French Animation, VFX Business Booms on Back of Production Incentives

·7 min read

France is the world’s third-biggest animation producer, according to data from the CNC, with 7,790 employees last year.

A rising number of international productions, especially TV animation series, are flocking to France, attracted by its 30% tax rebate for international projects (TRIP) program.

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A higher 40% tax rebate is available for VFX projects with over €2 million ($2.14 million) VFX spend in France, with seven projects supported in 2021, including Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel.”

In 2021, animation repped 46% of all foreign production spend under the TRIP scheme, marking a 62% increase between 2019 and 2021.

Demand for animation and VFX staff is surging in France with 16% job growth in 2021 alone.

The number of TRIP-supported animation projects doubled between 2019 and 2021, and the number of all film and TV projects (fiction and animation) increased by 231%. Seventy-one per cent of all supported projects in 2021 were for streaming platforms.

Animated shows for streamers, line produced in France, have become the country’s fastest-growing programming area.

French studios are upping their own original content, targeted at streamers, since animation facilitates access to the global market, due to the absence of language barriers.

Illumination MacGuff, created in 2011 and topped by Chris Meledandri and Jacques Bled, has produced 12 animated features and more than 30 animated shorts for Illumination/Universal Pictures over the past 11 years, including “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Sing 2.” Current productions include the “Super Mario Bros.” movie, and two productions slated for 2025. Staff has grown from 300 to 900 since 2011.

“We have to see our own signature in everything we do,” Bled says. “This depends on our distinctive artistic approach and our proprietary software.”

Technicolor has streamlined and rebranded its operations. Mikros Animation now handles animation and MPC provides VFX. With its head office in Paris, Technicolor also has operations in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Germany and India.

Mikros Animation has 1,400 staff in Bangalore, India, and around 800 in Montreal and Paris combined, and is recruiting for a further 500 staff across all studio locations.

Current Mikros projects include “Paw Patrol 2,” a new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, both handled primarily in Montreal, and “The Tiger’s Apprentice” in Paris. Animated series in production include “The Coop Troop,” “Gus, the Itsy Bitsy Knight,” Season 2, and a TV series based on a Roald Dahl book.

“Animation is unlike any other craft,” says Andrea Miloro, president of Mikros. “You can create everything from nothing. Audiences across all age groups are searching for rich, imaginative projects.”

MPC now has an equal split between VFX work on TV series and feature films, compared with a 20/80 split in 2019. Recent series include French thriller “Totems” for Amazon Prime. Feature films include “The Last Duel,” “Tobacco Force” and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Notre-Dame Is Burning.”

MPC’s Béatrice Bauwens says the company works on larger productions, leveraged by Technicolor’s global presence, but also aims to continue working on smaller independent projects with a distinctive VFX aesthetic.

Blue Spirit, part of the Newen Group, aims to concentrate its activities in a new facility that will open next year in Angouleme, in southwest France.

Recent productions include “What If?,” the first animated series for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is working on “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai” for Warners, an adult animation series for Netflix, Season 2 of “Arthur and the Children of the Round Table,” “Mille Bornes” for TF1 and “The Borrowers.”

“There’s a huge change in the industry [in favor of] adult animation,” says Blue Spirit’s Eleanor Coleman.

Synergies are growing between the animation and videogame sectors, as players prepare for the multiverse.

Real-time animation software, originally developed for videogames — such as those by Unity and Unreal — has been adopted by the French animation sector.

Cyber Group’s first 100% real-time animation series is “Giganto Club.” The studios have recently expanded their global reach with acquisitions in the U.K., Italy and Singapore, with projects in the pipeline including a co-production deal with a leading Japanese studio, to be announced at Annecy.
Miam! Animation, run by Hanna Mouchez, used Unity’s real-time animation software on eco-themed “Edmond and Lucy,” and Unreal on its upcoming series “The Tinies,” about toys that come to life. It is also working on “Goat Girl,” with Dublin-based studio Daily Madness.

Mouchez says real-time animation makes it possible to radically cut computer time and lower their carbon footprint. “We have introduced innovations to improve artistic quality and realism,” she says. “Audiovisual and videogames used to be two worlds, but we should increasingly work together.”

Fortiche, in which Riot Games has a minority stake, has studios in Paris, Montpellier and the Canary Islands. It worked on Netflix’s “Arcane,” based on videogame “League of Legends,” and is now on Season 2. Other current projects include “Miss Saturne,” and in-house series. Production head Hervé Dupont explains that combining 2D and 3D animation on “Arcane” endowed an animé style with live action-style staging.

Dwarf Animation, also based in Montpellier, has worked on Netflix’s “Trash Truck” and “My Dad the Bounty Hunter,” and Disney’s “Monsters at Work.” CEO Olivier Pinol now plans to diversify into in-house content.

Marc du Pontavice, CEO of Xilam, says 70% of the studio’s work is now for streamers. He adds this offers a major upside because he can keep long-term rights. He sees major potential in adult animation and will be announcing a new series at Annecy. Xilam has four studios in France with 400 staff and one studio in Vietnam with 100 staff. It created a CGI hub in Angouleme that completed “Oggy Oggy” for Netflix in 2021.

Leading kids entertainment company TeamTO recently completed “The Creature Cases” in partnership with Silvergate Media. It is now working on martial-arts action comedy “Jade Armor,” Season 5 of “Angelo Rules” and a music-themed animated documentary. TeamTO’s Corinne Kouper says they are prepping two feature films, one based on Greek mythology, the other on a graphic novel about a girl living in the metro that becomes a fantasy world.

VFX house MacGuff is using its AI-powered Face Engine to bring people back to life, and age and rejuvenate actors. Recent examples include TV series “Hotel du Temps,” Cannes-player “Masquerade,” starring Isabelle Adjani, and sci-fi thriller “Vesper.” MacGuff is working on Season 3 of “Lupin” for Netflix and projects for Disney+.

“Face Engine opens a new door,” says producer Philippe Sonrier. “It’s a new way to move through time, at a very reasonable cost. It is completely different from techniques from films such as Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman.’ It keeps a natural look and avoids hours spent in make-up.”

MacGuff, in conjunction with MPC, will soon start VFX work on “Animal Kingdom” for Nord Ouest Film featuring half-human/half-animal creatures.

Pierre Buffin’s Buf Films recently completed VFX work on “Matrix Resurrections” for Warners and “Infiniti” for Canal Plus. The company only uses proprietary software, integrating compositing and 3D work. It is working on two major sci-fi projects, one for Netflix, in which Buffin says the viewer will move from one galaxy to the next. Renowned for his distinctive vision and interest in projects that explore the human mind, Buffin emphasizes the ground-breaking opportunities being opened by VFX.

“If you venture into the extreme minutiae of the human mind or the extreme magnitude of the cosmos, it ultimately opens up similar possibilities to expand our knowledge,” he says.

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