Luc Besson took a bold step into the toon biz in 2006 with “Arthur and the Invisibles.”

Directed by Besson and produced by EuropaCorp, the animated feature stood apart from traditional French toons: Not only was it the first French pic to mix live action with CG animation, the pic’s $80 million budget set the record for Gaul’s most expensive toon.

Pierre Buffin, founder of Paris-based visual effects shingle Buf, who creates the CG animation for “Arthur,” says his team had to animate CG characters in more than 1,600 shots for “Arthur and the Invisibles,” something no one in France had ever attempted.

“Luc took a bold decision,” says Buffin. “He gave us a greenlight to develop the technology and to create the 3-D sequences without any deadline or budget.”

The idea for “Arthur” came out of a meeting Besson had with writer Patrice Garcia, who had shown him a drawing of the character.

“It was the perfect timing to start new collaborations in France,” Besson explains. “Through my kids, I’ve become keen on animated films for younger audiences. And for the past few years, French animators have gained a great reputation as world-renowned technicians as well as artists.”

“‘Arthur’ was financed like a studio film and showcased an enormous pool of French talents,” says Sparx’s former head of production, Thomas Schober. The sequel, “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard,” is set to bow next November in Germany.

But as Pascal Herold, former topper at Paris-based toon house Duran Duboi, points out, “In France, it’s nearly impossible to raise more than x15 million to make a 3-D animation film unless you’re someone with an international profile like Luc Besson.”

Even Besson, however, is not recession-proof. One of his toon projects, “A Monster in Paris,” directed by Eric Bergeron (aka Bibo), was suspended while in pre-production and has been in limbo for more than five months. Besson admits the current economic crisis has caused some setbacks. “It’s always ambitious projects that necessitate foreign presales,” he says. “But distributors from across the world are suffering economically and are much less present at markets.”

Besson is nevertheless pursuing another animated pic, “La Mechanique de cœur,” a 19th-century drama set in Scotland about a man whose heart was replaced with a clock at his birth. Lead singer of the French rock band Dionysos is tapped to pen and co-direct the film.

“Developing ‘La Mechanique du cœur’ is a passion project, not a strategic decision,” Besson admits.