Marie Beardmore reports on the new faces, deals and technology present at Annecy's MIFA, the festival's business market.
It was the fortieth animation festival at Annecy this year and the tenth MIFA. Annecy stands alone as the place where animation art and business meet, says Vincent Ferri, manager, MIFA. "I'm doing my best to keep the synergy alive. We want to spread the word that Annecy is the only place where all sectors of the industry, the art and the business, are catered for." To this end, he wants to attract more investors, recruiters and directors, to increase both the talent pool and also attract those business people who may not have thought about animation before but now do so. He's particularly keen to attract more UK buyers and investors, who were somewhat thin on the ground this year. Next year, he's planning to keep the various Annecy events separate by issuing gold, silver (MIFA) and Bronze (festival) passes for Annecy, with the gold pass giving access to all areas. This year there was a charge for attending the MIFA which some felt was unfair and as a result didn't go in. Ferri reported strong MIFA numbers overall, though -- 670 companies attending the MIFA, as opposed to 575 last year, although there were less stands at the MIFA than previously. This year's Annecy 2000 event was held amid rumours of an unofficial boycott because of the controversial choice of Roy Disney, Walt's nephew, as honorary chair ("He stands against everything the festival stands for," said a source). Despite this, though, and the close proximity of WAC in LA, which might have affected figures, numbers attending Annecy were over 5,000 for the first time.
There were some new entrants at the MIFA this year as well. For the first time companies from Thailand and Bulgaria were represented. Baltic Films also attended for the first time. The MIFA demonstrated an increased fusion between 2D and 3D; more shows are combining the two to produce innovative programming. Internet start up companies were prevalent, such as Timebox, a new UK animation company established just three months ago, which is one of a number of fast growing European animation companies that are taking advantage of the Flash technology to create animations quickly. Timebox made its debut appearance at Annecy this year and was pleased with the response they got in the marketplace.
In just three months of operation Timebox has created three shows: Millie Mop, Girl Uninterruptable-- 12 x 1 minutes for young adults about a girl who tells you exactly what she thinks, all of the time -- and The Bet, which is based on the short story by Anton Chekhov, and is a short film based on two men's disagreement over capital punishment which ends in tragedy. A third series is Dogho, a series about a dog who hates football and is always been dragged to watch it. All three shows have been built in Flash, which, says Sherif Choudry, producer, has meant they could be established quickly. A few years ago, Choudry, who has a business and computer background, says he wouldn't have attempted to build an animation company, but because of Flash has been able to seize the opportunity to work in a different industry. The components of Timebox are Choudry, who provides the overall business strategy, Anuk Teasdale, writer, and director, Mike Brand.
Timebox hopes to syndicate the Flash animations to short form entertainment specialists such as Atom Films, but they are also creating long form animation based on the folk tales of the world. The latter was the post-graduate subject for the company's writer/author, Teasdale, so there are literally hundreds of projects in the pipeline. Director Brand is of East European descent and this shows in his work, which has a distinct look and feel that is typically from that region. The company is now looking for investment from a third party to continue its expansion. It is also interested in providing service work, pre-production and Flash animation, and is willing to discuss ideas with creatives who want to see their work on screen.
The MIFA is a good place to make announcements. TV4, a new three-way venture between Chatsworth Television, Flicks' Films and the post-production house, VTR, launched at the Annecy market. TV4 is a children's animation, production, distribution and licensing house. The company will specialize in animation for younger children and already has four projects on the go. These first offerings have a combined budget of £5 million (US$8 million).
Malcom Heyworth, director of Chatsworth, says he is excited to be part of the new group, which he believes has great potential. "Now the three companies are combined, we have the perfect combination to succeed in successful children's properties," he said. The first offerings from the new outfit are: Kidding Around(65 x 5') which feature kids' jokes and Space Lunies, starring a group of characters living in outer space on the Big Planet and a few smaller ones nearby. Other shows are Busy Buses and The Adventures of Battersea, for 4-8 year-olds.
The job fair gives animators around the globe a chance to find out what's happening in the world of animation. Courtesy of Annecy. © Odile Jacquot/NBC.
French company Alphanim was at the MIFA to promote and launch its new Web venture, Verysmallcity.com -- an online animation channel featuring original animation but also taking the idea of community and moving the chatroom on a step. Christian Davin, CEO, says: "It is important that French producers get involved in Web activities. Verysmallcity.com will be a new way to showcase programmes and will allow French companies to seize the initiative." The new outfit will have six channels, which will include original animation with a plan to have 12 original short series a year. Companies already involved in the venture include Anabase, A Vue d'Oeil, Atelier Sanzot, ToutenKartoon, Turaregs, Studio Anime and Zook Media.
The MIFA is also a great place to promote software and many companies were on site demonstrating their wares. Softimage held court demonstrating its new Toonz package, which had an overwhelming response at the MIFA, said a spokesperson. "We felt it was time to put more emphasis on features and so we've developed this new version keeping in mind the feedback of our installer base of more than 1,700," said Claudio Mattei, managing director, digital video. Toonz 4.4 allows animators to edit, paint and composite through one package.
So while the weather was wonderful in the Alps there were plenty of reasons to be inside MIFA's stuffy tents. From technology to new companies, faces and announcements, MIFA had a little something for everyone.
Marie Beardmore is an U.K.-based freelance writer who specializes in writing and consulting on the animation industry. She has just written a report on the Global Animation business for Channel 21 magazine.