A Big, Brainy Bash on the Bay
2014 edition of Cartoons on the Bay elevated itself with outstanding programming in an idyllic setting. By Jean M. Thoren.
alism of this relative newcomer on the Italian multimedia scene.
Rounding out the Italian portion of the program was Luca Milano, vice director of Rai Fiction, who presented an ambitious slate of production for Rai Cartoons, in cooperation with major Italian production companies and animation studios.
Adding another feather to the cap of CEO Pierre Sissmann and his talented team, Cyber Group Studios from France was awarded International Studio of the Year. This nine-yearold studio has built a catalog of programs with more than a thousand hours of globally distributed programs for the youth and family market. Cyber Group is currently at work on the TV series Zorro: The Chronicles, featured in this issue of Animation Magazine.
On the technical front, Toon Boom Animation’s Desideria Mastriaco and Federico Vallarino teamed with Omar Ferreri of Clarity Interational and founder of Cappuccino Apps to demonstrate how Harmony caters to animators regardless of style or platform and successfully integrates with popular game engines.
Toon Boom sponsored Cartoons on the Bay’s Pitch Me! award this year. First prize went to Elementi Esperimenti, by Sinne Mutsaers and Marco Bonini. Second place was awarded to Blanco, by Marco Farace and Benedetto Sicca, and Power Nando - An Italian superhero in Moscow, by Lorenzo Garbuglia placed third.
The three winning projects will receive a prize of a license for Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Toon Boom Harmony. The winner in the first place will have the opportunity to make a teaser animated video in collaboration with Direct2Brain.
Living up to its history of diverse, thoughtful programming, the 2014 Cartoons on the Bay team was headed up this year by artistic director Roberto Genovesi. The event the challenge of offering to its audience of international guests some interesting and thought-provoking viewpoints and guidelines for navigating the universe of global animation production on all formats. We look forward to next year’s 2015 edition and congratulate the 2014 award winning artists and studios. For a complete report on the Festival and the Pulcinella Awards visit www.cartoonsbay.com.
Finland’s rising animation industry has a lot to celebrate — not only has it reached worldwide success with hits such as Angry Birds, but the nation is celebrating in 2014 the centennial of its first animated film.
Several events are planned planned through the year for the centennial, the date for which is based on a film by Eric Vasström that, unfortunately, no longer exists.
“Vasström has the honor to be the first, but we have not see his animation work,” says author Tuula Leinonen, author of a book on the Finnish animation centennial to be published this summer. “His 1914 film (title unknown) and images sadly have been destroyed.”
Vasström is considered one of the pioneers of Finnish animation, along with Hjalmar Löfving, whose work has fared better. “He was a productive guy and knew how to animate. In 1932 he independently produced the famous animation Muutama metri tuulta ja sadetta (A Few Meters in Wind and Rain),” says Leinonen.
Despite those early efforts, the first serious steps forward came in the 1970s, when Finnish broadcaster YLE built an animation studio that produced distinctive stop-motion puppet and cutout animation. That style, inspired by Finland’s reknowned design aesthetic, came to define Finnish animation through the work of animators like Heikki Partanen and his wife, Riitta Rautoma.
With Seitsemän Veljestä (Seven Brothers) in 1979, Finland’s first animated feature was released, made using watercolor, by artist Riitta Nelimarkka. Nelimarkka says she was inspired by the watercolor and cutout techniques used in Stockholm, Sweden, where she studied animation from 1967. Nelimarrka worked almost four years on the film, with only six people helping. Based on a wellknown novel, the film won multiple awards and established Nelimarkka as a national teasure — a designation she downplays.
This also can be said about Katariina Lillqvist, “The Grand Old Lady” of Finnish animation. Lil-
lqvist’s groundbreaking puppet films, some based on Franz Kafka´s writings, touched on politics, philosophy, multiculturalism, tolerance and racism as main subjects. Her most famous film, Maalaislääkäri (The Country Doctor), is about refugees from the Sarajevo war and it won the Silver Bear at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival. “I wanted to tell their stories,” she said. “The Silver Bear felt as a true recognition, opposite to the criticism many people expressed.”
The celebration of the Finnish animation centennial also marks the 100th birthday of one of the country’s best-loved figures, Tove Jansson, who created the iconic Moomins in the 1940s. The Moomins have become Finland’s best-known animation characters, and also have become popular in Japan. “Finnish and Japanese people like to live quiet, peaceful and care about the environment,” says Leinonen. “The gentle and timeless Moomins world is built on these values.”
The Moomins have starred in three feature films, the first of which — Comet in Moominland — was made in 1992 using Japanese animation and altered the look of the characters significantly. “The Moomins were looking completely different. Tove Jansson was horrified by it,” Leinonen says. In 2008, Moomin and Midsummer Madness was released, followed in 2010 by Moomins and the Comet Chase (Muumi ja punainen pyrstötähti), Finland’s first stereoscopic film.
The Moomins will return to the big screen for the centennial celebration, with the October release of the feature Moomins on the Rivera. Coproduced by Paris-based Pictak and Finland’s Handle Productions, the film has a budget of about $4.9 million. “The film will shed new light on the original black and white Moomins stories, used in the script, from Tove Jansson’s books and comic strips published in the ‘50s,” says Handle Productions owner Hanna Hemilä.
Handle worked on a number of productions in the 1990s that advanced Finnish animation through collaboration with more advanced local nations like Estonia. A puppetmaker on one such project was Kari Juusonen, who has become one of the pillars of modern Finnish animation after his short film Pizza Passionata won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. Juusonen next co-directed the feature Niko Lentäjän poika (Niko: The Way to the Stars) in 2008 and Niko 2: Little Brother, Big Trouble in 2012, two of Finland’s most popular animated fea- tures ever. In 2013, Juusonen made a surprising artistic change by going to Finland’s leading entertainment company, Rovio, where he is directing the TV series Angry Birds Toons.
Both Niko films were produced by Anima Vitae, currently Finland’s leading animation studio. Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio, says that talent-wise, Anima Vitae can be compared to Pixar. “I think they are awesome. They have done some incredible stuff. I have nothing but respect from them.”
Anima Vitae and Rovio co-operate on the Angry Birds animated series. Anima Vitae CEO Petteri Pasanen, who produced Juusonen’s Pizza Passionata, says: “Technical people from Pixar have visited us three times, and they were amazed how we — as a small studio in Finland — achieved our projects.”
Pasanen says the success of the Niko films opened doors for Finnish animation. “It brought awareness, although not everybody directly recognizes Niko is a Finnish animation project,” he says. “In the U.S., we are considered a U.S.friendly company. It feels like a foot in the door. That makes it easier to work on new productions. I don’t have to explain who we are anymore.”
Anima Vitae is trying to get a foot in the door in Asia, too. The company opened an office in Kuala Lumpur, and is working on partnerships with Malaysian, Chinese, Korean and Australian studios.
Anima Vitae is producing — with Danish Einstein Film — a feature film called HUGO, about the Nordic troll character, for delivery in 2016. “HUGO has the same international appeal as Niko.” Passanen says.
Without a doubt, Angry Birds is Finland’s most successful animation export and Rovio its largest entertainment company. The game reached 2 billion downloads since its introduction in 2010 and a dialogue-free animated series released in 2013 saw more than 1 billion views in its first seven months. An animated feature is now in production, due out July 1, 2016, Made with Sony, the animation is being done at the Imageworks studio in Vancouver.
Hed says Rovio chose not to build their own animation studio in Finland. “That would have taken too long.”
Guaglione says his main goal is to take the Rovio storytelling culture to a higher level.
“We like to expand the characters of Angry Birds, from the gaming atmosphere to an animation-based level and dimension our fans have never seen or experienced. Currently, we are developing new properties and animation styles beyond Angry Birds. It doesn´t stop with Angry Birds.”
The recently released character Stella is a first example of the new approach, according to Guaglione.
Co-productions have further spread Finnish animation around the world. The best example of a Finnish international coproduction is the Finnish/Chinese TV series Dibidogs, produced by Finland’s Futurecode, owned by Jim Solatie; and China’s Blue Arc, owned by Tommy Wang. The men met in 2007, a year after the Solatie family created the Dibidogs characters.
“We travelled to China 50 times to find the right partners,” says Solatie.
Premiering in Finland in 2010, the show airs nationwide in China on CCTV and has deals to air in Russia and Korea. Dibidogs is also broadcast in countries like Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia. Solatie says the victory march is not ended.
“We are having talks with main channels in Southern Europe and will soon launch the unique DibiTales app, where children can create their own stories and animate them. I hope Dibidogs will be the next Angry Birds.”
With the release May 23 of Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, those fans finally have their wish. Based on a classic storyline from 1980, the movie draws together the events of both the original trilogy and the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class into a time travel epic that sees the mutants of the future try to change history in an attempt to save the future from the Sentinels’ disastrous rule.
Bringing the future Sentinels to life was tasked to MPC and animation supervisor Benoit Dubuc, working from the company’s Montreal studio. A fan of the comic book, Dubuc was charged with developing the personality and behavior of the future Sentinels.
“The idea is that they’re developed with bio tech as opposed to the past ones, which were more mechanical,” he says. “We had to find the line, the balance of having them still retain that sort of mechanical, robotic feel, but also be extremely agile and nimble and athletic.”
In the comics, the Sentinels are huge robots charged with protecting humans from the perceived mutant menace, either by capturing or killing them. The future Sentinels are noticeably smaller than the comic book versions, standing about 18 feet tall, and have a few extra abilities.
“They can morph and they can absorb the powers of the mutants and then replicate them,” he says.
The end result is one X-Men fan Dubuc is proud of. “These projects are what animators love, working on big robots,” he says. “The Sentinels were really fun and really challenging for us to make it work and make it menacing was a great experience.”