Spaniards rev up toon production

Barcelona studios tune up cartoons

MADRID — Back in the 1980s, such ambitious Catalonian producers as Antonio D’Ocon and BRB’s Claudio Biern Boyd created studios to export animation.

Over the past two decades a talent cluster of graphic artists, producers and animators have imitated their successful business model, making Barcelona the motor of Spain’s TV animation biz.

Now that toon engine needs a tune-up.

Faced with a lack of local support, evolving youth audiences and technological advances, Barcelona studios are adapting to change.

When national pubcaster RTVE backed out of funding toons, TV animators were forced to find creative funding solutions to make their projects a reality.

“RTVE hasn’t co-produced for nearly five years,” says Icon Animation head and frequent flyer Sergi Reitg. “I have to travel the world to get money.”

Icon lists international sales that include all of Europe, Latin America and beyond to Hong Kong in Asia.

Co-producing with Norma Editorial, Cromosoma found financial support from the European Broadcasters Union (EBU), whose members include the BBC, TVE, RAI, France 3, and German pubcaster ZDF, to produce its animated globe-hopping dinosaur series “Tom.”

D’Ocon Films marketing and development manager, David Matamoros says it is fundamental that an animated series seek wider support to survive.

“Before, many series were produced solely for the Spanish market,” Matamoros says. “But the local flavor is impossible to export.”

Timeslots dedicated to children’s programming on Spanish public TV are minimal due to toons’ migration to cable, says BRB Intl. director of co-production Carlos Biern Boyd.

“American and Japanese cartoons that were produced years ago are aired and repeated again and again,” Biern says. “There’s no criteria in regard to quality, it’s a result of package deals with majors.”

Catalonia’s studios are fighting back. One way is by using cutting-edge CGI tech.

In 1997, Cromosoma was the first to integrate CGI in its animated series “The Triplets.” According to Cromosoma’s TV sales director Judit Foz Povill, these 3-D touches (cars, buildings, water, etc.) are now an indispensable tool.

“For the very first time, we’re producing an animated series without paper: the high-res ‘The Triplet Babies,’ ” says Foz Povill.

“Our turn toward 3-D was radical,” Biern says. “Our latest productions invite the viewers inside their TV sets to become active participants.”

BRB boasts Mipcom Junior hit “Bernard,” and has 3-D comicbook “The Invisible Man” on tap for 2006.

Icon Animation’s hallmark is fast-paced, Nickelodeon-style editing using flash techniques, aimed at tweeners. Their line-up includes “Vitaminix,” “Lola and Virginia,” and “Sandra, the Storybook Detective.”

The studios, famous for their pre-school toons, are now looking for an older kid audience.

“Children are more aware at ten than ever before,” says Matamoros. “The core target is now ages 9-13.”

D’Ocon has a slew of international 3-D co-productions in the works, including “Malika” “Hanbagui,” and “Leonard.”