Getting into the Ring
FBroad support in Costa Rica and Guatemala helps the Central American nations’ animation and VFX industries
gain worldwide attention. By Jan Nagel.
or the last few years, Costa Rica has set up a stand at Kidscreen Summit to share the abilities of its animation industry. The questions have been: What can they offer? Can they compete? Is Costa Rica the only Central American country producing animation?
There are boutique studios producing animation, visual effects and games all over Central America. The industries have been serving local needs for decades. The industries in Costa Rica and Guatemala are developing and growing with the help of GIZ, a more than 50-year-old federal enterprise supported by the German government, the United Nations, the private sector and governments from other countries. Its mission is to help identify, develop and support small and micro enterprises in emerging economies. GIZ selected Costa Rica and Guatemala for an extensive study and support of their animation industries.
Costa Rica has been producing animation for over a decade. The leading animation studios are Rocket Cartoons, Marte Estudio, Morpho Animation, Studio Flex and Figueroa Produccion, which has been exploiting its popular Tricolin property for more than 30 years in every medium. In addition to the support from GIZ, animation in Costa Rica is supported by Procomer, the national trade commission, with help from the Ministry of Culture.
Rocket Cartoons is a real success story. This is a family-run Flash studio headed by talented animator Leo Trinidad. Rocket Cartoons has created original television series that are being distributed worldwide by AWOL Animation and Monster Entertainment. Their original cartoons include Yum Yum & You, Ivick Von Salza and The VoltaKid. Rocket also is doing service work for Titmouse and other studios. The studio is small, but in demand.
Marte Estudio is a well-established visual-effects CGI studio that, under the direction of Oliver Zuniga and his partners, produces advertising animation in Costa Rica, as well as photorealistic animation and visual effects for producers in Canada and the United States.
Morpho Animation is relatively new. In just a few short years. Gustavo Madrigal has built a CGI studio and his production team has created several original properties the company is pitching. One of its most recent productions is Félix el Robot Aventurero, a series of public-service announcements running in Costa Rica’s theaters.
Madrigal has been behind the scenes in Costa Rica, organizing the industry and getting the government to support this growing area. It was Madrigal’s mission, after attending Kidscreen Summit several years ago, to get Costa Rica recognized as an animation producer, and he lobbied Procomer to support the industry at Kidscreen Summit. He helped establish Costa Rica Animation Holdings, a private organization that develops financing opportunities.
Games on the Rise Game development and production also is a growing business in Costa Rica. FairPlay Labs, a game company with a staff of more than 50, has been a service provider for major toy brands in the United States for many years, developing video games and other digital game play for more then a decade. Small boutique game studios, such as Headless Chicken, are producing their own titles for consoles, as well as doing work-for-hire app games for local advertising agencies.
The government of Costa Rica is being very active in developing the nation’s animation and digital-media industries. Vice Minister of Culture Max Valverde Soto is looking for ways to support the industry financially, as well as through treaties.
Costa Rica is among the top 20 best-educated nations and has a 94.9 percent literacy rate. Its education system sees animation
and digital media as viable vocational tracks for its population. CETAV is a two-year accelerated program in animation, supported under Parque La Libertad, a national culture center. In addition, art and animation programs are flourishing at major public and private universities, such as Universidad Veritas.
Guatemala’s modern industry was established by Carlos Arguello’s founding of Studio C in about 2003. This Oscar-nominated VFX pro opened a studio in Guatemala City, and started to train a crew in VFX without government support. He brought in visual effects work for tent-pole movies such as Chronicles of Riddick and Chronicles of Narnia.
At the same time, a game company, Lion Works, set out to create a console game called Pok-Ta-Pok, based on an ancient Mayan game. Over the next few years, many talented professionals were trained for the game industry. But for economic reasons, both studios waned and many talented and trained people were let go. The two studios are still in business, though smaller than they were at their peak.
Guatemala City is the largest city in all of Central America and is the center for Latin American marketing and advertising. Many of these studios’ former crewmembers now are establishing new enterprises, mostly in app games and digital advertising. Micro enterprises, such as Ket’zal Animation & Digital Marketing and Digital Partners, are employing local talent for commercials and marketing game apps.
Two of the largest digital marketing companies in Guatemala City are Milk n’ Cookies and Mas Digital. Each is using the well-trained local work force to create digital marketing tools for international clients.
One Guatemalan indie game company is 2401 Studios, created by Joaquin Colina and Luis Fernando De Leon Martinez. It is one of the only Guatemalan studios developing for Sony PlayStation developers and is in talks with Microsoft to become an exclusive developer. They are creating their own game apps, as well as digital marketing games for clients. 2401 Studios has organized Guatemala IDGH to further support the development of the game business.
In addition to support from GIZ, the Guatemalan government backs the nation’s animation and digital-media industries through Pronacom, the national trade commission; AGExport, the export commission; and ICREA, a new organization set up by the Guatemalan trade commission to support the creative community. This effort is the first step in preparing to help grow animation and digital-media production in Guatemala.
Support from Schools Like the rest of the world, Guatemalan youths have been exposed to gaming and animated entertainment. Having had a viable industry for several years, there is a strong desire by youths to learn the animation and digital-media trade. Because of the demand, and as a result of the GIZ studies, more universities and colleges are offering certificates and degrees in all aspects of production. One of the most comprehensive new programs is at the new art school, Universidad Internaciones, lead by Guillaume Lebourg, a French VFX pro. Centro TIC de Intecap is an accelerated accredited program where the students learn CGI in a compressed time frame with a great success rate.
Costa Rica and Guatemala are poised to join the world industry in a viable way. Each country is training its workforce to be equal to the rest of the world’s animation industry. Each wants to be recognized for its abilities and talents, however, they are learning quickly they need incentives to attract producers. As each country’s industry grows, the respective governments will see the benefits of this industry on their local economy and workforce and will be encouraged to find ways to help. [ Jan Nagel, entertainment marketing diva, represents animation production studios from around the world and consults with content creators to bring their properties to life. Nagel was contracted in fall 2015 by GIZ to evaluate the Costa Rican and Guatemalan industries.