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Cartoon Boom For Irish Animation Sector

The Irish animation industry has had an excellent year and the most recent success has been the selection of the Irish animated feature film THE UGLY DUCKLING AND ME, for the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place next month. It will screen as part of the Sprockets Family Zone, which is dedicated to featuring films that represent the best in contemporary international childrens cinema.

Produced by Magma Film with funding from the Irish Film Board, THE UGLY DUCKLING AND ME will also be seen by audiences all over the world when it is released in cinemas later this year. The film has already secured sales in 23 countries in Europe and South America. Magma Films has also produced THE UGLY DUCKLING AND ME TV series (26x23), which will be broadcast in Ireland by RTE. It is already being broadcast in Denmark and will start to screen in Germany and France before the end of the year.

Additionally, Brown Bags animated TV series I'M AN ANIMAL (52x2) has already sold to 15 international broadcasters including Nickelodeon U.K., Asia and Benelux, National Geographic in Latin America and other broadcasters in Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and the Middle East. All of these territories have already sold by Monster Distributes before the official launch of the series at the television market MIP Junior, Cannes in October this year. Based on the success of this series, Brown Bag are now launching a pilot of IM A DINOSAUR at MIP Junior this October which they hope will meet with similar success.

"Irish animation is now highly regarded on the international stage for producing award-winning films that are independently financed and made with great innovative skill. The Irish Film Board has been investing in Irish animators for the last ten years and has developed a large number of animation series with them. Were delighted to see these projects attracting international financiers and broadcasters and ultimately reaching international audiences, said Simon Perry, chief exec, Bord Scannán na hÉireann/ the Irish Film Board.

There was also a strong Irish presence at the Cartoon Forum last year. Cartoon Forum is one of the most important markets for the animation industry, where production companies have an opportunity to pitch their projects to more than 250 major international financiers. Six major animated Irish TV series were pitched at the forum.

FLUFFY GARDENS (39x7), produced by Monster Animation was one of these projects and has already pre-sold to Australia, the U.K. and RTE. Directed by Jason Tammemagi FLUFFY GARDENS is still only at the production stage and more sales offers are expected on completion of the project. U.K. distributor Target Ent. will be selling the project at MIP Junior in Cannes this year.

Another Irish project WOBBLYLAND received a standing ovation from the audience at the Cartoon Forum and was developed with funding from the Irish Film Board by the Oscar-nominated company Brown Bag Films. Due to its success at the Forum, Nickelodeon and HIT Ent. have invested in the project and production will start in the Autumn. WOBBLYLAND was created by Cat Little as her graduate film from the Dun Laoghaire Film School and she is now set to direct the series.

There are more Irish projects lined up for Cartoon Forum this year, which takes places next month. Amongst Irish companies attending are Kaveleer Prods., which will present GARTH, an adventure show which features the brother and sister team of Garth and Bev, as a couple of time traveling kids who visit famous historical figures each week. The series is 52x5 and features the music of Kila and the voice talents of Ruth Negga and Morgan Jones. Kaveleer productions have recently grown from a staff of four animators to forty.

Ikandi Prods. will also be presenting JOE & JACK, a 26x5 animation series for Channel 5 in the U.K. and TG4. The series is aimed at the pre-school audience and is about two armchair thrill seekers who would like to conquer the world if they werent such scaredy-cats. The series will be directed by Corina Askin and was developed with funding from the Irish Film Board.

With more than an estimated 300 full-time and freelance animators working in the Irish animation sector, the industry is actually bigger than it was when the Sullivan Bluth U.S. animation studio was based in Ireland during the early 1990s. However, now Irish animators are creating their own indigenous projects and raising their own finance from international broadcasters, rather than working on projects created by a U.S. studio.

Cartoon Saloon, the Kilkenny-based animation studio, is employing 250 animators, working on various projects including a major animated feature film BRENDAN AND THE SECRET OF KELLS and their TV series SKUNK FU. Other successful Irish animation companies include Telegael, Jam Media, Barley Films, Caboom, Del 9 and Boulder Media.

Aidan Hickey, who sits on the board of CARTOON, the organization that runs Cartoon Forum, said, Its been a constant concern for the Board of CARTOON that only producers from the big three France, Germany, the U.K. could secure funding for their projects at the Cartoon Forum. But, ever since Cartoon Saloon presented Skunk Fu at the Cartoon Forum in 2003, this has changed. At a Board meeting after the 2005 Forum, I suggested that other small countries might emulate the success of the Irish studios An experienced Producer from one of the big three shook his head and said, Ah yes but the Irish have talent extraordinary talent. Its fair to conclude that, building on what was learned from the Americans in the 80s and early 90s, our animators have created a really strong base for themselves within Europe.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
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