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Gaul delivers the goods

Vfx and toon shops shine on the international stage

A handful of Paris’ top vfx and toon houses are now playing in the same ballpark as Hollywood’s top shops.

The fact that James Cameron chose Pierre Buffin’s Paris-based vfx shop Buf to be one of the leading providers on “Avatar” speaks louder than words. And the list of recent accomplishments doesn’t stop there.

Another Paris-based company, Mikros Image, has just nabbed an Oscar for “Logorama,” a short animated in 3D. It’s not the first time a Gallic vfx company showed up at the Academy Awards. Buf was nominated for best animated short in 2007 for “Even Pigeons Go to Heaven.”

“The French vfx and animation field is vibrant and represents the most internationally driven sector of the French film industry,” says Olivier-Rene Veillon, prexy of the Ile de France Film Commission, which organizes Paris FX, an annual two-day confab designed to showcase French creative talents. “The international market brings between 20% to 40% of annual revenues for the top facilities companies.”

The first round of awards for the international tax rebate highlighted how far the Gallic shops Mac Guff Ligne, Buf, Duran Duboi and others have come.

Buf was commissioned to deliver vfx on Kenneth Branagh’s comic book-based “Thor” for Marvel Studios.

Meanwhile, Jacques Bled’s Paris-based outfit Mac Guff Ligne will be the first French company to deliver an animation feature for a Hollywood major.

The French company was tapped for two high-profile 3D titles — “Despicable Me,” which is now in post, and “The Lorax.” These are the first two films from Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, Universal’s family film unit.

Buf and Mac Guff are leading the pack with U.S. projects — an accomplishment resting on 25 years of experience. Their harvest is helped by France’s new rebate for international producers.

“The rebate was definitely a deal-clincher for ‘The Lorax,’?” says Bled. “But Chris Meledandri had come to us with ‘Despicable Me’ even before there was a tax incentive in place.”

Meledandri says he already had a desire to work with French animators. “Their artistic strength extends into virtually every facet of the process, from design to lighting, and it is supplemented by great technical skills,” he says.

And while American producers, like Meledandri, look for international teams of creative leads to give their films an international touch, Gallic talents say they need the Hollywood connection just as much.

“Working with a bigger budget allows for greater flexibility,” explains Bled. “On a film like ‘Despicable Me,’ the storyboard is always a work in progress until we’ve hit perfection.”

At Duran Duboi, vfx supervisor Thomas Duval concurs.

“Beyond the fact that it gives us great exposure worldwide, working on big American films is always beneficial,” he says.

“It challenges us to think out of the box, develop new tools and progress both technically and artistically.”

This year, Duran Duboi was tapped for work on the third opus of “Underworld.”

Today there are at least four crews in France that can turn old films into 3D as well as shoot live action in 3D, says Film France managing director Patrick Lamassoure.

“After the U.S., France is one of the leading countries in the world that has been experimenting with 3D,” he says.

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