taking in, of higher-end productions, Pathe’s $48 million “Evolution Man” and “Asterix and the Mansions of God,” backed by SND-M6 Group, French productions showcased at Annecy as works in progress are all variations on one of these production models.

That does not guarantee their success. But at least it brings a certain rationality to chances of recoupment.

 

QUICK ANIMATION TAKES, ANNECY 2014

“Disney has a unique stance towards Annecy and we feel a great responsibility to be part of the community, so we go out there to meet people, guide them in their portfolios. We feel like one of the stewards of the business. Also, we want to interact with the community, be present in the artistic conversation that’s going on, keep in touch with talent, and understand the best schools, the most interesting artists out there.” “Feast” producer Kristina Reed.

“Annecy is an opportunity for Nickelodeon to share and maintain a consistent dialogue with creative minds across the industry.  With Nickelodeon’s ongoing efforts to source, support and work with new talent, building on the worldwide success of initiatives including Nickelodeon’s Global Shorts Programs and Writers and Artists Programs, Annecy provides an invaluable opportunity to meet with and support the industries’ rising and creative stars.” Nina Hahn, SVP international production & development, Nickelodeon.

“If you’re going do a $20 million plus live-action feature, and do it the French way, getting a large amount from pay, and free TVs as a starting point, then an MG from a distributor and tax credits, you can get maybe up to $15 million. But if you want to do animation movie for the same budget, you cannot count on broadcasters to come up with a huge amount that covers 50% of your budget.  You’re down to maybe 10-20%. So you don’t have the same financial structure you’d have with a live-action feature film.” Christophe Vidal, Natixis Coficine.

“Animation is a genre of film that is in demand if it’s good quality. Obviously, beyond theatrical revenues, ancillary markets – such as better DVD sales than live action films – are still very strong. One of the biggest challenges in independent European productions is getting the script right and developing it sufficiently before going into production,” said Peter Rogers, at UMedia Intl.

“There are of course some constraints when it comes to animation acquisitions. Firstly, you do not want to pick up a completed or near-completed animation title as you need a lot of time prior to its release in order to generate the necessary awareness with the families. Secondly, there isn’t much of a market for stylish, arthouse or adult animation. 3D is always preferable and the target audience for both the stories and the styles need to be as broad as possible, reaching young kids and pre-teens (or even early teens) alike. You don’t necessarily need to have a project that looks like Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks’, but the more mainstream the better,” Ivan Boeing, at Brazilian distributor Imagem.

Animation is “becoming increasingly competitive. There are too many poor animation films in the market-place that are unlikely to go theatrical but crowd the market.” Simon Crowe, SC Films Intl.

“The biggest potential for European animated movies is in E.U. animation which tries to mimic U.S. 3D animations, so the audience can’t tell while watching an “Angry Birds clone, if its DreamWorks, Disney or E.U. animation that they are watching. Obviously I am interested in carving out a niche for more ambitious, challenging art films for kids – such as ‘Secret of Kells’ or ‘Amazonia,’ which we released. But there is a long, long way ahead of us to attract larger audiences for this type of Entertainment,” Jakub Duszynski, Gutek Film.

FEATURE FILMS IN COMPETITION

 

“Asphalt Watches,” Shayne Ehman, Seth Scriver, Canada)

“Giovanni’s Island”, (Mizuho Nishikubo, Japan)

“Minuscule-Valley of the Lost Ants” (Thomas Szabo, Helene Giraud, France)

“Last Hijack”, (Femke Wolting, Tommy Pallota, Germany and Belgium)

“Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange: a Rapid Love Story” (Mait Laas, Estonia-Finland)

“The Boy and the World”, (Ale Abreu, Brazil)

“Cheatin’,” (Bill Plympton, U.S.)

“The Fake”, (Sang-ho Yeon, South Korea)

“The Art of Happiness,” (Alessandro Rak, Italy)

 

OUT OF COMPETITION

“Beyond Beyond” (Esben Toft Jacobsen, Denmark-Sweden)

“Boonie Bears”, (Liang Ding, China)

“Justin And The Knights Of Valour,” (Manuel Sicilia, Spain)

“Koo! Kin-Dza-Dza,” (Georgy Daneliya-Tatiana Ilyina, Russia)

“Manieggs – Reverenge of The Hard Egg,” (Zoltán Miklosy, Hungary)

“The Art of Brazilian Animation,” (Eduardo Calvet, Brazil)

“Truth has Falen,” (Sheila Sofian, U.S.)

“Until Sbornia do Us Part,” (Otto Guerra, Ennio Torresan Jr., Brazil)

“Waves,” (Ahmed Nour, Egypt-Morocco)

 

WORKS IN PROGRESS ANNECY 2014

“Dofus Book 1 – Julith,” (Jean-Jacques Denis, Anthony Roux, France)

“The Smurfs Movie,” (Kelly Asbury, U.S.)

“Miss Hokusai”, (Keiichi Hara, Japan)

“Adama,” (Simon Rouby, France)

“Little From the Fish Shop,” (Jana Balej, Czech Republic)

“Longway North,” (Rémi Chayé, France)

“Phantom Boy,” (Jean-Loup Felicioli – Alain Gagnol, Belgium-France)

“Asterix: The Land of the Gods,” (Louis Clichy, Alexander Astier, France)

SOME POTENTIAL ANNECY HIGHLIGHTS

8:30 pm Annecy Festival opens with “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” with its director Isao Takahata, also a Studio Ghibli co-founder, who will receive an Annecy Honorary Award.

MONDAY JUNE 9- JUNE 30

Annecy bows an online MyHomeFestival, featuring McLaren Now, Pierre Hubert and stop-motion panorama, Estonia.

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 10

A semi-final selection for the International Emmy kids animation category; the Ile-de-France Film Commission organizes.

11:15 am Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2,” “Gnomeo and Juliet”) teams with Bob Osher, prexy of Sony Pictures Digital Productions, for a WIP reveal of “The Smurfs Movie,” Sony Pictures Animation’s fully CG franchise reboot.

12:30 pm A first glimpse of story pitch and footage from Disney-Pixar’s “Inside Out,” with director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc,” “Up”).

2:00 pm Conversation with “Princess” helmer Isao Takahata (“Grave of the Fireflies,” “My Neighbors The Yamadas”).

2:30 pm – 4:00 pm Peter Lord lays bare production the Anatomy of a Studio: Aardman Animations, and offers glimpses of “Shaun the Sheep” and “Morph.”

3:00 pm MIFA feature film pitches.

4:00 pm In the grand tradition of 2012’s Oscar-winning “Paperman,” and 2013’s Oscar-nominated short “Get a Horse!” the world premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios new short, “Feast,” with director Patrick Osborne, producer Kristina Reed and production designer Jeff Turley. The story of one man’s love life, as seen through the eyes of his best friend and dog, revealed bite for bite through the meals they share.

Plus: A first glimpse at story pitch and footage from “Big Hero 6,” with post-production head Berenice Robinson.

4:00 pm Aton Soumache talks audiences through “Mune” and “The Little Prince,” two of France’s biggest toon productions, “Prince,” backed by Paramount and Warner Bros. and sold by Wild Bunch.

4:30 pm -5:30 pm Mark Shapiro talks about Laika and its films -  “Coraline,” and “ParaNorman,” and then teases “The Boxtrolls,” its next feature.

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11

9:00 am Annecy’s Intl. Animation Film Market (MIFA) opens at the lakeside Imperiale Palace hotel.

10:00 am Jim Dirschberger and Jay Howell, creators of new Nickelodeon TV series water-cooler “Sanjay and Craig,” explain how they got their big-time break and encourage across-the-board creativity on the hit series.

11:oo am Japanese cocktail with announcement of new “Astro Boy” TV series.

11:15 am Work in Progress: “Adama,” where director Simon Rouby will talk audiences through its original mix of 2D and 3D animation.

2:30 pm Presentation of Pathe’s $48 million adventure comedy “Evolution Man,” the directorial debut of Jamel Debbouze, one of Europe’s first motion capture projects.

3:00 pm MIFA short film pitches

3:00 pm UniFrance, CNC and TV France International host a study presentation of Gallic animation’s performance at home and abroad. Speakers: CNC’s Benoit Danard, UniFrance’s Jean-Paul Salome and Isabelle Giordano, TVFI’s Mathieu Bejot.

4:30 pm Europa Distribution-MIFA panel: “Building a Relationship with the Audience Since the Production Stage: a Key For Succesful Release”? Speakers: Annemie Degryse (Lumiere Publishing), Lionel Curt (Agence MNSTR), Arthur de Pins (Maybe Movies), Anne Sanchez (Agence Mercredi). Moderator: Peter Debruge, Variety.

9:30 pm Unveil of the final trailer for “The Boxtrolls,” befote an open-air screening of “ParaNorman,” with its director, Chris Butler in attendance.

11:00 am MIFA Opening Party, sponsored by Nickelodeon.

8:30 pm World premiere of Toei’s “Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary”

 

THURSDAY, JUNE 12

9:30 am Cartoon Network Special Studio Panel, with series creators J.G. Quintel (“The Regular Show”), Rebecca Sugar (“Steven Universe”), Ben Bocquelet (“The Amazing World of Gumball”), Adam Muto (“Adventure Time”) and Curtis Lelash, Cartoon Network’s VP, comedy animation and original series development. Moderated by Brian Miller, SVP and general manager, Cartoon Network Studios.

10:00 am Territory Focus: Brazil and Chile. Both of which pack burgeoning animation industries.

10:30 am “Shark Tales’” Bibo Bergeron and “Shrek 2’” stor consultant Mike de Seve announce a new creative venture

12:00 noon -2:00 pm. Cartoon Network Picnic By the Lake

2:00 pm Round table Variety’s Peter Debruge about

3:00 pm MIFA TV series/specials pitches

4:30 pm – 6:00 pm A Day in the Life “Under the Hat”:

VFX supervisor Josh Staub, head of animation Brian Scott, story artist Nicole Mitchell and Matt Roberts, an artistic recruiter, share what it’s like to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 13

9:30 am MIFA transmedia/global media pitches

9:30 Alain Gagnol, co-director of the Oscar-nommed “A Cat in Paris,” presents the opening minutes of “Phantom Boy.”

11:15vam Work in progress from M6 Studio on “Asterix: The Land of the Gods,” one of France’s big toon bows for 2014

7:00 pm Prize ceremony for seven out-of-official selection awards, including Canal Plus, Fipresci and Work in Progress kudos.

10:15 pm Open-air screening of EuropaCorp’s 2014 animated feature, “Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart.”

2: 00 pm First footage from TeamTo’s “Yellowbird.”

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 14

8:30 pm Closing ceremony, featuring Official Selection award announcements and Warner Bros.’ 3D short “A Flash in the Pain”

Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report

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