With over 300 employees and 11 companies, Rainbow is the largest studio in Europe dedicated to cinema and television animation production. The organization and business model are very American (Rainbow directly manages every aspect of each project and activity: from the concept tothe production, from the distribution to the licensing) and is very “Disney-like”, with its Rainbow Magic Land, the theme park created a couple of years ago in Valmontone, near Rome. However, the company is also characterized by a strong Italian identity. It was, in fact, founded by Iginio Straffi from Marche (he was born in Gualdo, a village near Macerata), and has set up its headquarters in the region, in Loreto. This glocal approach is behind the international success of Winx Club, one of the biggest successes of all time aimed at 4-12 year old female audiences: the famous fairies have become Italian fashion icons for girls the world over.
Winx Club is the only brand with its own 360° platform consisting of 130 x 26’ epi- sodes, two movies, a Broadway style musical, a show on ice, an MMO online game, billions of merchandising products distributed all over the world and a theme park. Winx Club is a global phenomenon and is broadcast non-stop in over 130 countries with excellent results.
The secret of this success can be summed up in just one word: innovation. Straffi explains to Cinema & Video International how this applies to Winx Club.
Firstly, the way the stories are told, “they have a narrative arc that last for tens of epi- sodes along with a subplot which comes to a conclusion at the end of each episode”.
Then there is the attention to clothing: the fairies have an outfit for every moment of the day. “You can’t dress the same way in the gym, at school or at a party” comments Straffi. A revolutionary idea – immediately welcomed by the millions of fans – compared to normal cartoons where the leading characters always dress in the same way. “It helps to identify them better,” explains Straffi, “but is also much cheaper”.
The third element of their success is the music. “The episodes feature lots of pop music: each series contains a large number of original songs”. Obviously, as Straffi underlines, all of this puts the costs up (it is more expensive to draw characters who are always wearing new clothes, and the songs create dubbing problems), but all of this “has given the series something special”.
Straffi has been able to rise to the challenge because he plays outside national borders. In addition to Rai, Rainbow has managed to collect international partners of the caliber of Nickelodeon (Rainbow is also the exclusive agent for Nickelodeon products in Italy), Warner Bros, Disney and Cartoon Network. For the last couple of years Viacom Paramount has held a 30% interest in the company. A cartoon empire that, starting with the market research, creates in-house TV series and movies for cinema, as well as drama and live action through Rainbow Entertainment.
The licensing is an essential part of Rainbow’s core business, with more than 350 active licenses on the world market in over 40 different categories.
And if the success of the Winx movies (Winx Club – The secret of the lost kingdom in 2007, and Winx Club 3D – Magical adventure in 2010) was, in a certain sense, expected, less so were the excellent results of the more recent theatrical offering, Gladiators of Rome 3D, a feature which took 5 years to make and, says Straffi, cost 35 million Euros. Already sold in over thirty countries, the movie was released last fall in Italy with excellent results (4.5 million Euros), considering the genre. It will be released in US movie theaters in August, distributed by Paramount. “What pleases me the most”,commentsStraffi,“is that in the countries where the movie has been released so far – Italy, Russia and Israel – it has positioned itself immediately behind the big Pixar and Dreamworks movies, but much higher than the animations made by independent European producers”.
A new challenge for Straffi, accompanied by some positive predictions for the future. However, it would be impossible to fully understand Rainbow’s success without returning to Le Marche, to Loreto where, a year and a half ago, Rainbow Magic Town, the company’s new headquarters, was set up: 10,000 square meters, half of which designed for the wellbeing of the people who work there. In addition to innovative environmentally compatible solutions (solar panels, photovoltaic systems and geothermal fields that produce all the energy the company requires), there is also a fitness center, a swimming pool, a 3D movie theater and, naturally, wonderful views of the gentle countryside of Le Marche.
“With this type of business, the countryside and the light can considerably improve thequalityofthework”. This statement is not facile in anyway:
“One of my colleagues who came to visit me from Rome”, Straffi explains to Cinema & Video International, “told me that he couldn’t understand this need of mine to film long shot sequences”. He found his answer in Rainbow Magic Town: we have no buildings in front of us just “hills, the sea, with its ever-changing colors, sun flowers, fields of wheat and poppies”.
All of this spreads out before the eyes of Straffi and everyone who works in Rainbow Magic Town. Rainbow will be promoting the sixth series of Winx Club, which is currently in production, at Mip Tv 2013, as well as the second series of Mia and Me, a mixture of live action and CGI animation, a co-production between Lucky Punch, Rainbow, March Entertainment with m4e, Hanh Film, ZDF German Television Network and Rai Fiction. The first series was nominated for the “Pulcinella Award” at Cartoons on the Bay and voted the no. 1 program at Mip Junior 2010.