Drawing Attention

Scandi animation makes a bid for the big time

Special Report: Less Is Norse

Forget angst-filled melodrama and intimate sociological sketches, this year at Cannes some of the hottest Scandinavian titles could feature cute talking critters against computer-generated backdrops.

Scandi animation has been one of the industry's best-kept secrets. For years, such boutique operations as Denmark's A. Film, Norway's Storm Studios or Iceland's CAOZ built a solid reputation for delivering top-end CGI on a budget. But it is only recently that animation made in Oslo, Reykjavik or Copenhagen has broken out of national niches to make it on the international marketplace.

Two of the biggest international hits out of Scandinavia last year were animated: the Finnish Christmas hit "Niko and the Way to the Stars," which sold to about 100 countries, including the Weinstein Co. in the U.S., and Sweden's "Sunshine Barry & the Disco Worms," a sort of "Saturday Night Fever" for the invertebrate set that has been picked up by nearly 60 countries.

"Scandinavian animation doesn't have a single style, like say Pixar does or Japanese anime, which may have made it harder to brand it internationally," says Stefan Fjeldmark, head of Zentropa's new Rambuk division, which focuses on animated productions. "But the level of animation here has always been high and it has always been diverse."

A quick scan of the animated titles selling at the Cannes market is a tribute to that diversity. From the dystopian science fiction of "Metropia," from Sweden's Tarik Saleh, to the quirky cross-over humor of Norway's "Kurt Turns Evil" and the Pixaresque family fare of the Icelandic feature "Thor: The Edda Chronicles," Scandi animation spans the spectrum.

"The level of animation and the storytelling is really top-notch," says Solveig Langeland, the

Norwegian-born head of German sales outfit Sola Media, which co-produced "Worms." "But what also sets Scandinavian animation apart is the cost -- they are much more efficient than other European countries. For the cost of a big French feature, you could can make two or three Scandinavian ones."

There are exceptions, like the $15 million Norwegian animated comedy "Free Jimmy," which bowed at Cannes three years ago. But overall, Scandi animation tends to follow the high-concept/low-budget model of films like "Metropia."

"We made it for $4 million, which is very low for an animated feature," "Metropia" producer Kristina Aberg says. "It looks like 3-D, but it isn't. Tarik used 2-D animation and photographs taken mainly in Underground stations across Europe and built the images up, layer by layer, in Photoshop and After Effects. The result is a very unique look that is actually a lot less expensive to produce."

Given the squeeze on international acquisition budgets this year at Cannes, this mix of low cost and high gloss might be precisely what's needed to keep Scandinavian animation rolling out worldwide.