Hollywood Helps Boost Annecy to Record Levels

U.S. major studios, french companies, animated world cinema out in force at Annecy

The Secret Life of Pets
Courtesy of Universal

ANNECY — Energised by the largest Hollywood presence ever, the 2016 Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival also looks set to the biggest ever, and a bellwether of the forces driving a now near global industry.

Six of the eight upcoming Hollywood studio animation releases for 2016 receive privileged play at Annecy, the Cannes of the animation industry, including one world premiere, a European premiere, a slew of never-seen sequences and a first-time Annecy presence from Warner Animation Group.

Of the big U.S. highlights, Universal’s Illumination Entertainment will world premiere “The Secret Life of Pets” at Annecy on June 16, three weeks before it U.S. July 8 general release.

DreamWorks Animation look set for its biggest roll-out ever at Annecy: a Guillermo del Toro Masterclass, focusing on his career, then a showrunner reel and about 10 minutes-plus of clips or scenes from “Trollhunters”; a sneak peek of Mike Mitchell’s animated comedy musical “Trolls,” presented by production designer Kendal Cronkhite (“Madagascar” film series), who will preview about 20 minutes of final footage; 15-20 minutes of never-before screened footage from Alec Baldwin comedy “Boss Baby,” unveiled by movie’s director Tom McGrath.

From Blue Sky Studios, longtime producer Lori Forte and co-director Michael Thurmeier team to present the new characters, palette and worlds of Fox’s “Ice Age: Collision Course,” via multiple never-seen sequences.

Directorial duo Ron Clements and John Musker (“Aladdin,” “The Princess and the Frog”) will be in Annecy to show new artwork and work-in-progress sequences from“Moana,” Walt Disney Animation Studio’s big late 2016 bow. Slated for a Nov. 23 U.S. release, the comedy adventure turns on a teen girl who sets out on the Polynesian high seas to prove herself a master way finder.

Co-director Andrew Stanton introduces the European premiere of Pixar’s “Finding Dory” which opened at Los Angeles Theater on June 8, Variety calling it “ravishing.” It has scored a Rotten Tomatoes 93% approval rate, though some reviewers thought it just a notch below “Finding Nemo.

Genndy Tartakovsky will be on hand to talk about his reboot for Cartoon Network of cult TV series “Samourai Jack”

Producer Brad Lewis will introduce the Warner Animation Group and its upcoming “Storks,” set for a Sept 23 release. “This is exciting for us because it’s the first time in quite some time that Warner Bros. has a real presence at Annecy and we plan to make a statement there.” said Chris deFaria, president, animation, digital production, VFX, Warner Bros. Pictures.

In other highlights, Aardman Animations will be presented with the MIFA/Variety Animation Personality of the Year Award. The 2016 Annecy Festival kicks off June 13 with a screening of Michael Dudok de Wit’s “The Red Turtle.”

Total accreditations were running on June 10 at 7,800, including MIFA, and expected to end up 10%-15% above 2015, said Patrick Eveno, at event organiser City of Moving Images (CITIA). Registered attendance at Annecy’s Intl. Animated Film market (MIFA) was at 2,460 last Friday, 6% up on the same day in 2015, said MIFA head Mickael Marin. Final MIFA attendee numbers could be near to 2,800. Figures are 120% up on 2004, with Annecy posting significant increases in 2015 and 2016.

Explanations for this hiked influx cut several ways.

At 27 for 2012 but 20 for 2014, according to a report, “Mapping the Animation Industry in Europe,” the number of animated features being released in the U.S in recent years may not have grown. With Sony, then Universal and now Warner Bros. driving into animation in the last 10 years, however, the number of Hollywood studios making them most certainly has.

Animation is a huge global box office driver, and not just when it comes to animated features, another argument runs. Factoring in spectacle films that are 90%-plus SFX, the majority of the top 10 global box office is has an animation base. It makes sense that Hollywood studios beyond Disney-Pixar and DreamWorks would want to get more and more involved in this world.

Also, animation, of what is understood as animation, is broadening its technological and artistic options. One example: Google Spotlight Stories will showcase from June 13 a sneak-peek of Felix Massie’s “Rain and Shine,” the Tribeca-screened “Pearl,” from Patrick Osborne, and Aardman’s “Special Delivery,” from Tim Ruffle, all made-for-smartphones 3D VR animated shorts, allowing viewers to explore stories unspooling in real time in an immersive 360-degree space. “Pearl” was made in five different formats simultaneously, Jan Pinkava, Google Spotlight Stories creative director, told Variety at Annecy.

April’s CinemaCon, which targets exhibitors, and San Diego’s Comic-Con, held in July, both feature animated movies. But Annecy is unique in focus and size. “Annecy is solely focused on animation of different types. It’s the world’s biggest animation festival, pretty unique in its size,” said Mireille Soria, DreamWorks Animation’s co-president, feature animation.

Also building attendance and attracting big players is Annecy-s track record. Illumination Ent. head Chris Meledandri world premiered “Despicable Me,” “Despicable Me 2” and “Minions” there. “Minions” went on to rank as the second highest-grossing animated feature in history.

Over the last few years, Walt Disney Animation Studios bowed shorts “Feast” and “Paperman” in the small French Alps town. Both went on to win an Oscar. Little wonder it’s back this year with new short film, “Inner Workings,” presented by producer Sean Lurie and its director, Leo Matsuda, a story artist on “Big Hero 6” and “Wreck-It Ralph.”

Annecy is a very good place to sneak peek a work-in-progress, said Bonnie Arnold, DreamWorks Animation’s co-president, feature animation.

“You’re really getting a worldwide audience this week, professionals, students, a rapt fanbase. It’s a good place to get good word-of-mouth started,” she added.

“Everybody’s in a good mood. It’s a very good place to work and introduce your company or film,” Marin concurred.

The U.S. presence, including some very-probable award season contenders, has had a knock-on effect.

“There are more and more companies, from more and more countries,” Eveno said.

If production numbers are swelling, it’s in smaller countries in Europe and in world cinema.

“It used to be near impossible to make a high-quality CGI feature for less than $100 million. Now it’s possible to make a beautiful CGI film for a fraction of the cost, at budgets that used to be reserved solely for 2D,” argued Dave Jesteadt at Gkids, the U.S. distributor of eight Oscar-nominated animated features.

For the first time, Canada will host a national pavilion at Annecy. Exhibition space sold has also increased to spill over onto an island on the lake adjoining MIFA’s Imperial Palace location.

“Annecy is now the annual gathering of an industry large enough to need one. “It’s the great meeting place for the animation world, and I literally mean world: The studios, the independents, feature films, experimental films , short films, it’s really representative of what’s going on in the world of animation,” said Arnold adding that the animation community rarely gets together in this kind of way.

In anticipated highlights from outside the U.S., of the deans of European animation, Didier Brunner will present a Work in Progress of “Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” Benjamin Renner’s TV short series follow-up to “Ernest and Celestine.” Superprod will present classic reboot “White Fang,” Folimage will unveil a 15 short film series turning on France’s Chauvet-Pont d’Arc prehistoric caves, dazzling for their cave art.

Marking another sign of the explosive nature of the sector, 60-plus companies, and not just from the U.S will use Annecy to recruit new animators, Marin said.

Annecy bowed Monday cloudy with forecast of rain. Air and rail strikes may affect French industry access to Annecy, though the town is not much more than a five-hour car ride from Paris. Bused into the festival by its shuttle service from Switzerland’s Geneva, foreign guests should not be affected.

Whatever the weather, animators love Annecy. They’re treated like rock stars. Also, they enjoy its knowledgeable audiences who “have a sense of legacy in animation – the animation that’s come from  the past – how what they’re seeing dovetails and differs from what’s come before – how it’s taking animation someplace new,” said “Moana” director John Musker.

He added: “It’s an amazingly discerning audience it’s like “New York, New York” – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”