The Italian island of Sardinia has long been a prime destination for international shoots such as George Clooney-directed TV series “Catch-22” and more recently Disney’s live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.”

But the emerald island, as it is known, is also looking to cater to the global animation industry, having forged a partnership with Canada-based software maker Toon Boom, which makes software used by Hollywood studios such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and Nickelodeon. The Sardinia Film Commission also just hosted Europe’s Cartoon Digital animation professionals’ confab, albeit online due to coronavirus complications, and are starting to spawn productions. Variety spoke to the Commission’s chief Nevina Satta who is spearheading Sardinia’s animation push. Edited excerpts from the conversation. 

Why did you decide to turn Sardinia into an animation hub?

In 2018 we started a dialogue with Cartoon Italia and zeroed in on the fact that in Sardinia there is an untapped talent reservoir on the island where lots of illustrators who create graphic novels and comic books are based. We realized that these talents had strong ties to Europe. In the middle of Sardinia there are folks who work for French and U.K. animation studios. We have illustrators who work for Disney in the U.S. and live here in the middle of nowhere!

What have your first steps been?

In 2019 we signed an agreement with Toon Boom, one of the world’s top 2D animation software animation studios. The idea was to work with a company that does top level animation and build a rapport where we train a local production-ready workforce just as local productions start to happen. Since the end of 2019 we have spawned roughly 50 2D animators, and in mid-June we are starting new training that will form another dozen or so. With Cartoon Italia, Canada, and Cartoon MEDIA we decided to make a strong statement in Europe, launching Sardinia as a new hub and aggregator for training and production called NAS, which stands for New Animation in Sardinia.

Why is Sardinia well-suited for the animation industry and why is animation strategic?

Sardinia is very attractive for animators. Because after spending all day in front of a computer, you can take your lunch break in the woods or on the beach. This gives us a competitive edge. In Europe animators never stopped working even during the pandemic. It’s pretty incredible. It’s been proven that animation guarantees continuity [in terms of work flow] And there is huge request for animation from private broadcasters and OTTs. We’ve seen this in 2020.

You recently hosted the 2021 edition of the Cartoon Digital confab. How did it go?

It had 280 online participants, comprising all the top networks and OTTs. Now we are trying to close agreements with a least three important investors from India, U.S. and Canada who want to have a stronger foothold in Europe. Our goal is to become a quality animation hub, and we are starting to get there.

Has Sardinia’s animation push spawned any products yet?

Yes. The first one is the feature-length project “A Trip to Teulada” (pictured) produced by Sardinia’s Mommotty, an Italy, France, Spain co-production which is still being finalized. It’s been a major leap for this young company that’s been making the rounds at several animation events including at Annecy last year. It’s a powerful project about the end of a rural world due to construction of a NATO base on part of the island. It involved lots of the NAS animators. I’m sure we are all going to be hearing more about this one. Then there are also several shorts we’ve supported produced with [Italian pubcaster RAI’s] RAI Ragazzi. One is titled “Lo Specchio di Lorenzo” is about autism and has scored more than 2 million visualizations on the RAI Play platform. It’s made RAI realize they should make more short form content with a social impact. They’ve since made “Missione Mare” (Mission Sea) about having a plastic-free ocean. Then we have other features in early stages.