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Annecy 2019: Disney Plus, ‘Spider-Verse,’ Anime Drive Animation Biz, Creativity to New Heights

ANNECY  —  There has never been more business or delegates at the Annecy Animation Festival. Presentations popped. Sneaks peeks, table talk, frenzied business meetings suggest a new era of business and creativity for animation from Hollywood to Zambia. Key takeaways:

NEW KID IN TOWN: DISNEY PLUS

“It was insane, insane” said an independent producer, very happily. He was describing the frenzied business at this year’s Annecy Animation  Film Festival. One big reason: Digital Plus. Annecy marked its official coming out in international. It co-lead a joint press with Disney Channels, announced new shows, led by “Monsters at Work” and BBC-sourced “Bluey,” sneak-peeked another, “Monsters at Work,” Walt Disney France’s Helen Etzi told producers that “though Disney is known for in-house productions, we are very keen on working with external talents,” including producers. Disney executives spent the week asking top indie companies with whom they’d worked in linear what they had available. That seems very logical. “Disney has an amazing library obviously: Lucasfilm, Pixar, Marvel. What it hasn’t got is the same rate of production as Netflix, and it has to continuously add new shows,” said Paul Robinson, at Spain’s Imira Entertainment. To do so, they will need producers to make some of that programming. Disney Plus is also insisting it is looking for very different kinds of programming for their platform than traditional Disney fare of slightly more female, 6-9: Older skewing fare, different types of storytelling, serialized stories.

Crucially, a chain reaction is setting in. “Traditional players are seeing projects going to Disney Plus or Netflix,” said Cottonwood and Federation Kids & Family’s David Michel. “So everyone, all the buyers, broadcasters and established pay TV operators, are being much more active. Globally, it’s been a very exciting, very active market.” In business terms, Annecy has never been busier. “It’s beautiful if you are a content producer. It’s not easy, but there are considerably more options that there were 5 years ago,” Robinson added.

ATTENDANCE SPIKE

“I don’t know the numbers but my impression is that attendance this year was up on last year by quite some way,” said Paul Robinson at Spain’s Imira Entertainment. “It was hard to get a taxi, harder to get a restaurant, overall busier,” he added, observing that  the caliber of attendees was also up. “The streaming platforms were here, as were the Hollywood studios. The kids’ business keeps on getting bigger, which is squeezing MipTV.” Announced Friday afternoon, the numbers Robinson out. Attendance rose 9% to over 4,143 badge-holders. Participating companies were up 8% to 1,441.That, said its organizers, consolidates Mifa’s status as the largest single market in the world devoted to animated film. Most people would agree.

A NEW REVOLUTION

One major narrative in animation over the last 25 years has been an ever larger realism thanks to ever higher quality accessible CG. “Once CG became scalable everyone was making CG, but some properties don’t work as well with it.And if everyone is doing CG, of course you lose differentiation,” said Robinson. That revolution may now be on the wane. “Spider-Verse” put a big stake in the ground. For us, that’s incredibly exciting,” said Chuck Peil, at Reel FX. Meanwhile, a number major productions talked about in Annecy were 3D updates of franchises traditionally associated with 2D animation. Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob spinoff “Kamp Koral,” Netflix’s “Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045” and Warner Animation Group’s “Scoob!” will all utilize cutting-edge 3D techniques to push the medium forward. But that won’t imply an ever greater realism. “Scoob’s” animators, as they explained in a presentation, first tried to make Scooby more realistic, then thought twice, doubled back towards the original’s 2D style

“The tech is at a place where we can make SpongeBob and replicate or reference the animation style we love from 2D in CG,” said Nickelodeon EVP of animation production and development Ramsey Naito.

2D OR NOT 2D, THAT’S NO LONGER THE QUESTION

This year’s festival may well mark a defining moment for technological advancements in 2D and 3D animation, as the line between them continues to blur. At his works in progress session SPA Studios founder Sergio Pablos explained that on his upcoming Netflix feature “Klaus,” the story demanded traditional 2D animation, but that it was imperative they push the envelope when it comes to the look of the series. To that end, they used an in-house-developed computerized lighting technique to give the film a fresh feel. “The goal was not to bring traditional 2D animation back, but to bring it forward,” he said.

VISIBILITY, AT LAST

“Even just last year people were wondering what would happen with the advent of the streamers.  Now the situation’s clearer,” said Chuck Peil, at Reel FX.

“Take “Klaus,” for example,” he went on, “It’s so incredibly beautiful and poetic. It made the rounds to many studios, but it wasn’t picked up because back then it was judged too risky. Now it’s going to be a classic.”

Big studios like Sony are not trying to change against or in contrast to the streamers, but in unison. The new ground’s fertile for more filmmakers that ultimately in the past would have not had the opportunity.”

ANIMATION GETS ANIME-TED

Concluding a spirited trio of acquisitions announcements this week, Gkids revealed Thursday that it had acquired Hiroyuki Imaishi’s “Promare,” the first feature from Japan’s Studio Trigger. Little wonder. The movie’s exhibition at Annecy was described by one witness as “more like a cut event than a screening.” Rapidly, anime is exercising an ever greater influence  over animators in the West, something Rad Sechrist admitted to openly at his presentation of new DreamWorks Animation TV series “Kibo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts,” announced out of Annecy. “Anime’s influence is growing worldwide,” said Peil. One of a clutch of well-received Netflix’s sneak peaks at Annecy, led of course by “Klaus,” “Eden” was a major multilateral international production.

MARC DU PONTAVICE

The French animation producer broke through to world fame developing and producing TV series “Oggy and the Cockroaches,” which he took from Gaumont to Xilam Animation, launching the company in 1999. Honored by Annecy as this year’s recipient of its Mifa Animation Industry Award, he has snagged one of Disney Plus’ biggest first productions out of Europe, “Chip ’n Dale.” But he has also produced, putting up half the budget out of his pocket, working in the project for at least five years, “I Lost My Body,” one of the biggest buzz titles at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was acquired by Netflix for worldwide and won the Critics’ Week Grand Prix. Acclaimed by critics – “one of the strangest ideas ever committed to animation — a severed hand seeks answers — ultimately proves to be one of the medium’s most profound offerings,” says Peter Debruge, in his Variety review. It is now the out-and-out frontrunner to take Annecy’s top Cristal Award, announced later on Saturday, June 15.

CANNECY

Two animated features played Cannes’ Official Selection this year -“The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” and “The Swallows of Kabul,” both Un Certain Regard entries; “I Lost My Body” won the Critics’ Week Grand Prix. All now play in Annecy competition. That double whammy is immensely attractive for producers and sales agents as the two festivals’ markets look ever more. Annecy and Argentina’s INCAA film-TV agency co-organize Animation! at Ventana Sur, a Cannes joint venture with INCAA. For four years now, Annecy has organized a showcase of animated features at the Cannes Film Market, boosted their year as a whole Animation Day. Collaboration is “only natural,” Cannes Film Market head Jerome Paillard said at Cannes, given both such links and animation’s Croisette presence.

ANIMATION: BREAKING OUT OF THE GHETTO

Didier and Damien  Brunner’s Folivari announces today that production has begin on Everest epic “The Summit of the Gods” while “The Nazis, My Father and Me” will soon have great ar director and quite possibly Germna co-production partner. Neither – the tale of  a solo attempt without oxygen in Winter on Everest’s South-West face; Nazi thugs pursuing a 12-year-old through the streets of 1941 New York – seem obvious subjects for animation. On both, or the realism of “The Baker Street Four,” Folivari, like other modern animators, is attempting to break down the walls of animation, affirm its status as a medium not subject-prescribing genre type, just like Jeremy Clapin’s feature debut, rave-reviewed “I Lost My Body,” which won Cannes Critics’ Week last month. “With the Grand Prix for ‘I Lost My Body,’ the classic film industry will understand more that an animated feature can just be a good and beautiful film,” Damien Brunner observed.

SECTOR WITHOUT BORDERS

On Wednesday, the Annecy Festival announced that next year’s country of honor won’t be a country at all, but rather an entire continent: Africa. An emerging territory in the animation game, Africa impressed Mifa head Véronique Encrenaz who said: “The presence of African studios and artists is ever higher at Mifa. We would like to showcase it further by creating a special pavilion, as well as a series of meetings and project presentations.” It was also announced at the festival that Netflix is teaming up with Paris-based Gobelins School of Images on an initiative to offer as many as ten African students per year a full scholarships to the prestigious academy. “We tried to think of where we were not hearing the voices of the world in animation as much as in other places, so we started with the idea of the African continent,” explained Melissa Cobb, Netflix vice president, kids & family, adding: “We want to see how we can grow the talent, because the talent from that area hasn’t had access to this kind of education.” In April the platform announced its first African animated series, the super hero series “Mama K’s Team 4,” stills of which were shown by director Malenga Mulendema at Netflix’s Studio Without Frontiers presentation. In its theme – four teen girls uncharged with to save the world and painterly shots of Zambian capital Lusaka, it has little to envy of production in Europe.

ENDS

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