Annecy: Spanish Animation – Art and Now Industry?

Spain’s recession ravaged animation sectors stages a fight back, as Annecy honors its achievements, welcomes a massive Spanish delegation

Focus On Spain, Annecy
Courtesy of Paramotion Films

ANNECY – Annecy’s 2015 guest country, Spain arrives at 2015 Annecy Fest with the biggest animation spread in its history, the largest delegation – 264 registrations by last Thursday, 80% up vs. 2014 – from any country in Europe outside France, and at last some financing and market tailwinds after being hit hard by recession.

It’s too early to talk of a Spanish animation boom. But there is a larger sense of optimism in the sector, of some sort of recovery. “We are at a key point in animation history in Spain. There’s an incredibly active panorama which we haven’t seen for years,” said Ignacio Perez Dolset, president at Ilion Animation Studios.

The question now is whether Spain’s industry can really turn that corner.

From 2015, Spain’s tax authorities offer 15% tax credits to international productions that use Spanish animation houses or vfx. Spain’s animation sector needs as a matter of urgency such structural aid. Its recent results are a web of contradictions, and emphasize the impact of a recession that has withered the industry, particularly TV production.

In production volume – which at least indicates breadth of activity – and talking of movies, of late, Spain is indeed the fifth biggest animation pic producer in the world, making 28 movies over 2010-14, more than the U.K. (23) or Germany (19), and only bettered by Japan (110), the U.S. (109), France (47) and China (42 Chinese films on release in 2014 alone), per Focus On Animation, a European Audiovisual Observatory report for the European Commission.

Even more extraordinary but true, over 2010-14 Spanish films ran up more admissions outside Spain – 11.3 million – than Gallic toon pics beyond France (8.6 million) . That result relies heavily, however, on the performance of three movies: “Tad, the Lost Explorer” (4.48 million tix sold outside Spain), “Planet 51” (2.64 million, in the latter half of its run) and “Justin and the Knights of Valor” (2.4 million). And “Justin” failed to recoup against budget, forcing the closure of its production house, Kandor Graphics.

Spain’s animation too, has been savaged by crisis, more so than Europe’s other Big Five powers, plus, especially in TV, the endemic weakness of local traditional financing structures. 62.3% of animation programming on main TV channels in 2009, by 2013 Spanish animation had practically disappeared from major Spanish channels by 2013, per Focus on Animation, while repping only 13.1% of program hours on dedicated kids channels.

That said, Spain may now be climbing out of a hole. Multiple, mostly private sector initiatives are now galvanizing production, giving it renewed energy:

* Ilion Animation Studios is producing a fully animated 3D tent-pole feature for Paramount Animation, Paramount’s new animation unit, as Hollywood’s studios increasingly turning to Europe for production services.

*In October 2014, India and Canada-based Toonz Animation bought Imira, giving the Spanish production-sales house the ambition and now wherewithal to achieve a premier league caliber of projects, sales and production partners.

*Implementing a business model now copied over much of the Latino world, broadcaster Mediaset España’s Telecinco Cinema took a equity position in Enrique Gato’s “Tad, the Lost Explorer” and then in Spain marketed the hell out of it across its eight free-to-air channels, “Tad” punched €18.2 million in Spain, even more abriad, underscoring the fact this model only functions with high-caliber movies.

*Paramount Pictures has acquired worldwide distribution on both “Tad” sequel, “Tad Jones: The Hero Returns,” and “Capture the Flag,” a moon mission family adventure, again Gato-helmed and an Annecy Fest 2015 WIP.

*Four more high profile toon movies are in varying degrees of development and production: Sergio Pablos’ “Klaus,” whose novel 3D-looking 2D animation is stirring buzz prior to its Annecy presentation, and is backed by Atresmedia Cine, the film arm Spain other big TV group; “Run Ozzy Run,” a Spain-Canada co-pro, again set for a MIFA presentation; Blue Dream Studios Spain’s co-produced “Animal Crackers,” and BRB’s Internacional’s “Dogtanian.”

*From 2015, Spain’s tax authorities offer 15% tax credits to international productions – both film and TV – that use Spanish animation or vfx houses.

These tax breaks’ impact, and doubts as to when productions can claim back credits, look set to be one question at Annecy MIFA market’s Spain Territory Focus, on Wednesday, by far the biggest this year at the market.

Just how much of a real recuperation of Spain’s animation sector these development signal is still, however, a matter for debate.

“It looks like there’s been a slight recovery. Some important films at least are in production,” said Jose Luis Farias, head of Segovia’s 3D Wire, Spain’s principle animation/vidgame market.

“Many animation companies lived off TV advertising and vfx. Currently, some animation companies are still based in Spain, but work for international markets,” he added.

The crisis has left hostages to fortune. According to Focus on Animation, a European Audiovisual Observatory Report for the European Commission, Spain produced seven and nine animated features in 2010 and 2011 but just two in 2014. 791 in 2011, the aggregate number of employees at top animation companies in Spain fell to 499 by 2013.

“Animation has become an autonomous survivors’ sector, with companies subsisting through a network of clients and co-producers that free it up from the dictates of national financing,” said Nathalie Martinez, at Blue Dream Studios Spain, co-producers of “Animal Crackers.”

Though European animation movies do travel better than most film types, per Focus on Animation, international distribution is no cakewalk, said Ghislain Barrois, at Telecinco Cinema.

“Most studio lineups are stacked. The windows of opportunity to release animated films are narrow, limited… Chistmas, vacations. Outside of Spain, films face double competition from studios’ movies and local production, which is sky-high in France and also strong in Germany and the U.K.”

But at least four factors give cause for a certain optimism. Levied at 15% of spend and capped at €2.5 million on mainland Spain, the new tax breaks pale before France’s: From Jan.1 2016, a ceiling of €30 million and 30% rate.

But they are at least a foot in the door. “The 15% isn’t very competitive but the important thing is that it exists, that’s a historic milestone. Now it has to be used and increased,” said producer Manuel Cristobal (“Wrinkles”).

Animation and vfx houses also benefit from 2015 from additional 12% R & D tax credits on spend in innovative production methods, as well as an 18%-20% tax shelter, launched in 2007, for investment in national productions, BRB Internacional’s Carlos Biern pointed out.

Secondly, Spain has highly competitive cost structures.

“Having the same highly-qualified and talented artists in Madrid as other locations, California tends to be 50% more expensive, London roughly 35% and Paris 30%, said Jose San Roman, at Ilion Animation Studios.

Also, “There’s greater activity in sector, which stems from a larger sales volumes, up slightly in Spain, but above all in the international markets,” said Sergi Reitg, co-head of Imira. The driver: “New VOD platform sales,” Reitg said, noting Imira was closing deals with Netflix for Latin America and DirectTV for the U.S. The VOD deals begin to rep “repeat business.” “Netflix is a client that has come to stay, not just for an occasional buy,” Reitg added.

Lastly, there’s Spain’s deep talent pool. “Spanish animation talent is immense and its driving force: Sergio Pablos, Borja Montoro, Raul Garcia, Carlos Baena and many more.”

Coinciding with Spain’s status as Annecy’s guest country, Variety set out to publish a 10 to Track of young(ish) talent. It ended up profiling 16 animation artists. But many live abroad, or work for foreign companies.

For Cristobal, “The sector’s reached maturity. There are studios: Ilion, directors – Ignacio Ferreras, Enrique Gato –producers, screenwriters and technological companies – Solid Angle’s Arnold Renderer, SGO’s Mistika Hero suite and 3D Simulator Real Flow – and now finally we have tax incentives to attract foreign productions.”

“The Spanish film industry is a combination of art and a lack of money,” the actor Pepe Isbert rasped many decades ago. For the Spanish animation industry to lift off and prove Isbert finally wrong, for lack of robust state support, its big privates sector plays – the upcoming movies, Imira’s TV productions, the Paramount-Ilion relationship – have to function.  Only time will tell.


Ranging from a packed MIFA Territory Focus to a major retrospective, From Doodles to Pixels, and significant presence in festival sections, and MIFA’s opening night cocktail, sponsored by “Capture the Flag” co-producers Lightbox, Spain’s is multi-present at Annecy this year. Among highlights:


Director SAM’s Annecy competition player, “The Exorcist” Meets Isabel Pantoja, as the flamenco dancer widow of a bullfighter faces off in a battle with a devil to save her young son Damian’s soul.


Produced by Zeta Cinema and Peliculas Pendleton with animation work from Ilion Animation Studios (“Planet 51”), a 3D big budget (for Spain) knockabout farce inspired by the “Mort & Phil” comicbook spy duo that has been bungling missions since the late ‘50s. Javier Fesser (“El Milagro de P. Tinto,” “Camino”) helms. Sold by Film Factory, punched €4.9 million ($5.5 million) at the Spanish box office late last year for Warner Bros in Spain.


An anthology of five Edgar Allen Poe story made by Spain’s Raul Garcia (“The Missing Lynx”) from 2004, with “The Tell-Tale Heart” being short-listed for the Oscars in 2005 and “The Fall of the House of Usher” in 2013. Voice cast, usually narrators, features Sir Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Roger Corman and Guillermo del Toro.


“Tad, the Lost Explorer” director Enrique Gato co-presents his second feature, “Capture the Flag,” as a Work in Progress, with producers Ghislain Barrois (Telecinco Cinema) and Nicolas Matji (Lightbox Ent.) and writer-producer Jordi Gasull (Lightbox Ent.)


Following a general presentation of Spain, including its new 15% tax credits, producers, filmmakers and execs pitch 14 features or TV projects, plus five shorts, including some of the key toon highlights in or moving into production in Spain.


A conversation with Yago Fandino, head of Kids Content of Spanish pubcaster RTVE.


In MIFA’s Anatomy of a Studio series, “Despicable Me” co-creator Sergio Pablos will talk an industry audience through first images of “Klaus,” an attempt to bridge traditional and CGI animation


A Q & A with Victor Carrera, head of international Relations and sales at Catalan pubcaster TV3. TV3, alongside TVE have been  Spain’s main animation backer for many years.


“Pocoyo” creator-director Guillermo Garcia Carsi delivers a masterclass, Characters with Personality, on character design, Monday June 15, 4:00 pm:; Raul Garcia is a panelist on the Creation Conference, “Feature Film and Graphic Creation,” Wednesday, June 17, 2:30 pm.


Curated by Carolina Lopez, rolling off two years of research and restoration, a major eight-part historical retrospective, From Doodles to Pixels, unspools throughout the Annecy Festival. It traces key figures, films and trends in Spanish animation. A DVD Catalogue will be published by Cameo this summer. Among classics: Segundo de Chomon’s 1908 Pathe produced “The Gold Spider,” an example of early vfx.

Among highlights: 1966’s “El mago de los sueños,” one of the two features in the panorama, from Francisco Macian, who died young.  Among curios or surprises: Arturo Moreno’s 1945 “Garbancito de la Mancha,” a pioneering European color toon feature; 1930s b/w animated ads from Catalan artists, such as Josep Serra i Massana’s “Tabu,” a rudimentary plug for a face blush makeup; and Gabriel Blanco’s 1965 allegorical short “The Stone Age,” made under Franco’s regime and featuring put-upon peasantry humping stones across a rural landscape for an authoritarian and heartless bourgeoisie; or Ivan Zulueta’s broad black brush psychedelia for songs such the Beatles’ “Get Back.”

One section, The Next Generation, showcases some of the mist promising Spanish animators working in and outside Spain today.

From Doodles to Pixels is a co-production of the Centre de Cultura Contemporanea and Accion Cultural AC/E.

Emilio Mayorga contributed to Focus on Spain highlights