For two years, Gaul’s vfx, animation and post industries rode the wave of a powerful incentive: the Tax Rebate for Intl. Production, or TRIP, attracting such high-profile U.S. titles as Chris Meledandri’s “Despicable Me” and Kenneth Brannagh’s “Thor.”

Beneficiaries include Mikros Image, one of Gaul’s first vfx and post-production houses, headquartered just outside Paris and with facilities in Luxembourg, Belgium and Canada.

The shingle — which gained international traction since its animated short Oscar win for “Logorama” and nabbed two VES nods earlier this year — is prepping a full-service animation studio in the heart of the French capital. Mikros’ first toon pic is SND-repped “Asterix: The Land of the Gods.”

However in a global film market still roiled by the recent recession, a cloudier picture is emerging. Rebates in such countries as Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Canada are outperforming TRIP and France is facing a new challenge.

With a shortage of big-scale movies in the pipeline, local players are working to shift their business models by expanding geographical footprints, stepping into animation and diving deeper into production.

One of TRIP’s main beneficiaries, Pierre Buffin’s BUF, which provided visual effects on a flurry of tentpoles, notably “Thor,” and Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows,” is opening facilities in Belgium and Canada. Buffin and wife India Osborne are also amping up production and co-prod via BUF’s inhouse banner AngeleFine; and they’ve tapped vet vfx supervisor Michael Fink to oversee English-language projects from Los Angeles.

The shingle’s ambitious co-production slate encompasses Eran Riklis’ Israel-set friendship drama “Zaytoun,” Sanaa Hamri’s sci-fi coming-of-age tale “Just Like Beauty,” and Stephen Sommers’ supernatural romance “Odd Thomas,” now in post. BUF will perform vfx on all three.

“We’ve always been passionate about becoming more than a vendor. In today’s climate, it’s necessary to have plans B, C and D on the horizon,” Obsorne says.

Mac Guff Ligne, the standalone vfx and post-prod entity, previously co-managed by Jacques Bled (who now heads animation shingle Illumination Mac Guff), is mulling opening a vfx studio in Belgium. Shingle’s vfx slate includes Luc Besson-produced “Taken 2.”

As Illumination Mac Guff focused on providing animation for Universal’s titles such as “The Lorax,” managing director Gilles Gaillard says the timing is right to enter the toon arena.

Mikros’ trans-Atlantic growth strategy has given the company a satisfying level of activity at its Paris-based office, staffed by 180 employees and about 80 freelance graphic artists, says Gaillard.

“We offer French producers the possibility to complete financing from France with tax shelters from Belgium, Luxembourg or Canada,” Gaillard says. “Foreign producers are sometimes interested in work done in France and tapping TRIP.”

Gaillard adds that the Montreal’s facility, opened November, is attracting French and North American features.

Following Mikros’ footsteps, Pierre Buffin’s gameplan is to “attract more projects, spreading the work among three sites, mainly the Paris studio,” which keeps over 200 artists working.

“I’ve always opposed opening multiple facilities but with technology today we can build systems to interact with artists and share files in real time,” Buffin says.

“The sector’s expansion was inevitable,” says Olivier-Rene Veillon, Ile de France Film Commission managing director. “Leading companies like BUF can’t ignore fiscal competition. But the primary issue at stake remains an artistic one.”

Meanwhile, Technicolor Entertainment Services France, which recently acquired Quinta Industries’ bankrupt post-prod business, is launching a dubbing facility near Paris and looking to tackle vfx and animation in Gaul, says prexy, Michel Vaquin.

Vaquin told Variety that TESF is in talks for a joint venture with a French animation studio with plans to work on third-party French and international toons and co-produce some titles. TESF’s post-prod unit recently lined up three pics, including Alexandre Aja’s “Maniac,” produced by Thomas Langmann’s La Petite Reine, the outfit behind “The Artist.”

Per Vaquin, “France’s tax rebate isn’t the most competitive. But many producers seeking high-quality animation will still look for some images to be done out of France.”

Illumination Mac Guff’s “Despicable Me” and “The Lorax,” both commercial and artistic hits created out of Bled’s Parisian studio, surely speak volume of France’s large community of skilled artists and graphists.

Fink (“The Tree of Life,” “Braveheart”) sums up: “When you work with different cultures, you get the benefit of their vision and you often wind up with unique shots you might not have gotten from a local company.”

Scout & About: Paris/Ile de France 2012
TRIP’s next step is going abroad | Besson-built studio beckons bizzers | Pushing local biz, pulling int’l prods
Case Studies
‘Chinese Zodiac’ | ‘Despicable Me” | ‘Odd Thomas’