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Animated Causes and Convenience Reign at NATPE 2004

It seemed to be Year of Monkey and causes, at least for animation at NATPE 2004. That and, if you want to sell animation to Latin America, you better have lots of anime. Sarah Baisley compares the NATPE market to previous ones and highlights trends and new offerings.

Alexandre Lippens, of CDC and SCOPE Invest met with clients at NATPE. CDC helped change Belgium tax laws that will aid co-productions. All photos by Sarah Baisley.

Alexandre Lippens, of CDC and SCOPE Invest met with clients at NATPE. CDC helped change Belgium tax laws that will aid co-productions. All photos by Sarah Baisley.

Heeding the need to herd in NATPE exhibitors from outlying hotels, which plagued NATPE in 2003 in New Orleans, market organizers did a much better job of getting them back on the convention floor or at least grouped in the connecting Venetian Hotel, making it much easier for attendees to cover the show. Attendance figures were up a bit from last year, slightly more than 7,000, as more exhibitors returned to the convention floor amongst the 289 companies exhibiting at the Sands Expo Center, while 64 companies where in suites at the Venetian and a few chose outlying hotels.

One cant help but miss giant booths, the lavish entertaining and gifts, both on the floor and at parties, prevalent at NATPE markets less than a decade ago. Celebrity appearances for autograph and photo sessions for distributors were up from the past couple year. A few majors returned to the floor, such as Universal Television, which had a well-decorated, lively big booth (designed as a Hollywood movie set, replete with Star Wagon trailers used as offices and backdrops.

However, as in recent years, companies sent less reps and country-themed cooperatives had fewer companies from their territory participating. Animation companies scattered throughout the floor and the Venetian, instead of grouping at the Animation Pavilion (Cybergraphix was the lone animation studio). These exhibitors remained busy while new outfits tested the market; some with booths, and many using the independents lounge to hold meetings. That turned out to be the hot place to connect, thanks partly to the good supply of meeting tables, comfy coach groupings, its own refreshment center (with a NATPE-sponsored cocktail mixer the first two nights), a silent auction and messieurs on-hand to relieve aching, bag-toting shoulders and weary feet.

Playhut Entertainments Pamela Harris helped the company make its NAPTE exhibitor debut with Chinamation, comprised of five series that feature Chinas top independent animators.

Playhut Entertainments Pamela Harris helped the company make its NAPTE exhibitor debut with Chinamation, comprised of five series that feature Chinas top independent animators.

Frank Saperstein, exec producer at pasi, based in the Philippines, observed one could just sit there and run into or spot pretty much everyone you wanted to see, including many unscheduled but pleasant surprises. With this less hectic pass of a MIPCOM, or MIP-TV, it was easy and enjoyable to work in a drink or catch a bite with chance encounters amongst the pre-planned itinerary, he said.

Saperstein was extremely happy and proud to be directing his first CGI movie for the Media Development Authority in Singapore called, Sing to the Dawn. Based upon a book, he wrote the screenplay and was then asked to direct it. The studio he co-founded, pasi, is giving him some time to work on this outside venture and contributing some consulting talent as well. Raintree Pictures is the other partner on the movie, being produced at Silicon Illusions, by a group of young kids Saperstein says hes really enjoying working with.

His home studio, pasi, recently completed a 13-epsiode Flash series, Lifes a Bitch, an adult series for Oxygen network in the U.S. and Comedy Network in Canada. The studio has also been busy with service work on Telemaginations Heidi film and did the first Leapfrog home videos for PorchLight Entertainment. His studio has undergone a $500,000 renovation, upgrading the electrical and technical infrastructure and is going into Flash production heavily, as well as doing gaming content for cell phones.

While NATPE attendance is still notably down from five years ago, Saperstein said its considered quite important for visibility. If youre not here, youre not in the game, according to Saperstein. With the demise of syndicated television in the U.S., NATPE has evolved to more of an opportunity to network and stay in touch with people, he said.

AWNs Nicole Feenstra checks in with Monster!s Andrew Fitzpatrick, who launched Kids Ten Commandments at the indie lounge.

AWNs Nicole Feenstra checks in with Monster!s Andrew Fitzpatrick, who launched Kids Ten Commandments at the indie lounge.

Andrew Fitzpatrick, chairman of Monster! Dist., was happily ensconced at the indie lounge, having just recently acquired a new animation series from TLC Entertainment in association with SMEC Media and RichCrest Animation, Kids Ten Commandments. The five-part animated series featuring the voiceover talent of Emmy-Award and Tony winning actors including Peter Strauss, Tim Curry, Jodi Benson and Tom Bosley. Combining 3D and 2D, the series is designed to communicate the importance of the Bibles Ten Commandments.

His other programming highlights at NATPE included animated shorts Harvie Krumpet, the Oscar-winning short film narrated by Geoffrey Rush; Hermie: A Common Caterpillar, from U.S.-based GlueWorks Entertainment; The Lost Little Caterpillar, from Iceland-based Caoz Entertainment and Ape, a half-hour model animation from Dublin-based Treasure Entertainment as well as animated series Give Up Yer Aul Sins, based on and including the Oscar-nominated short and animated feature film, Dominator.

Sales stories and successes still happen at NATPE. Las Vegas is associated more with good luck than lost fortunes. All around Vegas hotels were signs and decorations celebrating the start of the Chinese New Year (as gambling is a favorite Asian pastime), 2004 being the Year of the Monkey. It seemed by sheer coincidence many of the shows being presented were monkey-themed or at least had a monkey character.

But is was no coincidence that a Japanese investment group gave the go-ahead and funding to realize Christopher Turners 13-year dream of producing Avenging Apes of Africa, which centers around a musical group of apes who deliver concerts and adventures in countries around the world.

It happened during his first meeting at NATPE. Turner, and his Grace Animation Studios Inc. in Kentucky, got the funding for 26 shows episodes. You cant beat that, he exclaimed, I was ready to go home after that. But now the work accelerates as they ready it to start production in June to get a something to show at MIPCOM for an early 2005 release. Avenging Apes still needs to find a distributor for the U.S. and the rest world (except Japan).

The Japanese group contacted him based upon a trade advertisement he took out at MIPCOM. After checking out materials he sent, the meeting was set at NATPE 2004 to close the deal. The message of the show really appealed to them, Turner said, especially since the monkey concept and characters would translate well to the Asian market. The power and luck associated with Chinese astrology is very real to Asian countries. Turner said he was positive the timing and monkey theme of the new year determined the deal now.

Christopher Turner (inset) found Japanese funding for his 13-year project Avenging Apes of Africa. The deal started at MIPCOM and was sealed at NATPE.

Christopher Turner (inset) found Japanese funding for his 13-year project Avenging Apes of Africa. The deal started at MIPCOM and was sealed at NATPE.

Grace has set up a production company in Newhall, California (just outside Los Angeles), under the guidance of animator Bill Hudson, to do the pre-production, cast and record it and do post. The animation will most likely go to the production company in Japan, theyre busy working on the numbers. Some of the music will be done in Kentucky. Were writing lots of songs now, he said. The music is aimed at pre-teens, 6-12.

Were contacting record labels too, and have people on board who are involved in the music industry, working out a deal to help produce the music. In each episode, the ape band does a benefit concert to help raise money for a cause in that country and encourages kids to help out the cause as well. In each country, the apes help to expose and catch villain, which is a poacher going after an endangered animal. The apes and kids rally to help save that animal native to that country.

NATPE newbie and recent startup, The Serenada Group, was busy showing its Emily Goes Wild, a book property about a monkey that fosters better understanding about pets and wild animals with a portion of the proceeds dedicated to helping zoos throughout the U.S.

The Serenata Group a full service, brand development company in New York City dedicated to managing, introducing and developing quality properties thinks cause-related marketing is what will be hot for 2004. Suk Lee, managing partner for Serenata was on hand at NATPE, testing the waters for two properties with cause-related marketing Serenata established for their clients.

Its been a long time since Ben & Jerrys ice cream and Paul Newmans salad dressings first made headlines by donating profits to good causes, said Lee. But its getting hot again. Smart marketers are finding out that there is a whole new generation of customers out there who are newly attracted to the concept. For certain properties, its exactly the right way to go.

Star Farm, another new company and NATPE neophyte, doesnt feature a monkey in its Edgar & Ellen property, but promises to raise monies for creativity-related causes for children throughout the world and give ownership to the creative team on each of its project.

Creativity as a cause and giving back to kids are the goals of Star Farm, according to Patricia Lindsay, co-founder/ceo of a new childrens entertainment company, who stopped in at NATPE in Las Vegas on her way to Los Angeles to sell sponsorships and get underwriters for their enterprise, as well as line up a production partner. She and Diana Sokol, who handles pr, were scoping NATPE to check out the competition and get an idea of whats coming out.

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Star Farms Edgar & Ellen, based on a six book series, plans to make a big screen premier on IMAX later this year before appearing in other media.

Star Farm began working on its first fully developed property, Edgar & Ellen, in August of 2002. Edgar & Ellen has been designed as a six-book series set for publication in seven languages in 66 countries; the Website (www.edgarandellen.com) receives regular traffic from 122 countries (September 2003 launch); a co-production and distribution deal for a 2004/2005 IMAX film release is near completion while Star Farm seeks to solidify co-production and distribution relationships for a syndicated newspaper page, broadband features, a TV series and a feature film, as well as licensing relationships.

The story arch has been developed with input from kids over the Internet. It was the children who decided that Edgar and Ellen would be a couple of latchkey kids the parents somehow are absent allowing the characters greater freedom and story possibilities.

The series of books takes on and involves kids in subjects such as songwriting, poetry, travel writing and keeping a journal. In Rare Beast, Edgar and Ellen dress up the towns pets and try to sell them back as exotic animals. A teachers guide accompanies each book as well.

Aha Studios in Wisconsin and Eyetoons in Chicago did the initial animation, available on the Website.

Often times TV shows are written by adults imagining what would entertain kids about a culture in a country, said Lindsay. If the story takes place in India, adults usually turn it into a magic carpet ride adventure at the Taj Mahal. Instead, Star Farms asks kids from that country what would be a likely setting and event to take place that is much more localized and accurate to todays culture.

Their data is tracked by country, then a percentage of the royalties will be given to each country to fund a creativity cause. Star Farm is using a corporate culture marketing group in the U.K. to manage and administrate this.

A new company monkeying around on the floor was B*FRIEND Animation (www.bfriendaniation.com), a group of primarily former Nicktoons Studios animators who have struck out on their own in Burbank, California, offering 2D and 3D work for hire, as well as a portfolio of original properties. The logo for the company is a monkey, which may give it a lucky push as the new company gets launched during the Year of the Monkey. The NATPE newbies had pulled together a booth, a flyer and cards to hand out (as well as candies, always a good ploy for visitors), but did not do any advance marketing to drive traffic to its stand. The co-owners Joe Daniello, Louie del Carmen and Steve Ressel were enjoying themselves and getting some notice in the uncrowded hall.

Eat Your Lunch brought its new live-action and animated musical series for the eight and under crowd, titled BZOTS, to NATPE. Attendees could check out the first two episodes and the first CD, as well as be greeted by the eight-foot-tall, walk-around costume character of the guitar-playing robot, Skree.

About 30% of the visitors to our booth thought Skree was fully animatronic, said EYL president Dave Skwarczek, Actually, his mouth and lights are all that are remote-controlled. Im sure the illusion was enhanced by our pal Matt, who was sitting in the booth doing the voice and the RC. My favorite quote was from a woman walking by and talking on a cell phone, You HAVE to see this robot! I thought it was a guy in a costume until I saw the person in back of him with a remote control!

Hailing from the factories of Globocrud, Bzots are a trio of colorful robots that have chosen to follow their dreams of becoming a band rather than follow their programmed orders to build Globocruds vast array of consumable consumer products. Each episode covers a chapter in the lives of Bzots, offering little life lessons presented through skit and song by live-action characters in animated environments. The main characters are costumes shot on bluescreen with live actors. The costumes were created by Total Fabrication (www.totalfab.com) in North Hollywood, California, and the remote-controlled animatronics were added by Solid Corp. in Wheaton, Illinois.

The keying, compositing, virtual camera and backgrounds are done by the team of Martin Baumgaertner, Jeremiah Morehead, Chris ODowd and Liz Sung at Angle Park in Chicago. The backgrounds are usually elaborate composites created from dozens of manipulated still photos. They sort of come off as flat planes in a 3D environment, which was exactly the look I was going for, said Skwarcaek. Everything was created in After Effects using its rather rudimentary 3D capabilities to establish the 2D/3D style.

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Frantic Films, best known for creating the dramatic opening visual effects sequence on the feature film, Swordfish, attends NATPE to meet or catch up with people and companies it produces with, get together with key broadcasters, look for service work and get out of the cold in Canada, according to Jamie Brown, ceo/exec producer for the vfx company headquartered in Winnipeg with offices in Santa Monica, California and Vancouver.

Frantic devotes numerous resources to research and development. These continuous efforts, with the support of the government of Canadas prestigious National Research Council, has led to the release of proprietary software Frantic offers for sale to vfx producers. One is FLOOD, which does liquid simulation and was presented as a paper at Katherine Kaufman of Televix reports the company has strong business ties with Japan and Latin America.

Katherine Kaufman of Televix reports the company has strong business ties with Japan and Latin America.

CDC (www.cdcun.com) was at NATPE, meeting with clients at its suite in the Venetian with animated offerings from French producer Futukiron and Sesame Workshop. CDC specializes in selling shows and movies to Latin America. While it has a varied portfolio to this territory most of the other distributors selling animation to the Americas have come to rely heavily on anime.

Latin American broadcasters now want anime, according to Daniel Rodriguez, vp at Xystus, a four-year-old distribution company based in Pembroke Pines, Florida. The former Locomotion exec, Rodriguez, said traditional American animation had become very bland and predictable to these markets. Latin American buyers want cheaper shows with more violence and action. Movies do well, especially B movies. They ask, do you have anything where people get killed? said Rodriguez.

Animation tends to be stripped on weekdays in the afternoons, usually around 5:00 or 6:00 pm. So the distributor needs enough new episodes to go the distance, say 52-112, according to Rodriguez. When there are money problems in a market, the first thing stations cut is kids programming because its easier to cell CPMs on primetime.

Rodriguez guesstimates the most animation is sold and broadcast in Honduras then Mexico (which has a 24-hour animation channel, Channel 5), followed by Brazil and Venezuela. Territories like Puerto Rico wouldnt have any animation or kids programming if there werent FCC minimum requirements, he said.

Xystus (www.xystus.net) is also selling anime shows to Hispanic channels in the U.S. and buys its anime directly from Japan.

Televix (www.televix.com) deals directly to Japan to build its anime library, with the exception of representing the tremendous 4Kids library to Latin America. CEO Hugo Rose has built strong relationships with broadcasters there with companies like TV Tokyo, TBS and ShoPro, according to Televix vp Katherine Kaufman. The Los Angeles-based distributor, founded 12 years ago, is developing a merchandising business, and will be using licensing/merchandising agents.

The Latin American distributors grouped together in corridors of the Venetian Hotel, instead of the convention floor. Also in the Venetian was George Caravias, ceo of face2face animation, showing some amazing demonstrations of their work in his hospitality suite. Imagine having your favorite song sung to you by an animated rendition of the performer on your cell phone. Well, they can do it, quite efficiently in 3D. There are plenty of other imaginative and potential programming uses for this technology that is well worth checking into.

Canamedia Productions journeyed to NATPE 2004, looking to acquire more animation, especially anime for adults. Warren Campbell, North American sales & acquisitions, attended as the firms representative. The Canadian distributor said participants kept pitching him kids programming so hell continue his search for adult programming at MIP-TV.

Mark Bannon, DandG Licensing, Llc. brought Davey and Goliath series to NATPE. Its receiving a big push from a new licensing agreement with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Mark Bannon, DandG Licensing, Llc. brought Davey and Goliath series to NATPE. Its receiving a big push from a new licensing agreement with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

TV France International (TVFI) is counting on the incipient economic recovery in the television industry to increase the number of French productions sold to Latin America and North America, the two major markets represented at NATPE, where French productions are bought for their quality, diversity and volume. The United States is the sixth largest consumer of French programs and Frances fourth largest co-production and pre-sales partner, reports TVFI, an organization that promotes TV producers in France.

Companies represented at the TVFI stand are Adventure Line Productions, Antefilms International/France Animation, Arte France, ASP, CNDP/Sceren, Eclair Laboratoire, Europe Images, International/M5, Fashion TV, France Television Distribution, INA, M6 D.A., Mediametrie/Eurodata TV, Pathe International, Sacha Productions, TF1 International and Upside TV.

The new TVFI Website, www.tvfrance-intl.com, hosts information on 20,000 program and 160 member-companies, 1,500 video excerpts, and 150 full-length videos in English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.

Exhibiting on the convention floor was the Academy of Art College (www.academyart.edu), founded in Santa Francisco in 1929, seeking to make industry connections for its many film/TV and animation graduates as well as offer re-training for the increasing ranks of downsized, agized U.S. television workforce.

Exhibiting at NATPE for the first time was VIZ Llc., chose to take a suite at the Bellagio Hotel, away from the noise and foot traffic to present its slate of shows to U.S. buyers in more serene conditions.

Founded in 1982, VIZ is a multimedia entertainment company specializing in Japanese entertainment properties for U.S. audiences. VIZ offers an integrated product line including magazines, graphic novels, theatrical releases, videos, DVDs, merchandise and audio soundtracks.

In a booth, your message can be lost, said Liza Coppola, vp of marketing for VIZ. It helps us have a more focused, personal setting. She said buyers were quite willing to make the trek to their hotel, especially to get acquainted. She said NATPE, like Toy Fair is changing, becoming a place where people try to catch up, not to do deals.

A show they are especially pushing is Hikaru No Go, (75x30, produced by Pierrot), based on the popular comic book series centered around the game of GO from creator Yumi Hotta (a Japanese housewife), and artist Takeshi Obata. Other offerings included: Saikano, Ranma 1/2 and Maison Jkkoku.

In its debut as a NATPE exhibitor, Playhut Entertainment, the entertainment and programming subsidiary of toy manufacturer Playhut Inc., introduced buyers to Chinamation, five new series featuring the distinctive artistic style of Chinas top independent animators. and premiered the pilot episode of its first animated pre-school series, Little Signz. The company had a bright red, lively booth on the convention floor with some of the few walkaround costume characters seen at the entire convention.

Playhuts branded Chinamation properties are Decheng, Way of the Warriors, Little Monk, Mighty Bunch and Bird Island.

Brian Yu Zheng, Playhut Ent. founder/president, said he was, excited about introducing this new wave of animation style, Chinamation, to attendees and buyers at NATPE 2004. This innovative and unique style is certain to attract audiences who enjoy animated programming, and our series reflect a diversity of themes that will appeal to a universal audience.

Another participant working out of the indie lounge was David Wollos, partner of Entertainment Media Consultants, representing a number of properties b at NATPE, including the animation catalog for TeleImages in France. TeleImages properties include: Jules Vernes Amazing Journeys, Normal Normal, The Roken Puppet, The Poisoned Present, Loulou, A Gift For Selim, The Moneybox Angel and Seaside Hotel.

His other properties, all based on books included: Barnaby, Snarly Sally, Sunn, Jag, The Snowpeeps of Pine Tree Grove, Sammytown, Monstrum, Natural Forces, Pig William Perfect Pigs! and Crashed!

Zoo Revue creator Barbara Atlas (inset) presented the New Zoo Revue, a 3D version of the series from the 70s.

Zoo Revue creator Barbara Atlas (inset) presented the New Zoo Revue, a 3D version of the series from the 70s.

It was a trip down memory lane and cherished childhood memories as the 80+ creator of Zoo Revue, Barbara Atlas, worked the ValCom Inc. booth on the floor, presenting the 3D animation series, New Zoo Revue. The original people-in-suits series debuted in syndication in the U.S. in 1971 and reached more than 100 million viewers.

Vince Vellardita and Barbara Atlas are co-exec producing the project with Dotan Koskas serving as animation producer and co-production partner O Atlas Enterprises. The musical show follows the adventures of Charlie the Owl, Henrietta Hippo, Freddie the Frog, Freeda the Frog and humans like Mr Dingle, Doug and Emmy-Jo.

Other exhibitors and offerings included:

  • Carlton Intl with The Island of Inis Cool and Pocoyo

  • Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI) with Astro Boy and Cyborg 009

  • National Film Board of Canada (NFB) with Noël Noël

  • TVS with the English language version Cloud Trotters

  • Mike Young Prods. with Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks, Toddworld, Pet Alien, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Cubix, Tama and Friends, Fighting Foodons and Dive Olly Dive!
  • Alliance Atlantis with Poko, Peep & The Big Wide World, Connie the Cow and Henrys World

  • Jack Frost Prods. with The Tale of Jack Frost

  • Buena Vista International Television offered Disneys Dave the Barbarian

  • Cybergraphix Animation had Guardians Of Luna, The Infinite Darcy, The Blood Jaguar, Myth House and Nigel

  • DIC Entertainment (DIC) brought four Strawberry Shortcake specials, two Sabrina, The Teenage Witch series and Stan Lees Super 7

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and DandG Licensing, Llc. had Davey and Goliath

  • GDC Entertainment Ltd. Showcased the CGI feature, Thru the Moebius Strip and the Flying Panda series
  • 4Kids Entertainment Inc. had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Winx Club, Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Kirby: Right Back at Ya!

Chris Bartleman, co-founder of Studio B in Vancouver, worked NATPE from the Canadian Pavilion. He had just signed a deal with Classic Media in New York to produce a pre-school animated Lassie series and is also doing George of the Jungle from Classics library. His studio is in the process of re-designing and updating it to launch at MIPCOM and air in fall 2005.

Studio B also recently sold Yakkity Yak, its co-production with Australias Kapow Pictures, to Nickelodeon channels in the U.S., UK, Australia, Latin America and Europe. New original series for NATPE included P.U. Kung Fu, 52x11 episodes of high-flying kung-fu fun in development with YTV; Class Of The Titans, 26x22 episodes of action and comedy in development with TELETOON; and Flakes, 52x11 episodes in development with The Family Channel Canada featuring the good-natured and loveable Pellet as he snaps, crackles and pops through life in a town made up of breakfast-themed locations and characters.

Studio B is concentrating on making TV shows and building its library. Eventually well take our baby steps into licensing and merchandising, he said. You have to, thats where the real money is.

Bartleman said he heard that buyers at NATPE are looking for relationship action/comedy programming and not just for boys, which is fortunate since he sees character-driven, relationship shows as his studios main thrust.

Sagely advice from Bartleman offered to sell a show or become a successful diverse business is: Listen. Listen to broadcasters, distributors, pay attention to what the world wants. You cant develop a show in the vacuum; you always have to be aware of what the world wants. You have to work with your clients. You cant just do your thing. That doesnt mean you roll over and be a doormat. You cant just be the be all and end all of creative and they have to buy it.

Bartleman said his studio has grown so successfully by working with and paying attention to great broadcasters. Youve got to realize these people have been doing this for a long time and they know what in the hell theyre talking about, he said. I can draw circles around them, but they know more about writing.

Listening. Thats what makes you evolve. Thats what makes the shows better. Thats how youre going to learn, if you work with other people and other viewpoints.

Listening is the key to creativity, said Bartleman.

The organizers of NATPE certainly listened to prior complaints about exhibitors being too spread out amongst hotels and accommodations for participants without booths. With more listening and continued outreach, the market should win back more registrants and exhibitors as the organization continues to re-define its relevance and accommodate the needs of buyers and sellers.

Editors note: For more extensive NATPE animation-related news, check out the final printable special Animation Flash NATPE 2004 newsletter issues, published as Adobe Acrobat pdf files.

NATPE Issue 1

NATPE Issue 2

NATPE Issue 3 - Follow-Up Issue

Sarah Baisley is the editor of Animation World Network.

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