Spotlight on Flanders / Animation

Animation has deep roots in Flanders and a flourishing network of artists and studios. The gaming industry is younger, but just as dynamic. Together they are riding the digital wave to a bright future.

THE FLANDRIENS OF ANIMATION

They call them Flandriens, bad-assed cycle racers who force their machines over the cobbled roads and treacherous hills of Flanders, oblivious to the cold and the rain. The same kind of grit and determination has driven Flemish animation producers to climb new heights, using their skills to emerge from the pack and sprint towards glory.

The early stages of the Flandriens' 2018 Tour saw Another Day of Life, co-produced by Walking the Dog, in the official selection at Cannes, alongside This Magnificent Cake !  in the Directors' Fortnight. This stop-motion mini-feature from Flanders-based Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels sprinted on to a prize at the Annecy festival, where it was joined on the podium by Nienke Deutz's short Bloomstreet 11 and Denis Do's Funan, co-produced in Flanders by Lunanime.

These festival favourites join a thrusting peloton of internationally released features, shorts and series coming out of Flanders' animation production houses. Star riders include the features Harvie and the Magic Museum, Richard the Stork, Ploey - You Never Fly Alone, and ZOOks, along with series Rusty, George & Paul, and My Knight and Me.

While the Flandriens of animation can clearly win on any terrain, the coaches at the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) want to see even greater success. The result is increased funding and new lines of support that will build Flanders into a world-beating region for innovation in animation, gaming, virtual reality and cross media content.

PRODUCERS AND STUDIOS

Flanders has 22 animation production companies, 10 of which have their own animation studios. Between them they cover the whole range of animation techniques, from 2D hand-drawn and computer animation, to 3D and stop motion. Already dependable partners in international co-productions, they are increasingly taking the lead, creating compelling characters and stories, and delivering innovative animated content.

The backbone of Flemish animation can be seen in veteran companies such as Vivi Film, Walking the Dog and Creative Conspiracy, which have built reputations for excellence and technical resources over decades.

Founded by Viviane Vanfleteren in 1990, Vivi Film made its mark by co-producing The Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells. Vanfleteren recently set up Studio Souza in collaboration with producers Veerle Appelmans and Marco Levantaci, which is taking forwards Vivi Film projects such as the kids' series Abracadabra and Bo’s Bazaar, and building co-productions with Denmark, the Netherlands, France and Norway.

Walking The Dog, founded by producers Anton Roebben and Eric Goossens, also worked on The Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells. With steadily expanding studio facilities in Brussels and Genk, later credits include Ari Folman’s The Congress, A Monster in Paris and Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. More recently it has co-produced Richard the Stork, which has sold worldwide, and walked the Cannes red carpet with hybrid animation feature Another Day of Life.

Teaming again with Folman, Walking the Dog is now co-producing his feature Where Is Anne Frank? Other projects include the features Hump by Rob Gibbs and Charlotte by Bibo Bergeron, and the series Fox and Hare, which will combine the look and feel of stop-motion with CGI.

Creative Conspiracy's present hot property is the series Three Little Ninjas Delivery Service. The pilot was selected for nearly 40 festivals, and the series itself will be rolled out internationally with partner eOne. It has also scored festival success with original shorts such as Catherine by Britt Raes and Panta Rhei by Wouter Bongaerts, a contender at Annecy this year.

Grid cut its teeth in post-production before turning to animation in 2011, rapidly winning honours at Cartoon Forum and Cartoon Movie, for co-productions such as Ooops! Noah Is Gone. Recently completed projects include Marnie’s World, Harvie and the Magic Museum, and Captain Morten and the Spider Queen, an innovative mix of stop-motion and CGI. Now it is busy developing Crazy Island and Crazy Humans, a feature and series based on the universe of Argentine cartoonist Guillermo Mordillo, plus the feature Latte and the Magic Waterstone, and a series The Ogglies.

While these veterans will turn their hands to a range of animation techniques, other studios in Flanders have specialised, and are now reaping the rewards thanks to years of experience.

Lunanime, which favours classical 2D hand-drawn and computer animation, took two of the top awards at Annecy this year: Denis Do's Khmer Rouge drama Funan, which it co-produced, won the prize for best feature, while Bloomstreet 11 won the short film prize. Feature co-productions in development include Tulip by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol; The Siren by Sepideh Farsi; I Lost My Body by Jeremy Clapin; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Pierre Foldes and Allah n’est pas obligé by Zaven Najjar. For the small screen it is developing pre-school series Ollie.

Stop-motion is the speciality of Beast Animation, which had a place at Cannes and a prize from Annecy thanks to This Magnificent Cake !  by Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels. The company recently finished the series Rusty and George & Paul, and is currently working on Mister Paper and a second season of Dimitri. Pre-production is also underway on Coppelia, a feature combining animation and dance developed with the Dutch National Ballet.

3D animation specialist Cyborn recently saw co-produced feature Ploey – You Never Fly Alone tour festivals and progress to a worldwide release. Now it is working on Dragon Rider, a feature based on Cornelia Funke’s best-selling fantasy novel, co-produced with Constantin Film in Germany. Meanwhile it plans to push the boundaries of 3D and virtual reality as lead producer of sci-fi feature Hubris.

A different kind of specialisation occurs in companies such as Fabrique Fantastique and Thuristar, which are built around the vision of talented individual animators.

In the case of Fabrique Fantastique this means art director Tom Van Gestel and Willem Thijssen, veteran producer of Oscar-winning shorts A Greek Tragedy and Father and Daughter. The company is currently busy with Van Gestel’s kids’ 2D TV series Sir Mouse, while working on Eric & the Tick Tocks (a mix of 3D animation and live action) and Dutch co-production Heinz. Juul, the company's first animated feature, was pitched at this year’s Animation Production Days in Stuttgart.

Thuristar was founded in 2008 by author/director Joeri Christiaen, whose CGI series My Knight and Me has aired across Europe and sold globally through Cartoon Network. Thuristar is currently developing Christiaen’s next TV project, Roger Flambé: (animated) actor with Disney Channel EMEA, and production is under way on the pre-school property Mush-Mush and the Mushables created by Elfriede de Rooster.

YOUNG TALENT

Animation in Flanders is fuelled by the education and training offered in its vibrant film schools: KASK in Ghent, LUCA ARTS in Brussels and Genk, RITCS in Brussels, and Digital Arts & Entertainment in Kortrijk. VAF also invests in the development of young animation talent as it makes the tricky transition from school to studio.

VAF Wildcard awards single out the most promising film school graduates, providing one animator each year with funding and coaching for their first professional production. Past winners include Wouter Bongaerts, whose professional shorts Mia and Panta Rhei have proved festival favourites, and Nienke Deutz, whose Bloomstreet 11 won the short film prize at Annecy this year.

Other fresh graduates can apply for apprentice scholarships, which give them three months experience working on a specific project in a Flemish studio, using state-of-the-art equipment under expert guidance. Alternatively, animators with a short film project can apply for development workshops, which give six months of coaching in aspects such as scenario, storyboard, character, set and animation design. This was how Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels developed their festival favourite Oh Willy....