France’s TeamTO Opens Office in China (EXCLUSIVE)

Beijing base to facilitate TeamTO’s search for Chinese animation hits which can be refashioned for the global market

Shu Ye and Guillaume Hellouin
Courtesy of TeamTo

Paris and L.A.-based CGI studio TeamTO, one of France’s leading animation studios, is opening an office in Beijing, headed up by Shu Ye, a former sound editor and U.S. and European film distribution exec in China.

The move continues growth at TeamTO, producer of Ubisoft’s Motion Pictures’ TV series “Rabbids Invasion,” aired by Nickelodeon worldwide, and an animation supplier on Disney’s “Sofia The First.” In a sign of its ambitions and optimism about future growth, TeamTO opened up a second production studio facility in France in Bourg-les-Valence, near Lyon, last year. TeamTO launched a Los Angeles-based U.S. office in 2011, which is headed Leonora Hume, a former senior v.p., international productions, at Walt Disney.

TeamTO’s Beijing office will further its ambitions for China, which take a different tack to those of many U.S. and European companies. Most U.S. animation production ventures with China, whether individual movies or corporate joint ventures, seek via co-production as a way into China’s expanding film/TV markets.

In contrast, “TeamTo is implementing  an atypical business model which will see it create global content in its own renowned French studios, from IP that have been successful in Asian markets,” a TeamTo press statement declared Wednesday.

“Many Chinese IP owners have made a lot of money domestically and are now looking to build upon their brand portfolios,” said TeamTO co-founder Guillaume Hellouin.

He added: “However, they’re very aware that the cultural differences are such that they need to adapt in order to succeed outside China. That, said Hellouin, “is where TeamTO excels,”  being “ideally positioned to share its experience on how to extend local brands to an international market.”

China-originated productions could also benefit from France’s Tax Rebate for International Productions, tabbed from January at 30% of production expenditure in France and capped at €30 million ($33.3 million) per movie or TV series. This tax break was used by Universal’s Illumination Ent. on its “Despicable Me” and “Minions” movies. Animated out of France at Paris-based Illumination Mac Guff, their French animation allowed them to be made at very economical budgets by Hollywood standards. “Minions” has earned $1.16 billion at the global box office.

TeamTO already has experience at taking an Asian IP and creating a globally-selling series. The French animation studio’s TV series “Oscar’s Oasis” was based on a 30-second short created by South Korea’s Tuba which TeamTO co-developed into a 78-part short-format series sold to Cartoon Network Latin America, Disney Asia and Netflix, in a global deal with the steaming giant.

“The assurance that [China-originated] shows produced [at TeamTO] will be suited for top international broadcasters adds value to these new Chinese brands,” Hellouin argued.

The expansion into China comes after TeamTO’s launch of its second French studio doubled TeamTO’s production capacity and allowed it to diversify from offering a team of animators to such production services as rendering and compositing.

Price is still “one of the issues” in animation production in France, Hellouin admitted. To allow it to animate 100% of its series and features out of France, TeamTO runs an 18-person R&D team, headed by Jean-Baptiste Spieser, which collaborates with Grenoble’s Inria Technology centre, France’s national institute for computer science and applied mathematics. TeamTO adapted Inria’s Sofa software tool, originally designed for medical imaging, to depict the scaled feathers of birds in its first feature film, “Yellowbird,” as well as for physical simulation for TV series such as on Ubisoft’s “Rabbids Invasion.”

Beginning as a sound effects editor for top Chinese directors such as Tsui Hark (“Seven Swords”) and Zhang Yimou (“Curse of the Golden Flower”), Shu Ye also worked for Beijing United Power Films, which distributed “The King’s Speech” in China. She has also worked with French producers and directors in China, Hellouin said.

TeamTO’s slate of original IP and co-productions takes in comedic CGI animated series “My Knight and Me,” pre-bought by Canal Plus Family in France and Germany’s Super RTL, as well as “Take It Easy, Mike,” which TeamTO describes as a “dialogue-free animated version of LOL pet videos” and “Jade Armor,” a youth fantasy adventure originally created by Taiwan’s Two Tigers.