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FITA Angoulême Previews French Animated Features to Come

Peter Plantec explores recent advances in facial animation and crowd simulation software to see how different forms of virtual acting are converging in vfx-driven works.

3-D is one of the many plans discussed to improve sagging box office receipts. All images courtesy of FITA.

3-D is one of the many plans discussed to improve sagging box office receipts. All images courtesy of FITA.

There are currently 10 new feature length films being made in France. No doubt it was this unprecedented state of affairs that impelled the organizers of Angoulêmes International Forum for Animation Technologies ( FITA) to focus its annual conference, Dec. 1-3, 2005, on animated features.This year, FITAs seventh edition benefited from a partnership with the Paris Forum des images. The latter, over several years now, has been developing an original line of programming policy, often targeting younger audiences, and including animation.

It was an opportunity for a good 100 or so of the professionals in attendance for each panel (of whom a large contingent were French, but which also included a number of Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and Americans) to see just how diverse the French feature film scene is. From Grégoire Solotareff and Serge Elissaldes U (produced by Prima Linea) to Arthur et les Minimoys produced and directed by Luc Besson (Europacorps), there are as many differences as exist between a little European feature and an American blockbuster. In Euros, that means budgets ranging from five to 60 million. Bessons film is in fact quite exceptional in the French context, since feature film budgets tend to range from four to 20 million Euros.

It is doubtless this diversity that will have struck the participants, along with another very French particularity: several amongst the 10 have been financed exclusively on home territory, a fact that always surprises other Europeans, who are more used to having to find several overseas partners. Although this choice of working with national partners has its advantages, there remains the drawback that this makes it harder to access other European markets. And it is the case that in Europe, animated films are more dependent on the TV market than their equivalents in Japan and America.

A discussion of the constraints of the French model led to a lively exchange of views between five prominent French producers.

All the French TV channels are required to invest in French cinema, but not all of them are interested in animation. Although France Télévision (which is state funded) often does its bit in terms of animation productions, and although pay TV channel Canal + also invests (in increasingly smaller amounts), other privately owned channels such as M6 and TF1 simply dont get involved at all with feature-length animation. Even more surprising is the Franco-German public channel Artes rather cautious position as regards features. Some of the producers present were heard to regret the fact that this highly cultural channel, which is almost alone in its support for animated short films, has not yet committed to feature films. It should be remembered, however, that Artes resources are relatively limited in terms of feature production.

Amongst the producers attending, one of the most active is Didier Brunner (Les Armateurs, a company which is part of the Carrère group). His credits include Kirikou and the Sorceress and Belleville Rendez-vous. Les Armateurs will shortly release Kirikou and the Wild Beasts in France. The film has had a marketing campaign on a scale unprecedented for an independent animation distributor (producer and distributor Gebeka Films) and hopes to match and improve on the box-office results of the first Kirikou film, which sold more than a million tickets. It will open with 320 prints (compare with the 700-print release of Chicken Little).

The film is visually similar to its predecessor, but made with greater resources; it narrates Kirikous adventures before his confrontation with the sorceress. Michel Ocelot said in Angoulême that he hadnt wanted to make a sequel to Kirikou and that it was at the insistence of both his producer and the general public that he had agreed to undertake the second film. It is about the first of Kirikous adventures. Ocelot is currently putting the final touches to another feature, Azur & Asnar, which is set in a completely different world.

Les Armateurs is also in pre-production on Tomm Moores Brendan and the Secret of Kells and the highly anticipated Roy Lewis adaptation Evolution Man, which will be directed by Pierre Coffin and Darren Walsh using CGI. Another project, Lillusionniste, from an old script by Jacques Tati will be directed by Sylvain Chomet (Belleville Rendez-vous).

(l to r) Andreas Koch (Digital Studio France), Ben Stassen (New Wave International), Dominique Rigaud (Virtuosity), Jerzy Kular (Nayade) and François Garnier (AmaK).

(l to r) Andreas Koch (Digital Studio France), Ben Stassen (New Wave International), Dominique Rigaud (Virtuosity), Jerzy Kular (Nayade) and François Garnier (AmaK).

Other producers present at FITA announced or confirmed projects whose budgets are becoming significantly higher than most of the films produced to date. For the moment, they are all destined to be 3D computer-animated. One example is live-action producer Carole Scotta, who is prepping a CGI film, Piccolo Saxo et Cie (7.5 million Euros), based on the books and records that were hugely popular in France in the 1960s; another is Denis Friedman (Kaena the Prophecy). Coming from the games world, the latter is also working on another heroic fantasy, The Planet of the Winds (12 million Euros). Unlike most of his colleagues, Friedman is doing the rounds with foreign companies, then finally completing his financing in France. With this CGI film hes clearly aiming at the Lord of the Rings audience and is aiming high by collaborating with the Japanese illustrator Amano.Two panel discussions on hybridization also revealed that this modish term has as many interpretations as there were speakers, especially keen to highlight the often justified abilities of their respective studios.

Animation in 3D (in the traditional cinema sense of the term) was represented at FITA with an impressive cohort of Belgian and French specialists, which produced a thorough survey of the state of the art, which is set for yet another comeback, driven by the American project to equip cinemas for 3D to show the 3D versions of the Star Wars trilogy and other films.

Blue Skys Chris Wedge during his presentation.

Blue Skys Chris Wedge during his presentation.

The Ghibli studios, represented by Nonaka Shinsuke and Steve Alpert, Pixar, with Patrick James, and Blue Sky, with Chris Wedge, were also high profile visitors, and their presence allowed for exchanges with some of their French colleagues.It is no coincidence that FITA is held every year in Angoulême. It is here, in this town located in the Poitou-Charentes Region (southwest France) that several French animated features are being made, including productions from les Armateurs and Prima Linea.

Angoulême is, after Paris, the main production center for animation in France. The reason for all this activity can be found in the Pôle Magelis, an economic development program that aims to encourage the establishment and support of businesses and creative talent, setting up appropriate training structures, and research and development. Eight years after Magelis began, it is clear that it has produced results Angoulême, which was already a stronghold of comic strip creation with its annual international festival, has become a major center, and a magnet for French animation.

Philippe Moins is writer and teacher in Belgium, and also co-director of the Brussels Animation Festival ANIMA.