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French Toon Studio TeamTO Blossoms at 10, Sells ‘YellowBird’ Abroad

Turning 10 this year, TeamTO has blossomed into one of France’s top animation producers, forging ties with local and international players and diving into feature films.

Boasting sprawling high-tech facilities in Paris and Bourg-les-Valences (near Lyon), TeamTO raised its profile thanks to in-house-produced hit TV skeins like “Angelo Rules,” “Oscar & Co” and “Plankton Invasion.” Now advancing into the next chapter of its growth, the shingle’s first feature-length toon, “Yellowbird” is already an international sales hit. Repped by SC Films, the animated pic has been acquired by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Content Group for a flurry of territories, including the U.K. and Australia.

“We’re managed to make ‘Yellowbird’ with a 10 million Euros budget, which is much less than the price tags of ‘Little Prince’ and ‘Mune’ and yet our film boasts the same drive to travel worldwide thanks to ambitious storytelling and well-polished animation designs,” said Corrine Kouper, TeamTO’s co-founder, head of development and exec producer.

“YellowBird” has proven TeamTO’s Hollywood calling card: After screening the movie at the latest CTN Animation Expo confab in Burbank, TeamTO was approached by a U.S. studio interested in tapping the French companies to work on TV series and possibly movies.

While details of this eventual transatlantic partnership are still under wraps, Guillaume Hellouin, TeamTO’s prexy, producer and co-founder, said the U.S. shingle was impressed with TeamTO’s ability to produce high-quality animation with a limited budget. “U.S. studios have growing needs to feed their pipeline in multiple markets in a cost-effective way; as a result they’re eager to source out companies outside the U.S. to do some of the work,” said Hellouin.

This kind of French-American alliance is a building trend that was bolstered by the collaboration between Universal’s Illumination Entertainment and Mac Guff that gave birth to worldwide smash hits “Despicable Me” and its sequel, “Despicable Me 2.”

With its improved tax rebate for international productions whose cap will be raised to 30% and rebate upped to 30 million Euros, France is well positioned to become a leader purveyor of animation worldwide, explained Hellouin, who is himself a 3D pioneer in Gaul. Indeed, even if France’s animation crews are pricier than Asian ones, they benefit from having a strong reputation, mainly due to its topnotch schools such as the Gobelins.

Aiming to forge closer relationships with U.S. studios and source new projects and talent, the company recently launched a Los Angeles-based office headed by Lenora Hume, former senior VP of international productions for Walt Disney. Thanks to this expansion, TeamTO was hired by Disney TV animation to create parts of the episodes of “Sofia The First”‘s third season.

One of the key’s to TeamTO’s rising international profile lies in its endeavor to collaborate with overseas talent and executives. For instance, “Yellowbird” brought together helmer Christian de Vita (who worked as lead story artist on ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and ‘Frankenweenie’), animation designer Benjamin Renner (“Ernest and Celestine”), composer composer Stephen Warbeck (“Shakespeare in Love”), and a voice cast headlined by Seth Green, Brady Corbet and Dakota Fanning.

TeamTO is also new-media savvy. Case in point: The studio created As the Birds Fly, a “Yellowbird”-themed arcade game for iOS and Google Play allowing players to alternatively simulate the flight of Yellowbird and his fellow birds. Thinking 360′, TeamTO also delivered two illustrated albums which came out as the same as the movie’s large theatrical release in France, which was handled by Haut et Court in February. The toonpic was also released in Russia, where it ranked within the B.O. top 10 during three consecutive weeks.

TeamTO is now developing a second feature, “Les Artificiels” with Arthur Qwak on board to co-write with Patricia Valeix and direct. The project, which skews teenagers and young adults, is conceived as a hybrid live action/animation and is based on Emmanuel Lepas’ characters.

“‘Les Artificiels’ underscores our eclectic tastes – it marks a big departure from ‘Yellowbird’ which mainly appeals to kids and family audiences, but it shares the same ambition to become an internationally-driven feature,” explained Kouper.

The project is already backed by the French national film board, CNC, and TeamTO is looking to partner up with foreign producers.

Meanwhile, TeamTO remains active on the TV front: It’s producing the third season of “Angelo Rules” and will be introducing a new show, “Mon chevalier et moi” (co-produced by Thuristar and pre-bought by Canal Plus and Super RTL) at Annecy. TeamTO is also exec producing the animation of “Raving Rabbids’s third season for Ubisoft Motion Pictures, Nickelodeon and France 3.

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