RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian TV’s indie animated-series production sector is booming.

In four years, locally produced toons have gone from zero to 36 TV series, made by 20 shingles with a combined budget of $81 million, according to government-backed Brazilian TV Producers (BTVP), a program created to train indies and help them find international co-producers. Three series are finished, while the others are in different stages of production.

The bulk of the local animation is produced by companies that got rich in the lucrative advertising-production sector. Over the past four years, these companies moved into animation production, helped by BTVP, local incentives and a generous, partially nonrefundable credit line from government-owned bank BNDES.

Since the big local private commercial nets do not commission animation, local producers had to resort to an international model for both producing and selling their series. They turned to Canada, with its strong tradition in TV animation. Brazilian authorities understood it and inked a comprehensive animation production agreement with the National Film Board of Canada and trained Brazilian animators.

In the past four years — pushed by Brazilian incentives, a special BNDES credit line and the BTVP program — Brazilian and Canadian production companies started to co-produce animation series for pay TV nets. The benefits for Brazilian producers with the Canadian relationship are obvious. What is in it for Canadians?: Brazilian animation producers are skilled (they have mastered the animation technique for TV commercials); labor is cheaper in Brazil; and Brazilians have creative ideas for animation series.

“Brazil and Canada have a solid relationship when it comes to animations. The National Film Board of Canada built in the 1980s CTAV, a production center in Rio, where they trained a generation of Brazilian animation makers,” notes Eliana Russi, exec manager of BTVP. “The two countries have a co-production agreement, and we organize joint animation production meetings.”

“Dog Day School,” a co-production from Brazilian shingle Mixer and Canadian producer Cite-Amerique, launched Oct. 12 on Nickelodeon in Brazil. The series will air next year on Nick in other Latin America countries as well as in the Caribbean, says Jimmy Leroy, creative VP of Nickelodeon Latin America.

The new series aims to follow the steps of series “Fishtronaut,” from Brazil’s TV PinGuim. That series allowed Discovery Kids to grab the No. 1 ranking among all cable channels in Brazil from Monday through Friday in this year’s April 20-June 12 period among the 4-11 demo. “Fishtronaut” has also performed well in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean as well as across the Middle East and Turkey.

Kiko Mistrorigo, exec partner of TV PinGuim, says he is negotiating a second “Fishtronaut” season with Discovery Kids and is raising financing for a feature based on the series, which he expects to be released in theaters in 2011.

Discovery Kids, Canada’s Treehouse and Brazil’s pubcaster TV Brasil have bought the rights for the fourth Brazilian animation series, “My Big Big Friend,” a co-production of Brazil’s 2D Lab and Canada’s Breakthrough Entertainment. The series will be finished in the first half of next year, says 2D Lab exec partner Andre Breitman.

“The U.S. and Europe are turning to Latin America, especially to Brazil, for animation ideas. Brazil is particularly a good source of new ideas for the world,” Leroy says. And although it’s churning out series, “The (Brazilian) animation industry is still (taking) its early-stages first steps.”