Animation World Magazine, Issue 3.2, May 1998
In Peril: France's 3-D Industry
by Georges Lacroix
Editor's Note: As we reported last month, Fantôme, one of France's premiere producers of 3-D animation, is facing the possibility of closing its doors. Georges Lacroix, President and Founder of Fantôme, alerts Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry, and Mrs. Catherine Trautmann, Minister of Culture and Communication, to a national problem in his open letter to them.
An Open Letter
To Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry and to Mrs. Catherine Trautmann, Minister of Culture and Communication:
France, during the debate over AMI [The Multilateral Accord on Investment, which has been in negotiation since 1995, will constitute a framework for international investments and will include high standards of liberalization and protection of an investment, as well as a mechanism to solve controversies. It will be applicable to all forms of investments made worldwide by investors from any party or country. The complete AMI text is available on-line at www.monde-diplomatique.fr/md/dossiers/ami/plan.html], became one of the countries fighting to protect its cultural identity and its ability to express itself freely through creative and independent productions.
There is a creative world evolving that deserves your attention, one where the animation and special effects of French companies has great potential.
So, what's the use of this struggle over AMI if these companies are deprived of the means to develop and make their mark in an environment unfavorable to their growth?
"In the future, all animated films will be made in 3-D and we'll only use 2-D for aesthetic or artistic reasons."
This prophetic statement by Bran (sic) Ferren (Walt Disney Imagineering) was not meant to repudiate traditional animation, which is still widely enjoyed, but to confirm the importance of emerging imaging technologies in the information age, and in the areas of communication, entertainment, education, training, virtual reality, etc.
France, the pioneer in the invention of cinema thanks to the Lumière brothers, of special effects thanks to Georges Méliès, and of animation thanks to Emile Reynaud and Emile Cohl, can't ignore this prophesy.
Today's pioneers and inventors express themselves thanks to the mastery of new digital processes.
There needs to be a rapprochement of the spheres of culture, communication, industry, telecommunications and, of course, finance and economy to ensure the growth of enterprises specializing in new imaging technologies. This sector is expanding on an international level and that means French jobs, cultural heritage and exports.
Insektors © Fantome
In the last years, the government's lack of awareness of this sector's potential has lead to the demise of several firms and to more entrepreneurial foreigners taking over innovative projects that were first started in France.
The 3-D animation software Explore, developed by INA and Thomson, has been sold to America's Wavefront. The 2-D animation software Tic-Tac-Toon, has gone to Toon Boom of Canada. Numerous films using these new technologies have had difficulties finding financing and some have had to be abandoned.
Today, let's discuss the fate of Fantôme. Started in 1985, Fantôme was a pioneer in animated television series composed entirely of 3-D imagery, even before Pixar's and Walt Disney's Toy Story broke box office records.
Besides an Emmy, Fantôme has garnered more than 40 international prizes. Programs based in 3-D imagery have been made for varying audiences: Geometric Fables (50 3-minute segments) with Pierre Perret; Insektors (26 13-minute segments) which has sold in 160 countries; and Everyone in Orbit with Nicolas Gessner (260 2-minute segments). Our production partners have included France 3, Canal+, la Cinquième and Disney Channel France.
Currently, financed and soon to be financed 3-D series total 60 million French Francs [roughly $10 million U.S.]. Sales of our library to product derivatives such as VHS video and DVD are being pursued aggressively. With so much activity, Fantôme should be prosperous.
In spite of these creative and productive capabilities, in spite of its project slate, its international reputation, prestige and enormous potential, Fantôme could disappear, along with other firms who can't find the necessary ingredients for growth in France:
- Risk capital and specialized development with industry expertise and the means to invest in leading-edge firms;
- Bullish banks that should be better informed about our jobs;
- An opening in the Ministries of Culture and Industry is needed to take up the financing of programs and the growth of enterprises;
- A National Center of Film with a large enough budget to support content creators working in new imaging technologies;
- Broadcasters encouraged to invest in innovative programs;
An Institute for the Financing of Film and Culture ever mindful of its cultural mission and with the power to support banks seeking to invest in progressive firms and projects.
Insektors © Fantome
Industry professionals and the Union of Film and Animation Producers have undertaken a study about the contribution of new technology on animation and special effects, both on the level of content and form. A slate of propositions will soon be presented to the appropriate ministers.
Professionals in Europe have gotten the attention of Programme Média 2, which has in turn asked its animation division, Cartoon, to draft a report on the measures needed to accompany the development of EEC firms.
French firms have what it takes. The last Imagina Festival in Monte Carlo showed a cavalcade of digital images and special effects as well as spectacular student films. These French enterprises seek to develop and create original content for television series, feature films, and interactive programs in new media.
They must be allowed to enhance the national patrimony and must not be simply service providers for television commercials and prestigious American films.
They have the potential to create ambitious programs capable of reaching international audiences. They could take advantage of improved French education in imaging technology. Centers of education such as Arts Décoratifs, Université de Paris VIII, CFT Gobelins, Adac, SupInfoCom of Valenciennes, the CNBDI of Angoulême, Poitiers and Réunion are of note. Also worth noting would be the dynamism in regions that support animation firms, like in Arles, Montpellier, Valence and Réunion. To keep developing, these schools and regions need to rely on stable industry support.
In the meantime, is there a place in France for leading-edge firms seeking to produce original and ambitious projects in new imaging technologies or will they have to go to other lands like the others before them?
I believe there is a place for them. The government will hear us. Measures announced for the advancement of France in the information and communication age promises growth. I only hope it's not too late.
President and Founder of Fantôme
My Closing Thoughts: A Need for International Cooperation
I believe France has an enormous potential for creative production. Rather than turning away from opportunities, it should structure this nascent industry, relying on the support of Europe, so as to collaborate with the rest of the world on international projects.
Being international today is essential for business, but it does not have to mean losing one's cultural identity.
In the Internet age, nothing would be worse than cultural homogeneity. Everyone benefits from the opportunity of self-expression. Americans know this well; they are always looking for new talent and new artists to thrill us. I have a lot of admiration for what the Americans and the Japanese accomplish. However, we must be aware that these technologies are commonly employed in other countries such as India, Korea, Taiwan, as well as many others.
France must not forget this and I call on it to use all available means to participate in the formidable mosaic of programs going on internationally.
Translated from French by Andy Hadel.
Georges Lacroix is President and Founder of Fantôme.
If you would like to contact the Ministers, you may reach them at:
The Prime Minister: http://www.premier-ministre.gouv.fr
Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry: http://www.finances.gouv.fr/courrier.htm
Mrs. Catherine Trautmann, Minister of Culture and Communication: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/min/services.htm
For more information about Fantôme, visit their website, hosted on AWN or e-mail Georges Lacroix at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
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