Fresh Perspectives Bring Vigor to French Animation

Fueled by a robust educational pipeline and the steady influx of foreign investment, France’s animation ecosystem continues to expand. In 2021, animated programing accounted for 33% of international audiovisual sales, making episodic animation the country’s leading television export. And as the sector grows, so too will its gravitational pull, bringing in new voices, fresh perspectives, talents with more diversified backgrounds.

“There are more and more gateways,” says producer and Ikki Films CEO Nidia Santiago. “We’re seeing greater bridges between animation and other art-forms, and those bridges are coming about more naturally than ever before.” Trained in live action, Santiago founded her Ikki banner with an eye on features and shorts. Since 2011, the outfit has garnered industry prestige and festival acclaim – and with it, new opportunities from the television world.

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As Ikki Films bring its first two series to this year’s Cartoon Forum — presenting David Freymond’s “The Hall of Fail,” a cheeky 2D comedy that spotlights those forgotten by history, and Prisca Le Tandé’s “Bootyboo and the Mutants,” an adolescent-skewing educational series that casts puberty in an offbeat light – the banner will arrive as a new player on the TV scene.

“Our two series literally knocked on our door,” says Santiago. “In the case of ‘Mutants,’ producer Clarisse Tupin came to us because she knew our films [which have] always treated social subjects with an offbeat tone, a touch of fantasy and some quirky humor.”

“Now,” she adds, “we’ll follow that same editorial line with our series.”

That thrill of discovery extends to many institutional players as well. Winner of the Distributor/Investor prize at last year’s Cartoon Forum, the Paris-based Miam! Animation has become an industry leader in part by revealing new talents. “We have a strong desire for renewal,” says Miam! founder Hanna Mouchez. “People tend to repeat formulas, following a successful recipes where everything is so well calibrated. That can be very boring.”

“We want to try new approaches,” Mouchez continues. “Be they in terms of design, concept, or the stories we tell. And for that, there’s nothing better than inviting people from outside the box; people who are not already conditioned, who don’t know the way we usually do things and thus are free to think differently.”

When developing “Edmond and Lucy” – an ecologically minded preschool series produced in-house and launched on France Television earlier this month – the animation studio sought out a number of natural scientists, bringing those experts on as key creative collaborators. “We wrote with [author and agricultural engineer Louise Browaeys] for more than six months,” Mouchez explains. “Her speciality is large-scale permaculture, not scriptwriting; she’s not from the animation world, which lent such a freshness to her approach!”

At this year’s Cartoon Forum, Miam! will present “The Tinies,” a multi-faceted project that exists as both a 52-episdode 3D series directed by illustrator Wassim Boutaleb, and as just as many 3-minute DIY tutorials that mix live-action and stop-motion. For the latter iteration, Miam brought on David Tabourier, a veteran of YouTube and interstitial sketches, believing such a background made him perfect for animation.

When adapting Reno Lemaire’s touchstone, made-in-France manga, “Dreamland” director Jo Celse used new perspectives as a key to unlock an uncommon approach. “It was El Dorado,” says Celse of her French-language anime. “We wanted to work with Lemaire, to make something that fits with and respects his vision, so we had to discover this new way of drawing, of producing, of editing.”

“I was bit worried about [finding animators up to the task,]” Celse continues. “But in the end, so much of this new generation of animators have been fed on the ‘Dreamland’ manga. A lot of the people we recruited told us they learned to draw from the book!”

As Celse sees it, her good fortune on the project reflects a wider trend within the French industry. “The newest generation of animators has new references that really fit with the mood we’re trying to find. Right now we have people who learned animation from the Internet, from watching homemade cartoons, who learned everything from downloading Photoshop. That’s what I did, that’s what a lot of my co-workers did as well. We don’t come from the same backgrounds [as before].”

Of course, those backgrounds are not just shaped by online culture and social media. As local studios like Fortiche set new standards in adult animation, alumni from such productions carry those methods forward. “A lot of people we’ve interviewed came from [Fortiche’s] ‘Arcane,’” says Celse. “So their way of seeing storyboards and mise-en-scene is completely different. It’s much more modern, much more adult. They have new references, even for adult cartoons.”

“The animation field is becoming a lot more diverse,” she adds. “We see a lot more women and a lot more people of color. We see a lot people coming into the industry from a background in music as well. That was not the case when I first started ten years ago. Today we find different points of views, different references from people with different cultures, ideas, and worlds to explore.”

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