Latin America’s RedLojo toons up

Producer aiming to compete with pix by majors studios

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina’s Jorge Rodriguez, a seasoned film and TV producer, is getting animated.

The executive, known for telenovelas like “Salvame Maria” (Save Me Maria) and “Paraiso Rock” (Rock Paradise), wants to pick up the pace of his recent push into animated features. He plans to increase budgets and the frequency of releases and to expand distribution to compete with pix by majors such as Blue Sky, DreamWorks Animation and Walt Disney.

“We are following the steps of the big studios with the goal of getting wide international distribution,” Rodriguez, head of Buenos Aires-based RedLojo Entertainment, tells Variety. “You can’t make money with only a domestic release. You have to go abroad.”

This is a challenge for a studio in Latin America, a region with little recognition for animation like Asia. But it’s possible.

RedLojo’s animation arm, Indiecito, operates out of a $4 million studio, the biggest in Latin America. In 2004 it produced “Patoruzito,” the story of a native boy. Pic opened to favorable reviews and spectacular receipts, going on to become Argentina’s third-ranked release in terms of admissions, selling 2.1 million tickets, behind “Shrek 2” and “The Passion of the Christ.”

This drew some attention. Cartoon Network Latin America last year signed on to co-produce two animated features for theatrical release and two 10-episode series for cable.

First is the sequel “Patoruzito: La Gran Aventura” (Patoruzito, The Big Adventure), which follows the boy as he heads to the big city. It is due for release in June, as schools break for winter break.

Distribution by Warner Bros. is set for Brazil, Chile, Italy, Mexico and Uruguay.

The other is a feature based on “Isidoro Canones,” a Buenos Aires playboy type created in 1945 by Dante Quinterno, the artist behind “Patoruzito.” It’s set for release in 2007.

After “Isidoro,” Indiecito plans to increase output to two films a year, released at the height of moviegoing in summer and winter, and to expand international distribution. One competitive edge is low production costs, as low salaries and a weak currency help the studio, with more than 100 artists and inhouse training for students, squeeze more out of a budget. Rodriguez says he can make a $20 million production in Argentina for $3 million.

By 2008-09, Indiecito plans to create its own characters to boost sales. “This adds value to the company by showing it has creative potential,” Rodriguez says.