What is the situation with the French animation industry at the moment?

Article  by  Axel SCOFFIER  •  Published 04.07.2013  •  Updated 04.07.2013
A report of the current situation of the animated film industry in France.

Summary

The French animation industry is a paradoxical sector. A few flagships - recognised for their artistic qualities and critically acclaimed by the public - form the focus of a sector that is essentially controlled by the television, and that is not managing to achieve the economic clout of American films.
 
A report published by the French national cinema and animated image centre (CNC) in 2012 analysed the sector closely: 355 hours of audiovisual animation programmes produced that year, at an average cost of €593,250 per hour. Animation accounts for 10% of French audiovisual production (in terms of the number of hours produced), but provides 33% of its exports! Animated films make up 2.6% of French films made between 1998 and 2008 (2.9% on average between 2008 and 2011), but account for around 5% of investment. Animated films are more expensive to make (all nationalities together), are advertised more when they are released, are shown in more cinemas, and, on average, remain on cinema screens for longer. There are, however, great disparities behind these figures: a French animated film produces ticket sales of 509,000 (box office figures of 254,000 for 2008), while an American film produces 2 million (2.1 million in 2008)... On television, the major channels broadcast a little under 4,000 hours of animated programmes (3,849 hours in 2011), coming in 2011 to 7.3% of their schedule. France 5, France 3 and TF1 are the main broadcasters, for the most part in the morning; French productions make up the main part (40.8 %), followed by American productions (30.6%); strangely, Japanese productions (such as those by Toei Animation) take up a very small minority (the category other nationalities, mainly Japanese, Australian and Canadian productions account for 17.8 %). Finally, video distribution of animated feature films makes up 17.4 % of total sales (81.7% of the turnover is produced by American films – mainly by Disney, for example or DreamWorks).


 
Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes

So, let’s put a little flesh on this figures: of the French animated films that achieved box-office success, we recognise the films made by the Armateurs company (Kirikou, Les Triplettes de Belleville, Ernest et Célestine...), the films by Europacorp (the series Arthur et les Minimoys), by Futurikon (Chasseurs de Dragon, Minuscule), by Xilam (Kaena, Tous à L’Ouest), and a few creations by small producers (Renaissance, Persépolis, Astérix et les Vikings...); in economic terms, the most expensive films are those in the Arthur series (over €60 million per film). But the Europacorp series illustrates the fact that changing scale is a delicate matter.
 
Beyond figures and names, we need to understand the sector in relation to another rich ecosystem, namely Franco-Belgian comics, and see in this sector the growing influence of two other booming ecosystems: special effects and video games.

A sector whose structure is influenced by television and comics

French animation, as an industry and as an art form, is firmly built upon two strong mainstays: first, television, and second comics.
 
Financially, television channels buoy up the industry. In 2008, France Television bought €23.8 million (ie 153 hours) of animation programmes for children (broken down as follows: €1.9 million by France 2, €18.2 million by France 3, and €3.7 million by France 5), and TF1 €7.8 million (46 hours). Specialist digital channels (Gulli, Boomerang) and cable and satellite channels are flourishing (Cartoon Network, Disney Channel...). Many programmes on private channels are imported, but the public channels mainly buy French series. Recently, short programmes for adults have been ordered by general interest channels: Silex and the City by Arte, for example.


Silex and the City, « Le feu de l'amour »

Several companies share the market, including the Moonscoop group, the Media-Participations group and Xilam, three companies with quite distinct profiles and histories.
 
These studios have a common feature: they operate licences from the comic industry. Moonscoop operates the Titeuf licence. The studios of Ellipsanime Productions, Dargaud Media and Dupuis Audiovisuel, all three part of the Media-Participations group, work respectively on Les Aventures de Tintin, Babar, Corto Maltese and Léonard (Ellipsanime), Boule et Bill, Valérian et Laureline and Garfield & Cie (Dargaud Media), and Spirou, Flash Gordon, Jojo, Cédric, Papyrus and Kid Paddle (Dupuis Audiovisuel). Finally, Xilam produces the series Lucky Luke, Les Daltons, and Rantanplan taken from characters in the comics by Morris. None of the three studios, however, has the same attitude to licensing: Moonscoop and Xilam had to negotiate for the series and purchase the rights; in the case of Media-Participation, productions enjoy existing synergies with the group’s publishers (Dargaud, Lucky Comics, Le Lombard, Dupuis...) for which the series provide a way of diversifying income.
 
At the crossroads between comics and animation, Angouleme appears to be the place to be: first, for its international comic festival, and second for its audiovisual creations cluster, specialising in the animated image profession, Magelis. It groups together the studios of Moonscoop, Dargaud Média, and even Normaal Animation (the studios behind the series Avez-vous déjà vu, broadcast on Canal +), and several animation schools.
 
French studios also produce many original licences. Xilam achieved fame through its renowned Zinzins de l’espace, created in 1995, followed by Oggy et les Cafards(1997), Ratz (2001), Zig et Sharko (2010) etc... Moonscoop created the series Code Lyoko, which enjoyed international success, while Millimage made the series Lascars, which was then adapted for the cinema.
 
Other French studios make animated series: Gaumont Animation (formerly Alphanim) is famous for its series Franklin la torture; Blue Spirit Animation, was recently awarded for its remake of the series Les Mystérieuses Cités d’or; Marathon, subsidiary of Zodiak Entertainment, with Rekkit and Le Marsupilami; and even CyberGroup Studio, with Zou and Nina Pedalpo...
But the profession is changing; technologically (and financially), things are moving very quickly. Most studios now produce 3-D animated series: Garfield, the Magic Roundabout, Petit Prince...



Le Petit Prince
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The fragile move to the big screen

How do creators move from the small to the big screen? Is the French animated film industry just for television, or is it managing to find new sources of finance and inspiration?

A certain number of animation studios are therefore starting with the animated series before making feature films for the cinema. Xilam, for example, even though it’s a former part of Gaumont, did not bring out an original feature film until 2001 with Kaena, la prophétie (which did not achieve the expected success), then with Lucky Luke, Tous à l’Ouest, and Oggy et les Cafards in 2013. Marathon Media converted the series Totally Spies into a feature film, while Blue Spirit produced an original film, Le Tableau. There are then 3 main types of animation film: adaptations of books or comics; adaptations of a television series; and original creations. This last category is without doubt the most risky, and relies more on the talent and the renown of a creator than on that of its licence.
 
 
 Tous à l'Ouest

A few rare film-makers go straight to feature films: Michel Ocelot, who started with several short films before achieving his first public and critical success in 1998 with Kirikou et la Sorcière(after the end of its run in France, the film had notched up 1.4 million ticket sales). This film opened up the way for him to other original productions: Princes et Princesses, Azur et Asmar, Les Contes de la Nuit, Kirikou et les Bêtes Sauvages, Kirikou et les Hommes et les Femmes... In a very different style, Sylvain Chomet, who had come from comics and short films, made Les Triplettes de Belleville in 2003. This success enabled him in 2010 to adapt a script by Jacques Tati for the cinema: L’Illusionniste.



 
Up and coming studios are making their way to the cinema from digital special effects: this is the case for example with Buf Company and MacGuff. The first, set up in 1984, is one of the main special effects companies in France, and worked on French (Les Visiteurs, La Cité des Enfants Perdus...) and American (Fight Club, Matrix, Harry Potter...) films before doing the special effects for the series Arthur for EuropaCorp.
 
The second was originally (and mainly) geared towards the cinema (Dobermann, Vidocq, Le Petit Poucet, Blueberry...), and made Chasseurs de Dragons in 2008, before being approached by Universal which bought the animation department in 2009 (renamed Illumination MacGuff). This new studio, operating between Hollywood and France, made several 3-D films: Moi, Moche et Méchant I and II, and Le Lorax. We should perhaps see in the twin destinies of these two studios a major difference that explains the difficulty that the French animation sector is having in moving up to the next level: EuropaCorp does not enjoy the same level of international (and therefore American) distribution that that Universal has...
 
Finally, other new players are appearing on the periphery of the system, from the rich ecosystem of the French video game industry. Ankama Animation has used the licences of the studio based in Roubaix, Ankama (Dofus, Wakfu), to make television series, and is planning to make feature films. Ubisoft is also entering the market with a series taken from its licence for Lapins Crétins. It seems likely that this momentum will continue.
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A success supported by an effective environment

Several levers have enabled the French animation sector to continue its upward trajectory: a number of successful schools, recognised throughout the world for their quality, and which are attracting more and more students (les Gobelins, Supinfocom, La Poudrière, George Méliès...); a finance mechanism set up by the CNC (tax credit for animated films); an international animated film festival in Annecy, set up in 1960, now under the artistic management of Serge Bromberg; and finally local policy that promotes sectors of excellence, such as in Angouleme of course, and even in Bourg-les-Valence (Drôme), where the Folimage studios (La Prophétie des Grenouilles, Mia et le Migou, Une Vie de Chat) occupy the space of the Cartoucherie, a brownfield site also occupied by the La Poudrière school.

Translated from French by Peter Moss

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Key Figures

259 hours of animated audiovisual programmes made in 2008 – 355 hours in 2011
Average cost of an animated programme: €571,700 per hour. – €593,250 per hour in 2011
Market share of animation in French audiovisual production: 10%
Share of French audiovisual exports: 33%
Market share of animation in French films (between 1998 and 2008): 2.6 % - (2.2% in 2009, 3.4% in 2010 and 3.7% in 2011)
Average number of tickets sold in France per French animated film: 254,000 – 509,000 in 2011
Average number of tickets sold in France per American animated film: 2.1 million (2 million in 2011)
Share of French productions on television: 40% (32% for American productions) – 40.8% (30.6% for American productions) in 2011


Sources :
- CNC - Le marché de l'animation en 2011
- CNC - Le marché de l'animation en 2008

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Photo Credits:
Bonlieu Center, Annecy - The Annecy International Animation Film Festival - [nicolu] / Flickr
Drawing from L'Illusionniste - tobor68 / Flickr
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