Cartoon Forum 2015

I was lucky to participate in this year's Cartoon Forum event, which was held in Toulouse on the 15.-18.9.2015.
Picture taken by Brown Bag Films
What is Cartoon Forum? It's a yearly happening where (mostly) European production companies are pitching some of the animation series they are developing or planning to develop. The purpose of these pitches is to attract broadcasting companies and other potential buyers to invest in the series-in-progress by pre-sales, and to get coproduction deals with other companies. Well, that is the main purpose, but many of the visitors of the event were young animators just out of university, as well as young companies which want to see what kind of series are being developed. Representatives of media foundations for various EU countries were also there, watching this year's trends, as well, and of course networking like everybody else.

Being there, I took a lot of notes from how the pitches were structured, and listened keenly what people were saying. I wasn't shy of talking to strange people as though I've known them for years, because in four short days, it makes no sense just to wait for someone to introduce you to interesting people. And being over 40 means to me that I'm not as afraid of making myself ridiculous in public as before - partly because I think everyone over 40 is a bit ridiculous anyway.

Typical street view from Toulouse
What were the trends, then, with animated series? Well, I noticed that there were a lot of series for very young children, meaning age groups 0-1, 2-3, 3-5. And yes, the age groups are quite tight when you talk of kids programming. School kids also got their fair share of shows, but there weren't that many proposals of series for younger or older teenagers, partly because the older kids already watch stuff in the internet, or programming intended for young adults such as sitcom series.

That said, many school kids' series also used a kind of mini sitcom structure, or at least sitcom-like elements. You know, the kind of show where there's a recurring cast of characters, often friends or family members, and funny situations arising from the differencies of these characters. Many shows combined this with fantasy or science fiction elements.

Sometimes, when I ask students on our animation courses to generate ideas for animated series for children, some people come straight away up with some educative content. But usually it's a good idea not to have the educational elements jump on your audience's face, so to say. Children are smart - they usually know when an adult is trying to preach or teach them something, and they get enough of that in school. 

Interstellar Ella by Zooper Film

There were a few show concepts at Cartoon Forum with educational content, too, such as Interstellar Ella, which is a story of an 8-year-old girl and her little sister who go to adventures in space. The log line for that was "Astrophysics for preschoolers!" Then there was Dougie Noir, a 9-year-old circus boy who wanted to be a great detective - only his hyperactive nature prevents him of noticing important clues for solving the mysteries. Dougie Noir had a package of apps and games designed to train kids with attention deficit disorders, so that they wouldn't need to take so many pills.
Dougie Noir by Kavaleer
Also a Finnish-Norwegian concept called Little Wild Worlds was an animated nature documentary, showing real behaviours of baby animals, and there was a Korean show about a cute little gardener mole called Rabby, which showed how to grow real plants. (There were many broadcasting company representatives at the latter one's pitching, and it got deals made from all of them. "It's Rabby's golden harvest day", said one producer from a Korean broadcasting company.)

Rabby, by PniSystem & From EAST(SKR)
A show called Max & Maestro had a 10-year-old boy who was into soccer and rap music become interested in classical music. The story had famous musician Daniel Barenboim as one of its main characters, and Barenboim himself had provided all the piano music for the show.
Some shows were a bit preachy in tone, I have to admit, but at the other end, there were shows that were just very full of super cute little kids or animal characters dancing and jumping around super enthusiastically, with sugary music. It's as if some of makers of the little kids' shows have never been around small children, or they don't remember what it was like to be a small child. 

Lili, by Dansk Tegnefilm and Ladybird Films
This was not the case with the series Lili, which depicted quite realistically - with ironic undertones - what 3-year-olds are really like. The Lili books are already popular and famous, so I guess that the animated show will have no problems lifting off. 

The Ogglies, by Wunderwerk
The same goes for the German show called The Ogglies, where there also are several popular books and apps published in many languages already. The Ogglies' log line was "A family of space alien Pippi Långstrumps are living in a local dump, eating trash and having fun". Also a show I wish to see when it's ready. 

Blaise, by KG Productions
One show for young adults called Blaise consisted of 30 3-minute web episodes, and the humor was quite harsh but very funny at the same time. Blaise was based on some popular books for teenagers. A show called Dickie was aimed at over 14-year-olds, and it had a simple main character who always screwed things up. Dickie was based on the popular Dutch comic series Boerke, and at the presentation, they even handed out small booklets of the comics. 

Dickie or Boerke, a comic by Pieter de Poortere
At a few pitchings the audience got little gifts, such as bags, leaflets and fun stuff such as sketch books (I got one from an Italian show called Bestiacce) or large picture books (some guy gave me one called Blue Carrot). It’s not a bad way to make your show remembered, providing that the content of your concept itself really is good. It would be kinda sad for a producer to see their promotion material spread all over the event center, as no-one would want to pick it up or take it home.

Bestiacce, by Studio Bozzetto
It seemed to me that if a production company already has acquired rights to some well-known property, even to an older series made in the 1970s or ‘80s, it’s easier to get an animated series based on that funded, than make up a new series from scratch. Many or most of the projects presented had a full transmedia palette as well, with well-thought-out apps, books, games and websites, and of course merchandizing such as dolls, towels, school equipment and backpacks. If a series was for instance 26 x 11 minutes for television, it often had a 52 x 1 minute web series as a companion, as well.

The distributors I talked with said that right now, there is a demand for new, comedy-filled series for school children in the age groups 7-9 and 9-11. One lady told me that there may be a come-back for the longer, 22-minute per episode series, as well, although most of the series that were presented had 11-minutes, 13-minutes or 7-minutes episodes. Of course, producing a show with 26 episodes of 22 minutes is quite demanding, as writing longer episodes often takes more time in re-writes, and the animating itself is also not exactly cheap. It remains to be seen how much emerging technologies, such as using motion capture for both 3D and 2D, will change the animation landscape.

There are other big animation events in Europe during the year besides Cartoon Forum, such as Cartoon Movie, where animated feature films in development are presented, or the prestigious MIFA in Annecy, in the middle of June. MIFA is a very large happening, I’ve been told, with lots of movie screenings, seminars, key notes and a film market, but some producers are saying that it’s become too big and noisy a place to make any real negotiations anymore. Even Cartoon Forum now had over 900 participants, which made some of the popular pitchings and evening events quite crowded.

MIFA, at Annecy
A student can participate MIFA in Annecy for a low price, or even for free if willing to work for the festival, and I’ve been thinking that Annecy might be a good event to go with a group of students. Only its timing is not ideal for the Finnish university year, where most students are working in June and July. Cartoon Forum may be better time-wise. When the new animation minor starts next year, it would make sense to go to some of these events with students, the way we go to other places such as the Graz EYA Awards in October and the Malmö Nordic Game Conference. Provided of course that enough of our media students would be interested in going. At least I think it would be a good experience for a student to see that there is a lot of animation done outside of the video games world, and that producing animated series and movies is quite a large business in the media world.

-- Text by Carita Forsgren, 2015 --