PARIS – France’s Mikros Image, with headquarters in Paris and offices in Montreal, Los Angeles, Liège, Brussels, Luxembourg and Milan, plans to reinforce its animation and VFX work, revolving primarily around its three-main operation centers: Paris, Belgium and Montreal.
Mikros rose to international recognition with its 2010 Oscar-winning toon short “Logorama” and bowed a dedicated animation division in June 2012 in Levallois-Perret, Paris.
Its first animation feature, Louis Clichy and Alexandre Astier’s €37 million ($42 million) “Asterix: the Land of the Gods,” was released in France on Nov. 26, clocking up 0.93 million admissions for distributor SND in its opening week. The film’s cumulative 3.2 million admissions, complemented by worldwide sales, makes it one of the most successful French toon pics ever.
A further two animation projects – from Mikros’ operation in Montreal – are slated for 2015 releases: “The Little Prince” directed by Mark Osborne, based on Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s classic tale, and “Mune: Guardian of the Moon” – a fantasy animation feature co-directed by Benoit Philippon (“Lullaby of Pi”) and Alexandre Heboyan, a former DreamWorks animator (on “Kung Fu Panda” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”). “Mune” will bow in France this April and “Little Prince” in October.
Mikros now aims to ramp up animation work in its main operating centers, but without losing its project-based philosophy. “We want to maintain our prototype-driven individualised approach and not become a factory,” says Meesters. “We like to maintain an artistic feel and try to be as flexible and creative as possible. On ‘Asterix’ we made sure that we enabled the director to make the movie he wanted to make.”
Alongside recent animation projects, Mikros’ main focus continues to be VFX.
Since 2008, Mikros has worked on three Cannes Palme d’Or winners – Laurent Cantet’s “The Class,” Michael Haneke’s “Amour” and Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” – plus other critically acclaimed titles such as Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” and International Emmy Award-winning TV series, “The Returned.”
“Mikros Image has opened up a new path for visual effects, offering a more refined and subtle approach,” suggests Matthieu Poirot-Delpech, co-president of the AFC Society of French Cinematographers. “Directors and cinematographers appreciate Mikros Images for their artistic language.”
“VFX is a tool at the service of the director,” says Mikros Image’s creative director, Julien Meesters. “In the case of ‘Rust and Bone’ we were so happy that we found the right approach that enabled Audiard to tell the story he wanted to tell. We knew we had to adapt our working process to his modus operandi. For example, when you work with Audiard you know there won’t be any motion control work, because that would kill his style.”
One of the company’s most recent VFX jobs – Benoit Jacquot’s “The Diary of a Chambermaid,” is in main competition at Berlin.
Meesters notes that there is rising demand for VFX work in France, inclusively from established French auteurs who previously eschewed this field. “Directors feel that they can now tell stories that they were unable to tell before,” he says.
But this can sometimes pose a budget challenge. “In many cases directors don’t plan on using VFX and then realise that it can help their picture, but often they haven’t budgeted for this contingency, which can be a problem. But there’s a clear upward trend towards use of VFX.”
Mikros complements its animation and VFX feature film work with commercials, and has garnered further kudos for high-profile advertising campaigns for Dior perfume “J’Adore,” and French paybox Canal Plus — notably with “The Bear” commercial, which won a Visual Effects Society Award.
“Our DNA is project-based,” explains Meesters. “That’s why you find animation, live action, commercials and VFX – what we like to do is to develop creativity in all these projects.”
In 2012 and 2013, Mikros won the prestigious César & Techniques award, attributed by the French Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Techniques and in Jan. 2015 won Best VFX supervisor award (commercials) in the first edition of the Digital Creation Genie Awards, organized within the Paris Images Trade Show.
Meesters recognizes that while the company aims to experiment and push forward the creative envelope, larger projects, in particular animation, make it necessary to structure operations to ensure that the company remains efficient at a larger scale. At its peak, Asterix involved 120 employees, which required major planning.
The company would also like to work on more VFX-driven feature films. “It’s really wonderful to work with directors like Michael Haneke, but we also like to work on VFX-heavy pure entertainment films,” says Meesters. “We have the talent to work on more effects-driven projects, but there aren’t many in France.”
In terms of expansion plans, Mikros aims to strengthen its key bases in Montreal, Belgium and France. “One of our main focuses is to strengthen our animation work, while keeping our talents and quality work growing in commercials and VFX,” says Meesters. “We would like to have a couple of animation films in each territory and be doing them at the same time. We also aim to reinforce our VFX work in Montreal. Our plans in the near future aren’t necessarily to expand to further territories. Our main objective is to reinforce our existing structures.”
The triangle of operations between Montreal, Belgium and France, all of which have their own tax rebate systems for animation and VFX work, enables Mikros to help producers structure their projects to take maximum advantage of available tax incentives.
However, Meesters main goal is for each operating center to enjoy its own autonomy. “In an ideal world, each country would oversee its own projects,” he says. All territories have their own possibilities. In Canada, we have an amazing talent base from throughout North America. In France, there’s a huge talent pool. In Belgium, there’s a strong tradition in comic strips animation and it’s starting to become stronger in VFX.”
The company also aims to maintain its independent status. “We don’t necessarily want to be part of a bigger group and only work on their projects,” says Meesters. “If we had an output deal that would open up possibilities but also close other doors. Illumination Mac Guff has had amazing success but we’re aiming to chart a different route.”
“We aim to become a fully-rounded international animation and VFX studio,” he concludes. “Let’s see how things develop…”