‘Cat’ on region’s hot toon groove

Cartoon Movie 2012

The Oscar nomination for “A Cat in Paris,” a delicately drawn but noirish 2D cartoon produced by Folimage, is just the latest recognition for the thriving filmmaking scene in Gaul’s Rhone-Alpes region. Already strong in animation, the area is now working to expand its media production into other sectors.

Distributor Marc Bonny already had roots in Rhone-Alpes when he set up kid-focused Gebeka Films in Lyon in 1997. Since then, he’s seen local production mushroom, occasionally taking a co-producer credit for himself.

In Valence, to the south, Folimage has expanded and attracted like-minded companies. “I call it the Folimage galaxy,” Bonny says. Meanwhile, the Pixel campus was established in the Lyon suburbs and is now home to more than 50 audiovisual, multimedia and service companies.

“These are the two large centers of image production which now exist in the region,” Bonny says. “There are also some companies at Annecy, but for me it’s more the international animation festival and film market that are the strong points there.”

Folimage was set up in 1981 by animator Jacques-Remy Girerd, first producing his own films and then those of other animators. In time, the shingle added features to its roster of shorts, including “La Prophetie des grenouilles” and now “A Cat in Paris.”

Early on, Folimage looked abroad for inspiration, with a visiting artists program Girerd credits with raising the quality of their output. Participants have included Michael Dudok de Wit, who went on to win an Oscar for the short “Father and Daughter,” and Konstantin Bronzit.

Folimage also helped establish the Poudriere animation school, which accepts 20 students on a program taught entirely by industry insiders.

“There are no professors, there are only professionals who come for one or two days or for a week to lead a workshop, give a course or mentor a film,” Girerd says.

In 2009, Folimage and La Poudriere moved to La Cartoucherie, a former munitions factory renovated by the city. This soon attracted spinoff outfits and newcomers such as Parisian studio TeamTO, which relocated production to the site. TeamTO had links with Valence through producer Corinne Kouper, who taught at the school, but the atmosphere was an additional draw.

“We were joining a group of companies with which we shared a working philosophy: quality, originality, ambition and international vision,” says topper Guillaume Hellouin.

Now TeamTO has more than 50 animators on site, plus layout artists, lighting and compositing pros.

“Ambition is high, but the team spirit is there, and we now have applications from artists coming from all over the world,” Hellouin says.

The challenge for the Rhone-Alps region remains trying to achieve similar strength in other areas of audiovisual production and multimedia. It already has a growing number of vidgame companies, with around 30 developers based in Lyon and an outpost of games giant Ubisoft in Annecy. On the Pixel campus, Imaginove has been charged with building bridges, helping companies in the region with research and training to devise new ways with content.

According to Hellouin, TeamTO’s R&D team is already taking advantage by collaborating with local companies in complementary fields. “Mixing expertise with videogame studios and research labs is a fantastic opportunity that the region can offer,” he says.

Cartoon Movie 2012
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