No shortage of animated product at AFM

Toons are on the rise at each year's market

AFM is more animated than ever.

With nearly 90 toon titles offered at the market, from low-budget straight-to-DVD or TV to high-end $10 million-plus features, buyers have seen a constant rise in animated product, thanks in part to 2005's "Hoodwinked! The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood."

"The cost of production has come way down and, with a budget of $10 million, you can make a really great looking movie," said Edward Noeltner, president of Cinema Management Group, which brought "Hoodwinked" to the market four years ago.

At the time, "Hoodwinked" was among the few high-quality animated features at AFM, selling in 16 territories its first time out, Noeltner said. It was picked up by the Weinstein Co. and went on to scoop up $110 million at the boxoffice worldwide, with a virtually even split between domestic and foreign boxoffice sales.

Its main competition that year was "Valiant," repped by Odyssey Entertainment, which was picked up by Buena Vista Pictures and went on to gross $62 million at the worldwide boxoffice.

Since then, Noeltner has noticed a steady rise in the number of CG-animated features at AFM. CMG's offerings this year include the African adventure "Zambezia" and the action feature "Louis La Chance."

Noeltner has already negotiated distribution for both films in several foreign territories, including the Middle East, Russia, Portugal and Turkey.

"In the five years that we've handled animated features, the quality has gone through the roof," he said. "That allows us to have scripts with more characters and detail and more spectacular imagery."

The ones that do well, Noeltner said, are usually made for between $10 million and $20 million, can be marketed to audiences ranging from ages 6 to 60, and can easily be dubbed to whatever foreign market it is distributed.

The technology to create quality animation for less money has increased, allowing features to be produced anywhere in the world. For CMG's titles, the animators are based where the film is being produced. "Zambezia," for example, is being produced entirely in South Africa, while "La Chance" is in France.

Interest in animated features was evident Wednesday night, when Summit Entertainment screened to a packed room at the Casa Del Mar Hotel a short sample of its feature "Astro Boy."

"The only difference with independent animation is vis-a-vis the distribution and P&A push," Summit's Patrick Wachsberger said. "Some independent animated films have done quite well in Europe."

Also generating buzz at AFM is "Light of Olympia," being offered by ITN Distribution.

It's an about-face from last year when the film's producer, Liyan Yan, came to AFM shopping the project around.

"No one wanted to talk to him," ITN's Annalisa San Juan said. "We didn't even have any animations at the time."

But ITN owner Stuart Alson was so impressed by Yan's artwork, they made a deal a few months before Cannes.

ITN sold Turkey and the Middle East at Cannes and at AFM they're in negotiations for several territories, including a bidding war among several Russian companies.

"The amount of traffic of people coming in – even if they're not normally picking up animation – they're asking because the quality looks so good," San Juan said of the animated feature, made on a $16 million budget.

Liza Foreman contributed to this report.