France Builds as European Animation/VFX Hub

Toons/VFX already reps two-thirds of spend under the scheme

The Little Prince
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

PARIS -. France is increasingly vying with the U.K. as the leading hub in Europe for animation and visual effects services.

The sector has been one of the prime beneficiaries of France’s TRIP tax rebate scheme since its launch in 2009, and the recent rate hike to 30% will further intensify the sector’s growth.

“This is the sector where the TRIP scheme has had its biggest impact,” says Olivier René Veillon, executive director of the Paris region Ile de France Film Commission. “We have five-to-six companies that have attained an international level and are able to work on major projects with American companies.”

Since 2009, 26% of the 96 projects approved under TRIP have been animation or VFX projects – eight animation features, 11 animation series and six VFX feature film projects – but they rep 48.5% of the total spend under the scheme.

In 2015, the sector was responsible for two-thirds of total spend under TRIP and this proportion may well rise even further in 2016 under the revised 30% rate.

The slide in the number of shooting days for live action pics since 2013 has been compensated by rising investment in animation films and VFX work, and as a consequence the total investment in France in 2015 was higher than in previous years, according to data from Film France.

The combination of French tax rebates and expertise in animation and VFX, is further leveraged by combining tax rebates available in other French-speaking territories, in particular Belgium, Luxembourg and French-speaking Canada.

“With high-speed bandwidth it’s now easy to upload and download sequences and transfer them between territories,” states producer Leonard Glowinski. “This is definitely helping establish a visual effects hub involving France, Belgium and Luxembourg. We speak the same language, can easily transfer work and it’s only a one-hour train journey. London is much more focused on U.S. productions. Our market is more balanced between North America, Europe and Asia.”

The French authorities have targeted animation as a key sector for more than two decades, given the importance of technological innovation and the fact that animation is easier to export than French-language live action fiction.

France has some of the world’s best animation schools, and has a French Animation School Network, RECA, that represents 25 schools, including Les Gobelins, Ecole Georges Méliès, Lisaa and ISART Digital. Graduates are highly sought after not just within France but worldwide.

The combination of a strong talent base, proven success and attractive tax incentives has attracted corporate investments in the VFX sector that intensified in 2015.

In 2011 – two years after the launch of TRIP – Universal set up Illumination MacGuff, which has been responsible for the hugely successful “Despicable Me” franchise.

Illumination MacGuff is currently working on three animation productions approved under the TRIP scheme in 2015: “Despicable Me 3,” TV series “Grinch” and “Lunch Shorts”;

In April 2015, French multinational Technicolor acquired leading VFX and animation shop Mikros Image, that has produced animation for features “Asterix: The Mansion of the Gods,” “Mune” and “The Little Prince.”

The acquisition has provided the company with stronger financial resources in order to develop further animation films, including the next “Asterix” animation movie. The group’s Montreal operation is also working on two further animation movies: a yet undisclosed toon feature and  “Sahara,” directed by Pierre Coré.

The Technicolor group also includes leading VFX shop MPC, which is headquartered in London and has ten offices worldwide including an operation in Paris that opened in 2015.

Animation and VFX company TeamTO (“Yellowbird”) – which has studios in Paris and Bourg les Valences, and an office in L.A. – has inked a deal with Disney, for whom it’s producing TV series “Princess Sophia.” The company is also producing Arthur Qwak’s “Skylander” for Blue Dragon.

Finland’s videogame developer Rovio Entertainment Ltd., is working on a regular basis with Cube Creative. Two animation series for Rovio were approved under the TRIP scheme in 2015: “Stella 2” and Piggy Tales, Season 2.”

The capacity to offer high-quality animation and VFX expertise is part of the mix that can be offered to projects shooting in France.

For the feature film “Ab Fab,” approved under the TRIP scheme in 2015, line producer John Bernard combined the two-week shoot with VFX work in France. As a result, the joint spending qualified for a rebate under the TRIP scheme: “The producers had a list of VFX they needed for the film, so they put the work up for tender and got the best service and best value for money in France.”

Standalone VFX work also continues to be an important source of business. In 2016, leading French company, BUF, will be providing VFX services on Sony’s shark thriller “The Shallows,” directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax”), starring Blake Lively.

Thierry de Segonzac, prexy of technicians union FICAM believes that the growing importance of sophisticated VFX services in feature films and TV series is creating a two-tier system in the French production industry.

“Technology is changing the industry,” he suggests. “We now have big companies with a high level of equipment and expertise, sophisticated digital systems and large investments that can use innovative visual effects in their productions. And then we have a second tier or much small companies, that are more artisanal and much more adapted to smaller, low-budget productions that the big companies cannot handle. The mid-sized companies are disappearing, because they’re not as strong financially and technically as the large companies and not as flexible as the smaller companies.”