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Top French animation studio TeamTO is presenting at Annecy a trio of cosy winter story animation projects, collectively known as Winter is Here, after nabbing TV, film and licensing rights to three popular children’s books.

TeamTO aims to produce three individual specials for the 2022-2023 winter season suitable for both at-home TV or platform viewing, as well as cinema screenings.

The French studio has enlisted the skills of three young directors for the adaptations of best-sellers “Snowman” by Jacques Duquennoy (which becomes “Snowy and the Snowman”), “Fox’s Garden” by Camille Garoche (“The Winter I Met the Fox”), and Jean Gouronas’ “Something’s Fishy” (“Penguin’s Ice Time”).

All three have studied at La Poudrière, one of France’s top animation schools, which shares its location with one of TeamTO’s offices at the renowned Cartoucherie animation hub in the southern French town of Valence.

It’s a chance for TeamTO to test this kind of short format: the films are 20 minutes (“Snowy” and “The Winter I Met the Fox”) long or feature three five-minute episodes (“Penguin’s Ice Time”).

“Working on short films provides a rare opportunity, in our busy production world, to focus on the heart of a story, and work closely with new directorial talent to bring their vision to life. It has been a great collaborative process,” explains Mary Bredin, head of creative development at TeamTO.

Thirty-one-year old Loic Espuche, the director of “Penguin’s Ice Time,” met TeamTO co-founder and executive producer Corinne Kouper in his first year at La Poudrière, where she was giving a class on production. He is thrilled to be on board the project.

“It’s the first time I’ve worked with a big studio like TeamTO: It offers new possibilities, new ways of working. Often, when I work on projects, I don’t have the chance to write the first draft, so TeamTO gave me this chance, and it was really fun,” he says.

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“Snowy and the Snowman” Credit: TeamTO

In addition to the novelty of the shared writing experience, the COVID-19 crisis didn’t make travel possible, so Espuche – who is based in France – took part in remote recording sessions with the voice-over artists who were in studios in Canada and the U.S.: “For us, it was a whole new experience to record the voices remotely and directly in English. We all had to adapt to the time difference,” he smiles.

Besides the common winter theme, featuring snowy landscapes and cosy characters, the stories are all tales about friendship.

Espuche’s three mini-films, “Penguins Ice Time,” bring together a comedic cast of noisy, chatty polar animals. The central character, Penguin, is desperate for some peace and quiet, until he realizes that life is much less fun without your friends.

In “The Winter I Met the Fox,” directed by Emma Carré and written by Nathalie Dargent, a fox finds refuge from a cold and snowy evening in a greenhouse. A shy little boy overcomes his fears and comes to the fox’s rescue. He is amazed to find that the Fox is a mother with babies and learns that friendship is about reaching out.

“Friendship is a theme that is dear to me, I think it is indispensable,” explains Dargent. “It helps you grow, discover the world, but also understand who you are. And it’s a point of anchor. Friendship can be modest and quiet. For me, it’s not always easy, it’s like everything – you have to practice.”

In the third film, “Snowy and the Snowman,” by Danish director Sif Perlt Savery, a young snow girl embarks on an emotional journey when her first day at hockey practice doesn’t turn out as planned.

“She gets to be happy, hopeful but also a bit nervous about meeting the new kids, a bit frustrated, sad, even angry – and I think that part of Snowy is something that a lot of kids can relate to. It’s really healthy to acknowledge these feelings and show how this particular character tries to learn from these emotions, move past them, and use them to connect to other kids,” says Savery.

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“The Winter I met the Fox” Credit: TeamTO