“We never refer to a single market when creating a new product because we invest so much in the property that the Italian market would never be enough to recover our investment. We have always leaned towards internationalization”, says Caterina Vacchi, Head of the production department and executive producer of Atlan- tyca Entertainment, the company behind the success of Geronimo Stilton, the second most famous mouse in the world after Mickey Mouse, whose books have sold more than Harry Potter.
With an office in Beijing and an international team, Atlantyca has just announced the third season of Geronimo Stilton, another Italian- French co-production in which the Milan-based company is the major investor, with Moonscoop and, in addition to Rai Fiction, France Télévisions and M6.
New characters and new locations await the most famous mouse journalist in the world whose TV series has been sold to over 100 countries.
“Season three is due to screen in fall 2014 with another 26 x 23’ episodes, making a total of 78 episodes, almost 30 hours of ani- mation”, Ms. Vacchi proudly explains, drawing our attention to the extraordinary ratings it has had on the various networks that broadcast the cartoon, the latest of which is Germany’s Kika.
“Geronimo is definitely something out of the ordinary, quite a sensation. We sold over 45 million copies around the world, right at the beginning, when we sold the first season”, she continues. “The fact that the character was already well known certainly helped. The ratings of season one were very important for season two. Atlantyca’s policy is to start with a product that has been successful on another market, in this case, the publishing market. It is easier to work in a universe that has already been constructed and you have proof that it does not just work in Italy but on other markets as well, so you have the guarantee of an international base”.
Like Bat Pat, Atlantyca’s latest gamble, “this is a 52 x 11’ episode “creepy” sit-com”, continues Ms. Vacchi“for kids aged from 6 – 9, scheduled for the end of 2014 and directed by Niccolò Sacchi. It stars a talking bat who lives with three children in their loft in Fogville, a city where all the urban myths about monsters, witches, mummies and ghosts are true. The group of friends’ mission is to help these monsters because things that at first appear strange and different are not always bad.
The Bat Pat books are published in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Romania, Turkey, China, Hong Kong, the USA and Brazil”, she explains, “so the character is not completely unknown. We haven’t begun selling the series yet but we have had a positive response from the TV networks who have seen it. We think that we have an excellent product on our hands”.
Rai Fiction is already in on the game, led by Atlantyca, along with Spain’s Imira and Malay’s Inspidea. A few years ago the latter won an award at Cartoons on the Bay on the Amalfi Coast (an international TV animation festival organized by Rai which, in April, moved its dates to the second half of the year from the next edition), where they met the managers of Atlantyca. Af- ter having collaborated on various European co- productions, Inspidea is now co-producing with an Italian company for the first time.
Also attending Mip with Girls of Olympus in HD, a 26 x 30’ episode co-production with Rai Fiction, is The Animation Band, one of Italy’s oldest and most active animation companies, with offices in Milan and Rome, which specializes in the co-production of TV series created in collaboration with the main European broadcast- ers and distributed all over the world. Its leading product, Ragazze dell’Olimpo, originates from the pages of the bestsellers published by Mondadori and translated into numerous languages: a new action-packed, adventurous and romantic fantasy-mythological series. It stars three normal girls who are forced to face a past that they have repressed and forgotten, in a vortex of emotions and dramatic developments that will help them discover their true identity, their hidden powers and their inescapable destiny.
“We have the literary material to make at least another three series”, says the producer Marco Marcolini. “We are starting presales and, at the same time, launching another, new, completely different 3D project, Koouka, which consists of amusing 1 minute long “pills”. We are thinking of making over 100 episodes which can be used in themed blocks of five episodes linked to the same topic (e.g. a baseball match, breakfast, etc.). Koouka is a chameleon who involuntarily transforms himself. This is a totally Italian visual project for all types of audiences.
There is a Chinese partner on the horizon, nothing definite yet, the situation is still being assessed. Obviously, everyone wants an Italian broadcaster to be included in the project”, continues Mr. Marcolini, “that is a kind of guarantee (Ed: for Koouka it could be Gulp or Rai Yoyo) but, on the other hand, we have to develop an increasingly larger number of projects, like the French. How can you do that if you only have one broadcaster who invests in animation products and maybe the project fails to take off?”. An old, unsolved question in the atypical panorama of Italian television where only Rai, through Rai Fiction, invests in the sector (the annual budget is over 16 million Euros), apart from a few productions, which are insignificant on an economic level, from the other themed TV broadcasters.
There is still, however, a lot of margin for improvement in the area of foreign sales. This was the conviction behind Anna D’Alessandro’s decision six months ago to set up, with Cristina Angelucci, Aldebaran Distribution, the first Italian company to specialize in the foreign distribution of the best Italian animation products, whose portfolio includes numerous animated series.
In addition to the “classic” products from The Animation Band (Lupo Alberto, I Cosi, Stefi, Spaghetti Family) and Koouka, there are two series of Uffa! Che pazienza (Oh Boy!, Oh Boy! II) produced by Enanimation (the new series, The Linkers, is due to arrive at the end of the year). The product list also includes Penny X, About Love and the Sbrain series project for school-age children set inside the nervous system of a young girl, all from Gertie Production; plus the Christmas special La cantata dei pastori (The Song of the Shepherds), the series A Skeleton Story, and the movie L’arte della felicità (The Art of Happiness), produced by MAD Entertainment .
“All of us hope that they manage to achieve their goal and are rewarded for their efforts”, says Marco Marcolini who has kept the sales of Ulisse, il mio nome è nessuno for himself. This first animation series to feature the Homeric hero (Ulysses) was recently broadcast on Rai 2 and Rai Gulp and is directed by Giuseppe Maurizio Laganà.
“I have a lot of faith in this new adventure”, explains Anna D’Alessandro, “but the selection in the West is very fierce. The high content classics which have already been broadcast on Rai networks are considered to be very good by western markets but they always need new products. So we have to move to emerging markets. For these places, it is an element of pride to be able to count on a good Italian product, and Italy is the driving force, so we go there basically to export Italy as a brand.Although the distribution of classics is, unfortunately, very slow, we try to maintain a high level of broadcasters, whilst the co-production sector has exceeded our expectations”. In fact, Aldebaran is also involved in co-production agreements and licensing projects.
“There is a lot of interest in Koouka and we can say that we have reached completion for A Skeleton Story, bring- ing two important foreign partners into the project alongside Rai, one British, the other French”, she concludes.
Also in Cannes will be the Turin-based studio Làstrego e Testa Multimedia which, after a problematic co-production experience with the Chinese on the 3D TV series Marco Polo, still on stand-by, will be returning to Mip with the third series of Amita della Giungla (Amita of the Jungle), co-produced with Rai Fiction and currently in production. There will be a total of 78 x 7’ episodes for children aged 4-6 years about a girl who lives in a magical world where people and animals can speak to each other.
“Ours is a workshop-type artistic-craft proposal in an in- creasingly industrial world”, explains Francesco Testa. “We sell to small, sophisticated TV networks. Amita 2 will be broadcast before the summer on Rai Yoyo and we think that the 26 new episodes will be finished this year. For MipTV we also have around 20 out of 52 x 1’ episodes ready of Il Circo (The Circus) which went down very well at Mipcom and for which we already have some concrete interest”.
The great appeal of this series is the artistic quality. It is based on a series of drawings that originated as independent works of art, by Cristina Làstrego, with highly original graphics featuring animated objects and fabrics using the digital decoupage technique. Làstrego and Testa moved to animation after working in the early Seventies as illustrators and authors on a number of children’s books which were translated all over the world, about the adventures of Giovanna and Tommasone, a good, fat dragon, which then became the animated series I sogni di Giovanna.
Today, after numerous CD Roms, they have launched themselves with the same enthusiasm into the world of Apps with IdentiKat, an original semi-animated series for iPads that has received a positive response from all over the world. “For those who,like us,have a past in publishing and television”, says Cristina Làstrego, “the iPad is a stimulating tool and a revolutionary invention, similar to that of Gutenberg, that opens the door to a more evolved form of interactive communication”. “Many talk about the concept of cross-media but few put it into practice”, continues Francesco Testa. “The passage from App to TV program is a media phenomenon that is starting to take shape. We are explorers. The idea is to turn IdentiKat into an animated drawing. We should also remember that an App can be put on the international market without the mediation of publishers whereas, for TV programs, unfor- tunately the well-known distribution problems persist”.
On the opposite front we find Winx Club, undoubtedly the greatest Italian animation success which will soon have a new, sixth series (see in- terview), whilst the new episodes of series five are currently being broadcast on Rai 2 and Rai Gulp. There are also 156 episodes (13 minutes each) of Cuccioli (Pet Pals), the property of the Gruppo Alcuni, distributed in over 40 countries, which are due to arrive before the summer.
The fifth series has 52 episodes which have been realized in 3D for the first time, like the feature movie that came out of the success of the TV series. Of these, the first 13 have already been broadcast on Rai 2, the network on which Cuccioli and Winx Club are amongst the most popular Rai Fiction titles, along with I Saurini (Jurassic Cubs), featuring five brave baby dinosaurs. The successful third season has just finished broadcasting in the Sunday morning family slot.
“It has true international appeal due to quality and structure of the story, the Jurassic era in which the cartoon is set, and the fact that the “Saurini” travel in space/ time in different periods and places around the world”, explains Raffaele Bortone, director and producer of Animundi, who is already working on I Saurini 4. “The cartoon, aimed at 4-8 year olds, has already been sold in around 30 countries including France (TPS), Russia and South East Asia. Moreover, for the last 10 months we have also been directly involved in the licensing which, despite not being our core business, has given good results in a short space of time: Easter eggs, back-to-school merchandise, and an agree- ment with Nintendo for their stereoscopic portable console”.
In fact, Rome-based Animundi, which celebrates 10 years of business this year, is a pioneer in transposing 2D cartoons to 3D ste- reoscopic vision, a method developed in-house and called “Stereotoon”.
Another main feature of the second “generalist” public network is the enormous success of Télé Images Productions and Rai Fiction’s Street Football which, for the fourth season, has been renamed Foot Extreme, and is currently in production for the first time in 3D, with a new Italian partner Maga Animation Studio. The Monza-based studio has already worked with Disney on numerous projects including the new Winnie the Pooh series for the EMEA Disney Channels.
The studio also has an original product for Rai: Acqua in bocca (Water & Bubbles) by Guido Manuli, a 3D animated sit-com for the whole family, of which the 26 x 3’ episodes of season three are on their way. Also arriving soon is the second season of Spike Team which has the ideal story – and creator – for foreign markets: the world volley- ball champion Andrea Lucchetta (in the cartoon he is the trainer Lucky). This is the first Italian animated series dedicated to this sport, and is produced by Rai Fiction and Lucky Dreams, directed by Maurizio Forestieri.
Also being launched at Mip is Oto (Oto and Music). It is the first animated series by Milan-based company Square, “although we have decades of experience in animation for TV, cinema and advertising”, explains Cristian Jezdic, the project’s producer and co-director along with Fusako Yusaki.
It is part of the Gruppo Mediacontech, the main Italian independent operator providing services for the production and management of digital media content, which has offices in France, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Luxembourg (controlled by the private equity fund, Synergo, it has been listed on the Milan Stock Exchange since 2000). With Square, for the first time the “maestro” of Plasticine, Fusako Yusaki, a Japanese artist, now Milanese by adoption, will be making considerable use of 3D computer graphics. The series of 26 x 6’ episodes will help young viewers to become more familiar with great musicians and musical styles, teaching them how to listen to music and about its history, in the company of a little red octopus who lives in a sea of musical waves.
Another new title for kids is Mofy, a series made entirely in Italy by Misseri Studio using the cotton ball animation technique, co-produced with Japan’s Sony Creative Products. The second series is currently in production whilst the first 26 x 5’ episodes are about to be delivered.
The company was established in Florence in 1986 by Francesco Misseri, one of the protagonists of Italian advertising, the creator in the Sixties of many famous animated “Caroselli” (the Italian television advertising show broadcast on Rai from 1957 to 1977), who is always open to international collaborations (Ed: including co-productions with Channel Five, NHK and Sesame Workshop). This is the first time that the studio has co-produced an animated series with Rai Fiction, a sign that, despite the difficulties of having only one national broadcaster as your natural partner, it is also possible to do without.
“Animation in Italy is moving forward with great difficulty. Mondo Tv can manage because, for over ten years, it has moved on an international level, despite making Italian animation that favors our own culture”, says Gianni Galatoli, head of production at Gruppo Mondo Tv, the company belonging to Orlando and Matteo Corradi that specializes in the production and distribution of TV series and animated movies for TV and cinema, that is also very active in related sectors. Galatoli announces the arrival of a new product, The Drakers, a 26 x 26’ episode TV series about the world of racing, realized in partnership with Ferrari, which has a 5 million Euro budget. “The series will be ready for 2014, but we will already be presenting a trailer at Mip Tv and the first episodes will be screened at Mipcom,inthefall”.
The Corradi family’s company is also looking towards the United Arab Emirates and co-producing a series of 26 x 13’ episodes with Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (DEPE), Modhesh. “Modhesh”, explains Galatoli, “is a very popular cartoon character amongst kids in that country. We will be presenting the first episode at Mip, and the series will be ready for 2014”. However, Rai continues to be an important partner and, along with Mondo Tv, will be producing L’isola del Tesoro (Treasure Island), 26 x 26’ episodes realized using 3D CGI, freely based on Steven- son’s novel. Also very active on the distribution front (the latest purchase for the international market was Cartoon Network’s Ben 10), last January Mondo Tv signed a license agreement with the Lagardère Group for the broadcasting of the French version of The Gormiti on the TV channels Gulli and Canal J. This series is based on the characters from the Gruppo Preziosi toys created by Leandro Consumi and Gianfranco Enrietto, a worldwide “made in Italy” phenomenon for boys.
“Apart from the fact that the international market gives us the chance to find additional fi- nancing for our productions, it also gives us an opportunity to measure ourselves on a cultural and artistic level”, says Anne-Sophie Vanhollebeke, co-production manager of Studio Campedelli.
“This aspect is important for us as well as the creative exchange with foreign producers and broadcasters who have a different cultural sensibility. It makes it possible for us to render our projects even more universal and competitive on international markets”. Pietro Campedelli is the doyen of Italian animation producers, well- known in Italy and abroad for his consultancy studio’s involvement in the first animated series co-produced by Rai Fiction after twenty years of inactivity in this sector (Lupo Alberto, Cocco Bill, the first two series of Cuccioli, etc.). “Euro- pean animation in general has evolved, a sign of this is the Cartoon Forum where, over the years, we have seen the arrival of increasingly elaborate pilots in terms of detail and quality”, he explains.
“If we compared ourselves with other countries at the end of the Nineties, it could be said that we were seen as craftsmen with a lot of good inten- tions who were trying to enter the international market without any culture or knowledge of the same, in terms of content and techniques of representation. That is no longer the situation thanks to the Italian productions which can be found all around the world and constitute our calling card. In fact, now people come and ask us to co-pro- duce whereas before we had to find someone who would deign to accept our collaboration request”.
The latest product from the Studio Campedelli is Topo Tip (Tip the Mouse), a character based on a series of books created in 2003 by Andrea Dami which has sold over eight million copies in the more than 30 countries in which it is published.
This will be the first time that Giunti Editore, a leading publishing house, has transformed one of its characters into a cartoon: a gentle mouse, who is also a bit unpredictable, like all children of his age. Dedicated to the youngest set, the TV series is co-produced by Campedelli and Giunti along with Studio Bozzetto, Rai Fiction, m4e (Germany), and March Entertainment (Canada). Andrea Bozzetto directs the 52 x 7’ episodes in 3D which are currently in production. Studio Campedelli is also responsible for closing the budget of the new, long-awaited series of Calimero, currently in production.
After entering Italian homes for the first time in 1963, Calimero, the famous black chick created by Nino and Toni Pagot and Ignazio Colnaghi for a famous TV advert back in the days of “Carosello”, will soon return to the small screen with 104 x 11’ episodes in 3D co-produced by France’s Gaumont Animation and Rai, along with Calidra, TF1 and Disney Junior. But Calimero is more than a cartoon, he has even become a neologism discussed by the famous Italian semiotician and writer Umberto Eco: “When a character gener- ates a common name it has broken the barrier of immortality and entered into the world of legend: you can be a ‘calimero’ as you can be a ‘don Juan’, a ‘Casanova’, a ‘Don Quixote’, a ‘Cinderella’, or a ‘Judas’”. With these credentials, internationalization for Calimero, an Italian icon, will be kids’ play.