ANNECY, France — In further signs of growth on Europe’s animation scene, Grid Animation will go into production in 2019 on feature film “Crazy Island,” as it sets up TV series “Crazy Humans,” both riffs on the zany world of world famous Argentine cartoonist Guillermo Mordillo.
The new production announcements come as Grid, a building force in Europe, has opened a new animation studios in Lille, north-east France, and Spain’s Canary Island of Tenerife, in order to tap into new animation talent pools and financing facilities as it ramps up production.
Another sign of growth: Grid is one of the few companies at 2018’s Annecy Festival to have two features in major sections, both playing out of competition: “Captain Morten and the Spider Queen,” which segues from a world premiere at the 2018 Animafest Zagreb festival, and “Marnie’s World.”
Written by Danish director Jesper Moller, a partner via Parka Pictures in Zooper Film, Grid’s joint venture in Germany, “Crazy Island” is set up as a co-production between Grid Animation in Belgium, Germany’s Wunderwerk and China Nebula Group.
It draws on the pop-out color aesthetics, spindly-necked, bulbous nose animals and themes of over-urbanization, fear and isolation of some of Mordillo’s most famous illustrations. Unlike his cartoons, the movie will feature dialogue, if limited,
The tale of two islands, one human, another animal, both sinking into the sea, “Crazy Island” has the humans building a ship to sail off and find another island. Lion King Leonardo promises the animals the humans will save them. Hugo Caterpillar and Olie Giraffe have their doubts.
Grid Animation and Wunderwerk are in the process of commissioning a final screenplay polish, said Grid Animation founder Mark Mertens, who produces “Crazy Island.”
3D CGI, “Crazy Island” will look like “Madagascar” or “Ice Age,” or other big family movies” “but with a European/Mordillo angle, a big audience movie targeting anywhere from 6-year-olds to parents, and with surrealistic gags, which you can find in Mordillo’s cartoons,” Mertens added.
In the last phase of financing, “Crazy Island” will be ready for delivery at the end of 2020.
A TV series of 104 episodes, plus a collection of four half-hour specials, “Crazy Humans” is being written by Lee Pressman, the head writer on Aardman Animations’ TV series “Shaun the Sheep,” from an adaptation by Adam Long (“Kazoops,” “Mike the Knight”). Ben Butterworth will direct episodes. Based on Mordillo’s comic books and artwork, every 11-minute episode is described as a “journey through a surprising world that has its own weird logic.”
Grid Animation has initiated production on a first special, based on a Mordillo narrative book. Sans dialogue, the specials and TV series target a slightly older audience of 8-12 year-olds, said Mertens.
Produced by Nukufilm Studios in Tallinn, Ireland’s Telegael Studios in Ireland and Grid Animation and Cardiff’s Calon, “Captain Morten and the Spider Queen” is directed by Estonia’s Caspar Jancis. It weighs in as a stop-motion coming of age fantasy adventure turning on 10 year-old Morten, who misses his father, a sea dog often away at sea. Shrunk to the size of an insect, he is forced to grow up.
“A bit of an atypical movie,” mixing stop motion and CGI enhancements, “Captain Morten” is “something that interests us a lot, hopefully the first of a series of projects in that direction,” Mertens said, adding that he was discussing a new stop motion/CGI project with Irish and Australian partners.
“More classical,” being made in full CGI, “Marnie’s World” is a friendship tale turning on a small chubby cat abandoned far from home, befriended by three other odd-ball animals. “It’s the kind of movie we do, one or two each year,” said Mertens, citing the forest-set “Latte and the Magic Waterstone,” which will be ready for delivery early 2019.
Grid Animation has just completed development on family film “Elli & the Ghostly Train,” subject of one of the ten most-attended presentations at Cartoon Movie. Turning on a lonesome little girl ghost searching for a family, who finds on in a House of Horrors, it adapts Klaus Baumgart’s children’s book “Elli Ungeheuer Gehein.”
“It’s a touching story about what makes a family. Do you need the family? Can best friends compensate for not having a family?” Mertens said.
“Elli” is produced by Grid Animation and Zooper Film, a German joint venture set up in 2015 between Grid and Denmark’s Parka Pictures, headed by Lillian Kluges and director Moller. A year later, Grid Animation joined forces with the Netherlands’ Rubinstein Publishing to create Tinker, a holding company, and launched a U.K. production subsidy, Tinker Labs, which snagged a CBeebies commission for “Interstellar Ella.” It now runs animation studios in Barcelona (Tinker Magic, launched in 2016), Prague (Czech Anim, bowing in 2017) and Sofia (Sofia Animation Studio, opened this year) and a production joint venture in Paris (Tinkerland).
Grid Animation became a partner in a Tenerife animation studio, 3 Doubles, at the beginning of the year.
Mertens commented: “Co-production is never easy, partners may have their own agenda. But all partners need to have the same mindset, the same toolbox. So I thought: ‘Why not create boutique studios in different countries, see if we can bring financing from them and make projects in the best possible way.”
Other factors also drive expansion: Struggling to crew up in Belgium, Grid Animation has also opened new offices in early 2018 in Lille, home to Rubika, with over 3,000 students enrolled in programs for imaging careers, and five centers of excellence and innovation (including Pictanova, La Serre Numérique and La Plaine Image).
The move came as Grid is discussing several projects with French producers and broadcasters, said Mertens.
“I never go out and say: ‘ I want a studio in Lille.’ It’s more about having a personal connection with local producers, sharing the same vision, and there being projects that make it feasible. In the case of Lille, we have all those elements, so we’re setting up the studio.”
Grid won Producer of the Year awards at Cartoon Forum in 2013 and Cartoon Movie in 20o6. What we need to improve is our digital presence, which is especially necessary for combinations of a feature and a TV series, Mertens argues. “That’s something we’ll definitely try to develop.”