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San Sebastian: Beltramino Launches Mr Zelig (EXCLUSIVE)

CGI studio designed to become one founding stone of a sustained Argentine animation industry

SAN SEBASTIAN — Javier Beltramino, director of “Arroz y fosforos,” has created a Buenos Aires-based animation studio, Mr Zelig, designed to become a building block of an Argentina toon industry in the wake of Juan Jose Campanella’s “Foosball,” the biggest animated feature ever made out of Latin America.

Overseen by Beltramino, but with day-to-day management delegated to third parties, Mr. Zelig will initiate business looking to service third-party productions, Beltramino said at San Sebastian.

Beltramino’s main focus and day-job remains, he said,  Telefonico Studios where, as its production manager for Latin America, he reports to Axel Kuschevatzsky. “I’m very grateful to Axel for the freedom he gives me to dedicate my spare time to animation,” he said.

Mr Zelig’s mid-term plans are far more ambitious than services, hoswever,, repping a pioneering thrust to take much of Latin America’ toon industry, in Argentina and beyond, to another level. Mr Zelig is  in conversations with Mexico’s Anima Studios , Latin America’s biggest animation studios, to establish a framework collaboration accord. It also enjoys “fluid relations” with Colombia’s 1881 Animation, with which it has Colombia’s Simon Santos, head of Bogota-based Estudio 1881, with which it has pacted a broad-based animation alliance.

Currently, Latin America’s national animation industries boast a largely embryonic industry: Some studios exist, such as Mexico’s Anima Studios, or Chile’s TV-focused Zumbastico Estudios; battling animators score occasional major plaudits, with Brazilian toon pics “Rio 2096: “ and “The Boy and the World” winning the Annecy Animation Fest’s top Cristal award in 2013 and 2014.

“Foosball,” Campanella’s toon pic follow-up to the Oscar-winning “The Secret in their Eyes.” grossed a magnificent $14.3 million in Argentina, ranking No. 3 in the 2013 Argentine Top Ten, only bettered by “Monsters University” ($23.6 million) and “Despicable Me 2” ($18.5 million). Associate produced by Beltramino, in his day job capacity as Telefonica Studios production manager, “Foosball’s” total 4.6 million admissions worldwide made it the ninth highest-grossing indie animation movie from anywhere in the world, according to European Audiovisual Observatory stats.

This is far, however, from Latin America’s emergence as one of the world’s preeminent CGI animation hubs, one of Beltramino’s long-term objectives.

Juan Jose Campanella, and “Foosball” producers Gaston Gorali and Jorge Estrada Mora “managed to open a huge door in Latin America, smashing myths, helping to put behind us the low self-esteem to which we had been accustomed,” Beltramino said. Campanella insisted “Foosball” should serve to create a CGI animation industry in Argentina. One step nto the future was Beltramino’s CGI toon short “Arroz y fosforos,” now seen at about 65 festivals,  made with large artistic ambition including a score composed by Daniel Tarrab and Andres Goldstein, who composed Lucia Puenzo’s “The German Doctor” and used the same orchestra for “Arroz y fosforos.”

One way forward in Argentina, said Beltramino, is to channel the efforts of a broad-based alliance of animators, another to yoke public and private sector finance – “Arroz” attracted backing from Dell, AMD, Autodesk, Adobe and Avianca, for example – create pan-regional alliances and to create dedicated incentives for animation production. One possibility is the launch of tax shelters or credits, per Beltramino.

Creating a sustained Latin American animation industry is a huge challenge. Some statistics are on Beltramino’s side, one way or another. Mexico and Brazil rank as the second and sixth biggest animation markets in the world, with an annual average of 49.3 million and 27.0 million admissions to toon pics, 2010-14. Production costs in some markets, Colombia, for example, are highly contained. Latin American filmmakers believe, often passionately, in cinema as one way to construct a better world. Technology, Beltramino insisted in San Sebastian, is neutral. Increasingly easy access to technology, given pricing point drops, does not create “technological democratization,” he argued, just larger revenues for certain corporations.

“True tech democratization will come when kids and young adults use these tools to create something. That would be the beginning of a real revolution.” Animation is one obvious option.

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