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NATPE '97: The Buzz of the Biz!

Jean-Luc Ballester talks how a 1983 government proposal changed the French animation industry and how the major entertainment union used it to improve working conditions for animation artists.

Sky Dancers (Abrams/Gentile & Gaumont),based on the popular girl's toy.

At the National Association of Television Programming Executives (NATPE) convention last month, key television executives from around the world congregated in New Orleans to wheel, deal and negotiate. And one trend was clear: animation is the hottest ticket in town! Kids shows, adult satires, feature films and even network logos have all gone to the toons!

DIC Entertainment's Robby London feels that the animated market is quite competitive, noting that, "producers are obliged to take any action to make their project stand out from the crowd." To that end, DIC's show is Mummies, a half hour weekly series which is being executive produced by Ivan Reitman of Ghostbusters fame.

"Animation is a unique art form with its own reason for being," said Sachs Entertainment's Barbara Schwecke. Right now, she sees the surge being led by the major studios and their decision to build their own animation facilities. While at NATPE, Sachs wanted to sell a third season of Bananas in Pajamas, which is being reformatted to 15 minutes and paired with a Random House show, The Crayon Box. Sach's half hour weeklies, New Adventures of Zorro and Kewpie have been sold to WPIX/New York.

E is for Education!

Many syndicators with kids product stressed the unlimited possibilities of animation can adequately blend with the limitations of Federal Communications Commission guidelines. Summit Media Group's Shelly Hirsch feels that "FCC-friendly doesn't necessarily mean standing in front of a desk. The intention is to inform and educate--and animation is a tool." Summit was at NATPE with the youth-appealing, FCC-friendly Mr. Men, Oscar's Orchestra (part of Summit's "Just 4 Kids" weekly 90-minute program block, that also includes classic stories called Enchanted Tales) and the new adult weekly from Japan, Sushi TV.

Bohbot Entertainment's Karen Lee Brown feels that US producers need to tone down the violence if they want to strike pay dirt in international markets, which is why they are offering the new weekly kids show, Dangerous Dinosaurs. While there's "enough action to intrigue kids, the heroes usually don't want to use weapons." Instead, Brown has opted for what she terms "nonimitative violent action," with plenty of tail-thrashing and growling, but few guns.

MG/Perin has had a lot of success with their first foray into animation. "We've had an excellent response from our stations to our new fully animated educational series, Chucklewood Critters. " The show, which is currently in production, has been sold to the BBC as well as to stations in the US.

Co-Production Land

Animation is also very big in international markets. "There is a lot of demand--more than we can produce," explained Claude Berthier, chief executive officer of Marina Productions, who was at the conference to promote The Princess of the Nile, an FCC-friendly series set in ancient Egypt.

Since their introduction, Gaumont Multimedia's highly successful Dragon Flyz and Sky Dancers (both produced by Abrams/Gentile Entertainment) have sold in over 70 territories worldwide. The series, developed from the number one selling toys in the USA, have recently been sold to RCTI in Indonesia, and Dragon Flyz has gone to Fox Kids Network in the UK. Gaumont's Mickie Steinmann was also excited that the company had just sold Home to Rent, which already airs in France and the UK, to air on Fox's Saturday morning lineup. Rock star Iggy Pop is working on the theme music for the show. Gaumont has also entered into the enchanting world of magic with its latest animated series, The Magician.

Red Raven, Phoenix Animation's new show which is being developed in association with the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Many of the companies exhibiting at NATPE have established co-productions with a number of different countries. For instance, Alliance Communications offered the new animated series, Captain Star. The cult comic strip hero will be flying onto the small screen in a co-venture between Filmworks (UK), HTV's Harvest Entertainment (UK), Alliance Communications Corporation (Canada), ZDF (Germany), Nickelodeon (UK) and Canal Plus (Spain). Other financiers include YLE (Finland) and VPRO (Holland). In addition, Alliance brought a third season of Reboot and another season of Beast Wars, (which is distributed by Claster Television), two high-tech computer-generated animation series produced by Alliance and Mainframe.

Catalyst Entertainment teamed with co-owned Phoenix Animation Studios, CanWest Global System and the Opaskwayak Cree Nation on Red Raven, a new FCC-friendly half hour animated series for fall 1998. The program is based on the comic book and chronicles the adventures of Lynx, a Cree warrior who can transform himself into a supernatural hero.

One of the most beloved characters from the early world of children's television is returning this fall through an agreement between Saban Entertainment and Busch Entertainment. Captain Kangaroo will be back as the All-New Captain Kangaroo to highlight the Saban's Kids Network. The FCC-friendly show will be an updated, contemporary version of the old standard, but enough of the classic elements will be retained to appeal to the original viewers who are today's moms and dads.

Summit Media Group's Mr. Men.

Stay Tooned!

The following NATPE items highlight the convention's animated news bites:

From the start of NATPE's opening session, the innovative use of animation techniques were present, when Medialab's unveiled Cleo, a real-time motion capture animated character who "starred" in their 3-D performance animation presentation.

Montreal-based Telescene Film Group is the producer for Student Bodies, an FCC-friendly live action/animation series set in high school where kids work on an alternative student publication, which is being distributed by Twentieth Television. The show is scheduled to premiere in syndicated television in the fall of 1997.

Nelvana had two animated properties at the conference: Ned's Newt and Sticking Around, a half hour series that will be seen this fall. Sticking Around, created by Robin Steele and Brianne Leary, was adapted from a series of shorts which originally ran on MTV's Liquid Television. The company is also co-producing with Medialab on Donkey Kong Country. In addition, Scholastic's The Magic School Bus, the animated series produced by Scholastic Productions in association with Nelvana, has been licensed to approximately 80 countries around the world, including the UK, France, Spain, Greece, and several countries within the Middle East and Latin America.

Encore Enterprise's Chucklewood Critters.

Desclez Productions announced that the company is in pre-production on three new animated children's series, Turtle Island, Mirob and The Adventures of Professor Iris. Produced by Desclez Productions in association with Ravensburger, Turtle Island is a 26 episode, 30 minute series which centers around a group of hilarious characters in the South Seas whose life is constantly interrupted by pirates and buccaneer in search of gold and jewels. Designed for children and family audiences, Turtle Island features a turtle king, a duckbill platypus and an octopus beast. Mirob consists of 26, five-minute, 3D-animated vignettes that introduce preschoolers to a range of experiences of nature seen through the poetic eyes of a curious young robot, Mirob, and his three friends, Mimi, Pyra and Cric-Crac. The Adventures of Professor Iris, which consists of 52 x 13 minute vignettes, is based on the Professor Iris character from the puppet series for preschoolers, Iris, The Happy Professor.

Claster Television offered 13 all-new first-run episodes for a second season of All Dogs Go To Heaven: The Series.

Malofilm International, the international distribution arm of Malofilm Communications, will handle sales and worldwide distribution for the children's animated series Turtle Island.

Fresh on the heels of the success of its Animated Classics collections, Goodtimes Entertainment offered its new animated series The Greatest Heroes and Legends of the Bible, designed for family time periods and mass market video sell-through to buyers worldwide. The series has already been sold to broadcasters in numerous territories throughout the world, including Italy, Spain and Germany.

Bohbot's Dangerous Dinosaurs.

UNICEF is putting out the call to find broadcast partners to participate as charter members of the International Animation Consortium for Child Rights. The initiative is to find broadcast time for the 100 public service announcements (PSAs) on children's rights issues currently being produced by more than 80 animation studios worldwide. "We're hoping that as the issue of broadcasters' responsibility to children becomes an increasingly topical one, networks will see this as a way of showing their support for positive kids programming," said William Hetzer, chief of UNICEF's Broadcast and Electronic Communication Section. The 30 second PSAs are being donated to UNICEF by the producers and will be distributed to broadcasters for free. Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, RAI Television and YLE-TV Finland are among the broadcasters already committed to the program.

NATPE announced that Disney Television Animation, Apple Computer and IBM are the latest additions to the list of leading-edge companies to exhibit at the first annual international NATPE Animation and Special Effects (ANIFX) Conference & Exposition, May 8-11 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Susan L. Hornik ( is a freelance writer/editor in the television/film industry. At NATPE, she is the editor of The Daily Express, a convention daily magazine.