Bob Swain and Ron Diamond travel to Girona for Cartoon Forum 2007, chronicling the latest in European TV animation and the winner of this year's Cartoon d'Or.
Cartoon Forum staged its 18th annual outing in September with over 800 participants gathering in the northern Spanish city of Girona. A unique event in the world of animation, the Forum moves around Europe year by year and in 2008 will open its doors in Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Established in order to help European animation producers compete on the international stage, it provides an opportunity for them to unveil new television projects currently in development and attract interest from potential broadcasters, investors and co-producers.
Projects are selected in advance to fill the 60 presentation slots available over a three-day period. Producers then get 40 minutes to sell their concept to a theatre filled with potential collaborators. This year's top five in terms of numbers attending were: Oops -- Noah Is Gone, Magma Films (Ireland), Sally Bollywood, Téléimages Kids (France); How To Drive Everybody Crazy, TeamTo S.A.S. (France); Little J, Aardman Animations (UK); and The Bunjies, Studio Film Bilder (Germany).
Magma Films are Cartoon Forum regulars with a new project presented for each of the past 13 years. The latest series stars a cast of animals left behind when Noah sailed off in his ark -- which means these are like no animals you have ever seen before.
"We all sometimes feel like we have missed the boat so I think there is a high degree of personal identification with this project," says Magma CEO Ralph Christians of the proposed 26x26 series.
"We are planning both a feature film and a series -- just as we did with Ugly Duckling and Me with A Film and Futurikon, and the project we pitched last year, Bug Muldoon. The Irish Film Board is already on board for the feature film, so we are well ahead in development.
"The feature is like a classic western where the animals have to cross from the East Coast to the West and have a lot of adventures along the way. The series is more in the High Noon style that is frozen in time."
Sally Bollywood is a 52x13 junior detective story in a beautiful Bollywood style from successful French producer Téléimages Kids. It aims at a six-to-nine age group and stars the daughter of a famous detective in Little Bombay who sets up her own investigation agency to solve cases for other kids.
How To Drive Everybody Crazy comes from French CGI studio TeamTo. The 52x4 series for six- to nine-year-olds was presented together with distribution partner Tom Van Waveren of Cake Ent.
Little J brought together two great British brands in the shape of Aardman Animations and Fresh One Productions -- home of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. The 52x11 Flash animation series is a madcap version of the childhood of the young Oliver, who will voice the series.
"A couple of years ago we were approached by Jamie Oliver, who wanted to come and see us about an idea for an animation series. We said we'd love to collaborate on something that helped kids have a more positive attitude towards food," says Aardman producer Helen Brunsdon.
Oliver's fame as a television chef has grown massively since he began a campaign on childhood nutrition with his show School Dinners, which resulted in major policy changes by the British government.
"He is a huge international personality-led brand," says Fresh One producer Zoe Collins.
"Jamie is really committed to doing something about children and nutrition. We all agreed that we wanted to make a children's program that tackled issues of food, but we knew that first and foremost it had to be entertaining. If it didn't engage and keep children committed, then it would make no difference. We knew we would have to find the right partner and to our delight we got together with Aardman, who really embody the values we were looking for."
The Bunjies was perhaps the surprise hit of the week. The 26x26 show about a junior rock band had been allocated the smallest room available. But a tremendous trailer ensured it was standing room only and organizers had to ask producers to leave in order to make room for broadcasters waiting in line outside. The signs are good for a successful series.
Another of the most popular sessions was Tinga Tinga Tales from leading British producer Tiger Aspect. The 52x11 series collects African folk tales on the origins of all the animals and combines these with powerful designs drawn from the Tinga Tinga traditions of East Africa. And to ensure authenticity, Tiger Aspect has set up a studio in Nairobi, Kenya to animate the series. A commission is already in place from the BBC, and Disney and Nickelodeon have both expressed interest.
"Artwork was hand-colored in Nairobi and then scanned into the computer," says animation director Richard Jeffrey.
"This is where the design process really starts. The designers then separate the characters into the parts needed to make them move -- arms, legs, mouth, heads. We then give a printed template of all these body parts back to the Tinga Tinga artists and they design them. Finally these parts are used to make a skeleton -- a puppet for the animators to work with. Everything is hand-painted, from the backgrounds to all the animal parts, to the tiniest insects.
"We went out there to set up the studio, train the guys in Cel Action and come back with two minutes of animation -- all in eight weeks. There really is a wealth of talent out there -- both from a creative and a technical point of view. These guys are so keen and competent that within two weeks of intense training we had a studio up and running and were producing the same amount of animation in a week as the animators on Charlie and Lola. In the end we came back with a totally completed film."
A number of Cartoon Tributes are made at the Forum to the top broadcaster, distributor and producer of the year as voted by the participants. This year an additional Tribute of Honour was presented to Spanish producer Claudio Biern Boyd.
The broadcaster and distributor awards went to local Catalan companies Televisio de Catalunya and Luk International. When it came to the producer of the year, delegates gave a standing ovation to legendary British producer John Coates of TVC, which this year celebrated its 50th anniversary.
But not content to retire gracefully, Coates was back at the Forum looking to follow up on past successes such as Yellow Submarine, The Snowman, Wind In The Willows and Grandpa. This year he was seeking collaborators to make a beautiful half-hour TV special based on the book Stefan and the Lost Dove by Eliane Wilson. The project is to be directed by Pat Gavin and French company Millimages is also on board.
"I always feel that for those of us who make commercial films, it is important to make something as poetic and beautiful as this. I think it is important that we continue to make half-hour specials in Europe -- which are rare things but I think they are part of our culture. So hopefully we will find the broadcasters because I think it will be marvelous," says Millimages chairman Jonathan Peel.
The Cartoon d'Or 2007 was awarded to British director Luis Cook for his short film The Pearce Sisters, selected as a finalist after winning the Jury's Special Prize at Annecy. Cook is a graduate of London's Royal College of Art and has worked at Aardman Animations since 1994.
The Cartoon d'Or was established in 1991 as a supreme annual prize for European animation -- only films that have already won a major prize during the course of the year can be considered for nomination. The four other films on this year's short list were Life Line by Tomek Ducki (Hungary), Peter and the Wolf by Suzie Templeton (UK), The Irresistible Smile by Ami Lindholm (Finland) and t.o.m. by Tom Brown and Daniel Gray (U.K.).
Bob Swain is an animation scriptwriter based at Sidewinder Films in the U.K. He has attended every edition of Cartoon Forum since it began in 1990.
Ron Diamond is the president of AWN and the owner of animation production house Acme Filmworks.