French TV animation gets strong support at home, making it the most robust of Europe’s toon sectors. But tough competition overseas means it still has to innovate.
Take sports toons, a staple in Asia, but less attractive to European webs. “A lot of broadcasters told us that sport would be difficult because it appeals more to boys than girls, and kids prefer to watch real sport on TV,” says Philippe Alessandri of Tele Images Productions, part of Zodiak Kids.
This was back in 2004, when the studio first pitched its 2D soccer series “Street Football.” It countered by making the sports scenes as wild as possible and bringing femme characters to the fore. “We made it character-driven because we knew the sport would bring the action. We needed to add emotion and psychology to foster identification with the kids, and also to keep the girls.”
The tactic worked. Kids were hooked and girls made up one-third of the domestic audience. After four seasons Tele Images has plans for a 3D version, “Extreme Street Football,” with new characters and rules that change with each match. Series will pitch at Cartoon Forum this fall.
After soccer, the studio shot hoops with “The Basketeers,” using Franco-American NBA all-star Tony Parker for trans-Atlantic appeal. A second season is in production. Its next idea is “The Ranch,” built around horses. “It’s not exactly sport, but there are similarities because there are competitions and a group of friends united by a passion,” Alessandri says.
Other Gallic studios taking up the sports challenge include Alphanim with “Galactik Football” and Moonscoop, which is about to start tennis series “Turboten.” Its innovation is to partner with the French Tennis Federation to create a kids’ tennis tournament alongside the series.
A more fundamental innovation out of France: the combination of live action and animation. Complexity and cost previously limited hybrids to the big screen, but now techniques are more accessible. Marathon Media, also part of Zodiak, has been working on this for some time.
But lower costs do not overcome all challenges. “Even if the technique is a lot cheaper than it once was, you still need to do it within the budget of a series and get a great look,” says prexy Vincent Chalvon Demersay. “It feels like we are on the right track now.”
First images from its series “Ethan’s Island” will be unveiled at Mipcom in October. Shot in English, it features a live-action family transported to world animated in 2D. Think “Swiss Family Robinson” meets “Mary Poppins.”
Chalvon Demersay is convinced the concept will appeal. “Aside from the look, the audience connection is a lot faster when it’s an actor rather than an animated character.” Even so, he sees it as a one-off. “This is the only series we will do like this.”
Meanwhile Moonscoop is developing a hybrid version of its series “Code Lyoko.” Previous seasons mixed 2D and 3D animation to tell a story of school friends who secretly enter a virtual world to battle a malevolent computer program. In “Code Lyoko Evolution” live-action characters will become 3D in the virtual world. First images will be unveiled at Biarritz.
Moonscoop topper Christophe di Sabatino thinks the approach has export potential. “Outside of Europe, in India, China or the U.S., we can sell it as a format,” he says. “We can deliver all the CGI and they can shoot their own live-action with their own casting.”
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