Flanders enjoys animation boom

Hard work brings home toon talent to region

Flanders is enjoying a toon boom, bringing home animation talent tempted away to Hollywood and slowly increasing feature production.

According to Ben Tesseur, of stop-motion specialist Beast Animation, the new action isn’t the result of a sudden change but of 10 years’ hard work. “Now it’s coming together,” he says. “A lot of experienced animators are coming back to Belgium, and people who have stayed here working on small films are able to work on bigger projects.”

Beast has just finished work on the majority Belgian feature “A Town Called Panic” from helmers Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier. Project was spun off from a TV series featuring animated plastic toys.

Money looms large in the toon renaissance. Public funders such as the Flanders Audiovisual Fund have increased subsidies, and the tax shelter has boosted private investment. It’s a sign of the times that Beast has set up a production shingle to channel some of this coin.

Co-productions are particularly keen on the tax shelter, and demand is rising. Luc Van Driessche of Creative

Conspiracy in Ghent says he sometimes gets two or three co-production requests a week; the result is the luxury to be selective. “It’s very important to make good choices and not jump on every project that comes along,” he says.

Recent work includes character animation on “Max and Co.” from Switzerland and special effects animation for “The True Story of Puss ‘n Boots” from France.

Some co-productions, such as “Brendan and the Secret of Kells,” from Irish helmer Tomm Moore, even import talent. “After starting in Ireland, the international people stayed in Belgium for six months to a year to work on the film,” recalls local producer Viviane Vanfleteren of Vivi Film.

She is particularly keen on learning through co-productions. “We have talent in animation, but we don’t have so much in directing,” she says. “Co-directing is a really good opportunity for us.”

Even so, the number of majority Belgian productions is rising. Ben Stassen of nWave delivered 3-D feature “Fly Me to the Moon” last year and is working on another, “Around the World in 50 Years.”

Then there is “Luke and Lucy: The Texas Rangers,” a computer animation from Skyline Entertainment, due in July and co-helmed by returning talent Wim Bien.

“It’s not an industry yet, but it’s growing towards it,” says Skyline topper Eric Wirix.

To keep the boom going, he thinks more investment and a high-profile success are required.

Van Driessche agrees: “We need a European ‘Toy Story’ to shows people that we are able to do it.”