“Journey to Yourland,” “Lumières!” and “Sex Symbols” proved standouts  at Cartoon Next, a new event launched by European association Cartoon Media to explore the ever more hybrid reality of the animation industry as well as other current cutting edge trends.

VR, Extended Reality (XR), cross-media and IP extensions were the event’s buzzwords.

In a format similar to Cartoon Springboard, which focuses on a new generation of animators, at Next, creators and producers also pitch projects to a bevy of high-profile experts who offer suggestions on how to improve development or the titles’ completion.

Among such experts at Cartoon Next’s inaugural edition were Japhet Asher­, founder of U.K. consultancy and IP creation company Polarity Reversal; Orion Ross, VP of original programming and animation at Disney EMEA; Aymeric Castaing, founder of French XR company  Umanimation; Luce Grosjean, who launched France’s Miyu Distribution, devoted to young talents and student films; producer Sébastien Onomo at France’s Special Touch Studios; and producer Anna Schur, head of content at Spanish gaming animation company ZeptoLab.

Out of the eight projects pitched, one targets preschool viewers, another kids aged 6-9; three aim to attract tweens, another trio targets adult/young adult audiences.

France is involved in four productions, Spain in two and Italy, Slovakia, Belgium, Lithuania, Slovenia and Austria in one. Three projects are in development, three at concept and two currently in production.

Projects pitched at the inaugural Cartoon Next:

“Astrid And the School of Astronauts” (Lumiar, Italy)

The humorous adventure of an albino seven-year girl who grew up in a little house by the sea with two astronauts as parents, who mysteriously disappeared when she was little, leaving her in her grandmother’s care. Created and produced by Federica Carbone, and directed by Anita Verona, an edutainment series in development consisting of 52 episodes.

“Eyes of Shame” (Joni Art, Lithuania; Insomniak, France; Institute for Transmedia Design, Slovenia)

Conceived as a VR feature aiming to provide an immersive and empathic experience of mental disorders,  “Shame” follows 14-year-old Eyeless who is admitted into a hospital specialized in problematic teens. Eyeless suffers from behavioral disorder and anorexia. In development.

“Here” (Patrones y Escondites, Spain; Umanimation, France)

Targeting young adults/adults, the in-concept project offers an interactive, non-linear detective story about a retired comic book artist found dead at his home. The room is locked from the inside and the murderer has vanished without a trace. This whodunnit approach is formulated as a VR game. Directed and created by José Calabuig, Aymeric Castaing and Beatriz Osorio.

“Journey to Yourland” (BFilm, Slovakia; ThePack, Belgium)

Intended as a feature for kids, “Journey,” already in production, is structured as a cross-over production offering a VR experience, a mobile game, a book and other IP expansions. The story follows Riki, 10, who runs away from home, follow­ing an enigmatic emergency signal which leads him to the parallel world of “Yourland.”  Peter Budinsky and Jef Dehouse co-direct.

“Lumières!” (Les Films du Tambour de Soie, Small Creative, Auteurs et Cies, France)

An immersive virtual reality tour offering an experimental approach to the history of illumination, from the humble candle to 21st century LED lightning. A non-verbal proposal with a multi-layered soundtrack designed to provide an interactive, nocturnal journey through time. Created by Agnès Bovet-Pavy, Fabien Bourdier and Jean-Baptiste Marot.

“Sakamon Castle” (Mondo TV, France)

Project in concept targeting tweens. An 11-minute, 52-part sitcom depicting diverse situations in a hotel handled by a deeply incompetent director, who is really a bag of turnips come to life thanks to a magic formula.

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Sakamon Castle Credit: Cartoon Next

“Sex Symbols” (TV On, Admirable Films, Spain)

Directed and produced by Paloma Mora at TV On, this 13 episode show focuses on a bunch of kids going through puberty, who are starting to ask their first questions about sexuality and the changes they’re experiencing. Created by Cesare Asaro.

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Sex Symbols Credit: Cartoon Next

“Subtopia” (Curio & Co., Austria)

A 40-minute, 10-part series depicting a dystopic universe in which freedom and privacy are lost— except in an online kids game called Subtopia where the player avatars can enjoy freedom. At concept stage.

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Subtopia Credit: Cartoon Next

Keynotes took in The Next Generation: New Voices in Animation and New Collaborations, at which Patricia Hidalgo, director of BBC Children’s and Education, shed light on new BBC initiative Ignite, set up to seek provocative new ideas and talent in animation.

Other members of the panel included Executive Director of RAI Ragazzi Luca Milano, RTE’s head of Children’s & Young People’s Content Suzanne Kelly, and Katalin Radoczy, VP of programming, AMC Networks International. All underscored the search for innovation in animated formats across their respective broadcasters.

At another panel, Anime – the Inexorable Rise of the Genre – What Next & How Can Producers Service the Increasing Demand? Jerome Mazandarani, an anime expert, with assistance and research from Amit Devani at Parrot Analytics, EMEA, opened with the figure of an 118% of increase in global demand for animation over the last two years, “making it one of the fastest-growing content genres during the pandemic.”

Some experts said that they believed that anime will soon become a mainstream genre and could be a “game-changer for European animation producers, with anime [creating] newly-coined concepts.”

Other panels covered topics such as which neighbouring countries could prove most advantageous as co-producers, the Astérix franchise, and the future of publishing. There was also a case study on “Arcane & Fortiche,” a successful alliance between video games and animation, in which the Netflix hit series “Arcane”– based on the “League of Legends” game– was analyzed and the artistic conception of the announced second season was outlined. Riot Games has recently announced an investment in the Fortiche animation studio.

The next Cartoon Media event, Cartoon Forum, devoted to TV shows, will run Sept. 12-15 in Toulouse.

Since 1990, Cartoon Forum and later Cartoon Movie have assisted 1,326 projects representing an overall budget at €5 billion ($5.4 billion).