Small Character, Big Plans

The big deal from 2013's Cartoon Connection Canada is Frima and Dupuis teaming up to co-produce 104 animated ‘Petit Poilu’ episodes.

Steve Couture of Frima Studio and Léon Perahia of Dupuis celebrate the signing of their deal at 2013's Cartoon Connection in Quebec City.

At the annual Cartoon Connection Canada conference in Quebec City, animation producers and distributors from Europe, Canada and Latin America gathered in the hopes of finding new potential partners with which to collaborate.  Though most walk away from the four-day event with expanded contact lists, some even manage to finalize game-changing deals. The event, organized by Cartoon and sponsored by MEDIA Mundus, brings together Canadian and European animation professionals in the hopes of fostering co-production, distribution and production servicing deals.

The biggest news to come out of this year’s conference is the announcement that Quebec-based Frima Studio has teamed up with Belgium publishing powerhouse Dupuis to co-produce 104 four-minute episodes for a cartoon series focused on the children’s character Petit Poilu.

The two businesses first began discussing a collaboration exactly one year ago, when they encountered one another at 2012’s Cartoon Connection Canada.  “We had just met for the first time and then we started telling each other, ‘well, we like what you do – what could we do together?’” recalls Pierre Moisan, Frima’s VP of Corporate Strategies.  “[We’d hoped] that an opportunity would come up with Dupuis because they’re so big and they have so many brands,” he says, referring to other recognizable Dupuis names like Lucky Luke and Spirou.  “I went to Belgium for the Spirou 75th anniversary celebration, and then to the Grand Prix in August, and that’s where we started discussing these plans.”

While it’s undecided at this point whether the animated series will be 2D or CG, both parties can confirm it will air in Belgium once animation has been completed roughly a year from now.  In the meantime, they will shop the project around to Canadian networks like CBC, and continue to speak with broadcasters in Italy and France.

The tiny, neon-green clad creature known as Petit Poilu is still a fairly recent arrival in the world of children’s literature.  Created by Céline Fraipont and illustrator Pierre Bailly, Poilu is a hairy tyke who goes on fantastical adventures designed to delight the preschool set.  Though he’s made the transition to store shelves as a plush doll and can also be seen in some animated shorts appearing on YouTube, Frima Co-Founder Steve Couture believes Poilu will successfully translate to other platforms as well.  Aligning with his Quebec-based company, he states, will play a big role in making it happen.

“Here in Quebec, we have the chance to secure different funding when we co-produce a TV show.  If you’re at least a 20% co-producer on a show, you can have access to funds that help produce new media components, which means we can imagine a transmedia product from day one.  Instead of thinking, ‘okay, we’ll produce a little iPhone game once we’ve financed the TV show’, our approach is to think about the connections between the different platforms from the start.”

One of Dupuis’ Petit Poulu comic books.

In addition to working with Dupuis, Frima hopes to build on recent successes and create its own roster of original characters.  “We started as a video game developer and we worked for years with major brands, but always with the intention to work our own brands,” Moisan states.  “We want to have the power, within ourselves, to do the concept art, to do the design, to do the scenarios, to do the synopsis, to do the series and to do transmedia on interconnected platforms, so that’s what we’ve become – a group that has all those capacities.”

As far as Poilu is concerned, Couture is proud to be working on a project that focuses on “the value of respect and tolerance”.  As Moisan explains, the character teaches children “that it’s not because you look good that you are nice, and it’s not because you look bad that you’re bad.”

Of course, a deal of this size means good things for Frima, and both men are proud to see their company’s reputation grow internationally.  “We have an expertise,” Moisan says, “and it’s being acknowledged.  We’re very happy about that.”

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James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.