Annecy: TeamTO Re-Ups on ‘PJ Masks,’ ‘Skylanders’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Hollywood, France galvanize a packed 2016 Annecy-Mifa animation fest-mart

P.J. Masks
Courtesy: Entertainment One

ANNECY — France’s TeamTO, one of France’s fastest building CGI studios, has renewed as the animation studio on the second seasons of two high-profile animated series: Entertainment One’s “PJ Masks,” aired by Disney, and “Skylanders,” which Activision has just sold to Netflix.

Announced June 17 at the Annecy Festival’s Intl. Animated Film Market (MIFA), the work-for-hire deals confirm TeamTO – as well as an energetic production house on original shows such as “Angelo Rules” – as also a preeminent go-to studio in Europe for work-for-hire animation.

Over the last year, TeamTO has already provided animation to Disney TV Animation on two shows:  “Sofia the First” and spin-off “Elena de Avalor.” Opening an office in Beijing to remake Chinese toon hits for international markets, TeamTO, like other French studios, can look to French state support. A foreign TV show, Season 2 of “Skylanders” is eligible for France’s Tax Rebate for International Productions (TRIP), which offers 30% credits to French spend up to €30 million ($33 million). A French show produced by eOne and Olivier Dumont at Frog Box, “PJ Masks`” animation work is eligible for a subsidy from France’s CNC agency and a tax credit for French productions, said TeamTO’s Guillaume Hellouin.

The CGI will be split between TeamT0’s studios in Paris and La Cartoucherie, in South-East France, and 100% of the animation at La Cartoucherie, whose production capacities was increased last year, added TeamTO’s Corinne Kouper.

One day before TeamTO’s announcement, Francois Hollande, the French president, visited the Annecy Festival. Little wonder. Taking place as animation is “exploding,” 2016’s Annecy-MIFA saw two major narratives.

One was the robust presence, the biggest ever, of Hollywood’s major studios and big animation networks. Chris Meldandri’s Illumination Ent. world premiered “The Secret Life of Pets” to an upbeat critical and audience reaction. “Pets” is “the studio’s most accomplished feature, from both a story and animation standpoint, tapping into an endlessly expandable core concept,” Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote out if Annecy.

But with Pixar’s “Finding Dory,” which saw its European premiere at Annecy, now on track to break the record for the biggest animated movie opening weekend in history with some $130 million, all Hollywood’s studios are alive to and keenly plying animated production and bringing their works in progress, not just movies but TV series – to Annecy, the world’s biggest animated festival.

“The global community comes to Annecy, filmmakers, broadcasters, judges. It’s all about the craft, artistry,and the future, people premiering their work, which a lot of time is arresting. You get a preview of the impact that work will have,” said Marjorie Cohn, head of DreamWorks Animation Television.

Counting DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls,” Disney’s “Moana,” Warner Animation Group’s “Storks,” and Blue Sky Studios-Fox’s “Ice Age: Collision Course,” six of the big eight studio premieres were showcased this year at Annecy in their entirety or via excerpts. Some movies’ never-seen-before footage ran to as much as 20 minutes. DWA also showcased “Boss Baby” and the Guillermo del Toro showrun “Trollhunters,’ Cartoon Networks Genndy Tarta reboot of “Samuarai Jack.” Audiences stocked by animators and animation students who appreciate not only the artistry but toil of animation.

“In the world of animation, you don’t get many big egos, outrageously colourful personalities, you get many decent, hardworking people who love what they do,” Peter Lord, Aardman Animations’ co-founder remarked, accepting MIFA and Variety’s second Animation Personality of the Year Award at a ceremony June 15 at the Annecy Festival.

So studios can expect a warm reception, which is exactly what their big cannon received this year.

If one 2016 Annecy scenario was Hollywood in the French Alps – complete with five days of sometimes torrential rain –  the other was Hooray for France. The guest country of honour, receiving a huge retrospective, France’s animation export muscle was also celebrated at a panel Friday, A Buyer’s Insight into French Animation, organised by Television France Intl., France’s TV export org, where four acquisition execs assessed the contribution of French toon TV shows to their schedules. Disney Channels Orion Ross said two French shows – “Miraculous”: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir” and “PJ Masks” were among Disney’s Top 5 performing shows in Europe. 50% of the shows on Gloob, Globosat’s cable kids channel, came from France, added Paula Taborda Dos Guaranys.

President Francois Hollande’s June 16 visit coincided with an announcement by the Lagardere-owned Gulli, one of France’s biggest kids’ channels, that it would raise its investment in original French animation from 6% to 10% of annual revenues. Move reps a further step-up at Lagardere as it drives to become one of the top TV content players in Europe.

“This is great news, not just because it means more money but, more specifically because Gulli produces a lot of show that work very well internationally. When you work with them, it really allows for co-production with a lot of other territories,” said David Michel, at Federation Entertainment’s Cottonwood Media, whose amoeba adventures comedy series “Squish” is pre-sold to Gulli.

A slew of sales went down or were announced at MIFA. Just some:

-Marc du Pontavice’s Paris-based shingle Xilam has pre-sold Season 2 of slapstick comedy “Zig and Sharko” to Super RTL (Germany), Discovery Kids-K2 (Italy), NRK (Norway), VRT (Belgium), Carousel TV (Russia), Nickelodeon (India), Disney (South East Asia, Japan, South Korea and Latin America). Netflix has secured VOD rights to “Zig, ” TV series created by Olivier Jean-Marie which Gulli will broadcast in France.

-Barcelona-based Motion Pictures has sold “Pumpkin Reports” to Canal Plus in Poland. A 52-seg series, it targets 6-11s.

-Movistar Plus, Spain’s leading pay TV operator, has bought a bouquet of shorts including Yamamura Animation’s “Satie’s ‘Parade’,” “How Long Not long” “Vaysha, l’aveugle” “Plein été” “Une tête disparaît” “Piano” “The Empty” and “Linnugripp.”

-Milan’s Studio Campedelli and Singapore and India-based Cosmos-Maya will co-produce coming-of-age fantasy comedy “Atchoo,” with public broadcaster RAI as its anchor broadcaster.

As it grows robustly, Annecy-Mifa has begun to export its brand. In a early international tie-up, it is teaming with Latin America’s biggest film market, Ventana Sur, a joint venture of Cannes Film Market and Argentina’s Incaa film-TV agency, to invite two projects, a movie and TV show, to Mifa. Two projects will be chosen at a pitching contest organised at Ventana Sur, which runs Nov. 29 to Dec. 3.

In a further sign of growth in the international animation sector, Folivari’s Didier Brunner has linked with other leading European animation producers – Aardman Animation’s Peter Lord, Cartoon Saloon’s Paul Young – to create the European Animation Awards, the first ceremony to be held in 2017. Officially launched June 14 at Annecy, Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. Annie Awards are launching in part recognition of a “massive growth” in Europe’s animation industries, the European Animation Awards’ secretary general Jean-Paul Commin said at Annecy.

Though animation is exploding, challenges remain, however, and serious ones at that. The animation business, for instance, may be beginning to lose a core demographic.

“As the way kids TV is consumed changes, there’s a renewed interest in pre-school,” said Cottonwood Media’s Michel. Conversely, “there’s less demand for the upper-segment of 6-11 -9-11 – because kids are switching to live-action and YouTube.”

Humungous box office for Hollywood tentpoles notwithstanding, animation cannot remain unaffected by the vertiginous sea change in how all movies and TV show are watched and enjoyed.