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Author Topic: The Feature Film
Don Bluth Productions
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Over the years, I have heard from many animation students who are interested in creating their own picture or their own studio. I believe the computer has been a great boon to our industry but at the same time has pushed each of us into a type of isolation. The feature film can never be made by one or two people; it will always be a team effort of people who talk to each other, inspire each other and explore the romance of an animated story. Someone once calculated the sheer man-hours that were involved in creating Pinocchio and came up with 400 years. That is, if Walt had done it all by himself!
What I have loved in my career as an animator is the joy that comes from teaming with other people to build an animated movie.
Those of you that have had this experience will know what I'm talking about. The short will always be economically feasible, and can done by an individual; the computers have made that possible. But, how do we overcome the tendency towards isolationism which is the safe ground, and find a more gregarious way of working together to progress our art while we're waiting for that "special feature" to be funded?

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SNAKEBITE
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Another solid question.

I've only got to stages of development for my projects. I get to a point where I need help, find someone to help the problem at hand but have to wait a year for a weeks worth of work because they need to focus on paying work and not bartered work.
Its hard to rally the troops.

I tend to be a cave dweller, but I'm also very out going. more than most. I'm always hustling and
doing my best to carve my own path.

There's a lot of stories and experiences out there that when you help someone they tend to forget the people who helped them when they make it, so the incentive is spoiled. People get fearful of such things. I myself have felt burned in the past.

I think thats part of the isolationist aspect. bad experiences. although its not a real reason. One should never give up.

But it is hard to find reliable people.

I personally would like to hear more attempts at answers from a veteran like yourself. I tend to deal with questions like this all the time but very rarely get insight from people who actually have experience with carving their own path.

So share the knowledge, Mr Bluth. how do you do it?

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SNAKEBITE
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I had to come back.

One of the ways I look at it is the way of short campaigns. Sun Ztu proposed that short campaigns fuel the fires of long campaigns.

Maybe having a tier system of content release. For instance I'm working on a concept where I know shooting for the video game or animation first is unrealistic. So a series of prints first. if they sell well then I take that money pay people who helped me and then put it back in the machine.
Maybe those prints can pay a team to do a publication. then maybe the publication can fuel the website and ancillary, then maybe all of that combined can fuel the animated short...then maybe the animated short can get play and fuel the fire of the movie.

Maybe thats kinda vague, but I think the team involved needs to see pay off. I came to this conclusion being apart of too many long campaigns where resources and energy were drained without any sort of real pay off to motivate the troops..
not to mention the generals in question ended up being self serving punk asses.

not trying to be militant, just using the analogy...and the experience.

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toonedbob
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As far as making an indy feature, don't worry about funding - find friends and maket it. Bill Plympton does, Nina Paley did, Phil Nibblenik did.

Computers have allowed us to communicate more freely with people all over the world. People that become isolationist, just choose to be so, not because of the technology, but mainly due to their personality.

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SNAKEBITE
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word to that!

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EustaceScrubb
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quote:
Someone once calculated the sheer man-hours that were involved in creating Pinocchio and came up with 400 years. That is, if Walt had done it all by himself!

What I have loved in my career as an animator is the joy that comes from teaming with other people to build an animated movie.

This is a good topic , near and dear to my heart.

Recently I read a quote from Wynton Marsalis which really resonated with me. This quote was at the start of a blog post concerning the outsourcing of animation :

quote:
"A palpable energy is released when inspiration and dedication come together in a creative art. The energy is transformative in an individual who is innovative, but it is transcendent when manifested by a group. There are no words for the dynamic thrill of participating in a mutual mosaic of creativity."

— Wynton Marsalis

(the blog post by Mark Mayerson is worth reading in it's entirety if anyone's interesting here's the link: Against Outsourcing .)

As much as I admire those who have the personal fortitude to make a feature film on their own (such as Nina Paley did with "Sita Sings the Blues") I'm one of those who thrives on the energy of the group endeavor , i.e. "the joy that comes from teaming with other people to build an animated movie." or "the dynamic thrill of participating in a mutual mosaic of creativity" as mentioned above.

But the big question that always comes up when talking about how to get an animated feature film off the ground is the BUDGET. How to fund it ?

I've noticed this subject has come up a lot over the years on Animation Nation. One of the things I think we're all aware of is that the big-budget films of the major studios like Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks are not a viable model for an independent production, while at the same time most of us want to work on something with some artistic integrity , not something that looks "cheap" . A lot of us look at the reported budget numbers that range from $80 million upwards to $120 million , $150 million or beyond , and wonder : "Where does all that money go ? Why do these movies cost so much ?" Wall-E and Ratatouille reportedly had budgets of $180 million, Kung Fu Panda had a reported budget of $130 million, Madagascar 2 was $150 million , Bolt was $150 million , Horton Hears a Who $85 milllion, Ice Age 2 $80 million.

My interest is more in hand-drawn traditional animation, but looking back at the budget numbers on those movies made in the post-Lion King bonanza period from 1995 to 2003 the numbers are also rather bloated : "Home on The Range" (2003) cost a reported $110 million, "Treasure Planet" (2002) $140 million, "Atlantis" (2001) $120 million , while on the "low end" of the scale we see movies like "Lilo & Stitch" (2002) $80 million, "The Iron Giant" (1997) $70 milliion, "Titan A.E." (1997) $75 million .

(these numbers are from the site Box Office Mojo. I have no idea how accurate they are , but I assume they are close enough)

So one of the things I've seen discussed through the years on Animation Nation is how do the budgets for these animated movies from the 1990's and early 2000's compare to budgets for classic Disney animated features ?

If we adjust for inflation how much did an expensive movie like "Sleeping Beauty" cost in today's money or what did one of the "cheaper" movies like "Sword in the Stone" cost in today's dollars ?

I'm reminded of this again today from a comment that Michael Barrier posted on his blog , discussing the lower budget films directed by Woolie Reitherman. Barrier writes:

quote:
"I have all the official budget figures for the Disney features from the "Walt era,"... The Sword in the Stone cost an official $2,961,196, about half of Sleeping Beauty's disastrously large total, and The Jungle Book cost $3,871,030, still a lot under Sleeping Beauty's cost. I don't have a precise figure for The Aristocats or Robin Hood, but the totals were probably comparable; publicity releases said that Aristocats had a budget of around $4 million."
I realize it's probably a lot more complicated than doing a simple "adjust for inflation" calculation , there are other factors at work , but the numbers are interesting all the same.

Using these inflation calculators : http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm and
http://www.halfhill.com/inflation.html

I get these figures --

Sleeping Beauty cost a reported $6,000,000 in 1959 dollars.
That would be around $44,679,863.91 in 2009 dollars.

Sword in the Stone cost approx . $3,000, 000 dollars in 1963 dollars. Adjusting for inflation that figure is $21,383,986 dollars in 2009.

The Jungle Book cost $3,871,030 in 1967 dollars. Adjusting for inflation it would be $25,719,705 dollars in 2009.

Again, I wouldn't read too much into a simple "adjusted for inflation" figure. It's not like we can exactly duplicate the conditions these movies were made under (in terms of the infrastructure of the Disney Studio in the '50's and 60's , the skill level and experience of the crew, etc. are things that money can't buy in the short term)

But there does seem to be a large gap between what it was costing on a per minute basis to do feature animation in the 60's vs. what was costing in the 90's and what it would cost today.

If someone said that we could get an animated feature with the quality of animation found in something like "Sword in the Stone" for $21,383,986 I think that would sound like a pretty reasonable budget figure. But hey, let's say we double that figure . An animated feature with the quality of animation found in "Sword in the Stone" for $42,000,000 million dollars. Still not even close to the "low end" feature film budgets of $70 to $80 milliion in the late 90's - to - early 2000's .

I'm not a producer or an economist. I don't have the expertise to understand where all the differences between then and now come into play , but it still seems to me that it would be possible to make decent quality hand-drawn animated feature films with lower budgets than we were seeing in the late 90's.

Looking at some recent independent hand-drawn animated features I have read that "Persepolis" cost the equivalent of $7.3 million dollars.

"The Triplettes of Belleville" cost between $8 to $10 million depending on what you read .

The recently completed "The Secret of Kells" had a reported budget of 6 million Euros , which is equivalent to $7.9 million U.S. dollars.

But then these films are generally perceived as "art house" films with a niche market and the profit margins are pretty small. (actually I'd be perfectly happy working within that small niche or that part of the "Long Tail" so that doesn't bother me) .

Anyway, "niche market" or not the Europeans seem to be pretty good about putting together funding from multiple sources to get these interesting independent feature films made.

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knowledge
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Mr. Bluth, with all of your experience could you tell us how much you could actually make a movie for today? Thanks!
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tstevens
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There are days that I long to be in a larger studio with other cartoonists and artists. Working in a commercial studio is great, and there are times of collaboration, but more often than not it is rare that we ever have more than one or two people in studio. The experience of working in a vacuum is often stifling because there are few times to get input from truly experienced animators and designers. I had the priviledge of working with a very experienced animator on a recent project and I was amazed at how much he brought to the table even though we only had him do about ten feet of animation. That is something you just can't get working remotely. The comradery of being with others in the same boat is an experience you just can't replicate any other way. Unfortunately the feature length production is one of the only ways to get that experience of being with so many like minded individuals.

As for the money, Eustace gave a pretty good run down of the cost comparisons though the thing that the numbers do not account for is the increase in crew sizes as well as the drawn out production schedules. Larger studios today have hidden costs all over the place: gourmet cafeterias, after hours meals, workout facilities, constant technology upgrades, large campuses, medical insurance, dental, vision, and so on. When you see the budget for a Hollywood feature it includes the cost to run the whole operation and not just the production. In 1960 people would have never thought of many of the luxuries that the major studios have now. In fact, I think recall that Disney made thier employees pay for parking up until the early eighties and in some studios, even today, the employees still have to pay for coffee.

There is no reason why a good film can't be made for below $50 million or even $25 million. However, it will take a smaller producer outisde of LA to do it and it will require tighter story constrictions and a much lower overhead. The question is wether or not experienced artists will opt to go to a studio that offers less in the way of benefits, location, and so on.

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Don Bluth Productions
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quote:
I had to come back.

One of the ways I look at it is the way of short campaigns. Sun Ztu proposed that short campaigns fuel the fires of long campaigns.

Maybe having a tier system of content release. For instance I'm working on a concept where I know shooting for the video game or animation first is unrealistic. So a series of prints first. if they sell well then I take that money pay people who helped me and then put it back in the machine.
Maybe those prints can pay a team to do a publication. then maybe the publication can fuel the website and ancillary, then maybe all of that combined can fuel the animated short...then maybe the animated short can get play and fuel the fire of the movie.

Maybe thats kinda vague, but I think the team involved needs to see pay off. I came to this conclusion being apart of too many long campaigns where resources and energy were drained without any sort of real pay off to motivate the troops..
not to mention the generals in question ended up being self serving punk asses.

not trying to be militant, just using the analogy...and the experience.

Hello Snakbite
I share your frustrations. I have experienced many of the same feelings over the years. I can't give you a for sure answer to the funding of a project but here's how I did it.
I kept my day job so that money was coming in weekly. While animating at Disney's, I moonlighted at night for about 4 hours on a project called Banjo the Woodpile Cat, a 26 minute short. The strength of of our project was the friendship that developed among the artists working on the project. None of them were paid. Our intent on making the 26 minute short was to relearn animation principals that somehow had fallen through the cracks at Disney's. There were 17 of us working on the project in my garage, and it took us seven years to complete it. Persistence was surely our saving grace.

On several occasions, we approached Disney studios and asked them if they would like to see what we were working on. We told them that we had discovered many new techniques that we could now incorporate into the feature work at the studio. No one was interested in the project. However, several ex Disney executives had formed a company called Aurora to produce their own films. They found a man in Chicago who saw our work on Banjo and was convinced that we could make a high quality movie that would be competitive with Disney. He offered to invest 6.2 million dollars for us to make The Secret of NIMH. When we told Disney that we were going to leave them to make our own animated movie, they laughed and told us we would fail.

Snakebite, what I have come to understand after producing 12 animated feature films is: The production road is fraught with trouble and requires sacrifices. To be able to make those feature films and get distribution for them, I personally was required by the studios to sign over the rights to the characters I designed. Every character I have ever designed belongs to some studio in Hollywood. Moreover, Don Bluth Pictures would not exist if I had not been willing to do that.

To this day, I am grateful to the investor in Chicago who started the ball rolling. My reward over the years has never been about money. My love for the art of animation and the dream to be a part of it, has been fulfilled. I have no regrets and I would do it all over again. I expect any of you contemporary artists can have the same dream and fulfillment. We must avoid cynicism and bitterness and maintain hope that when you create a thing of beauty, you raise the level of consciousness in our society.

If I were to start again today, I would begin the studio in my garage. I would employ with what ever funds I could find, the best writer possible. I would rally the troops using the Internet and particularly, this forum to storyboard, layout and animate. This would be under the banner of resurrecting 2D animation. That is a cause worth fighting for. Surely, there would be those that are willing to sacrifice to support that. Where there is no money involved, you must substitute kindness and friendship.

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toonedbob
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As far as enlisting troops to help produce your feature without guaranteed compensation, then maybe a form of equity in the project could be offered.
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Mr. Fun
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Okay, Don. Are you ready to do it all over again? All we need is a garage.

Anyway, I gotta give you credit for willing to undertake the impossible. I gave it a go myself back in the sixties. After “The Jungle Book” I launched my own company in Los Angeles. It was probably a hopeless venture, because we were massively underfunded. Anyway, I still feel it was well worth it. What an adventure.

On a lighter note, I still remember with fondness the old “Bluth Brothers Theater in Culver City. Boy, those were the days.

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bigshot
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Lotte Reiniger, Bill Plympton and Frederic Back certainly weren't pushed into isolation by working pretty much by themselves. They were artists creating a personal vision on an achievable scale. The big studio team model is great, but the more people, the more overhead. It isn't a "quick and dirty indie" when there's that much involved.

Charles is right that it's best to just make the film, by hook or by crook... then look for investors to set up distribution. That way, you don't owe your soul to the bankers looking over your shoulder telling you what sells. You take your best shot and you ride it as far as you can, then learn from the experience and do it all again.

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bigshot
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One more thing...

There is a tendency in animation to mistake "hard to do" with "quality". Pinocchio was a great film, but it wasn't great because Walt forced his artists to spend hundreds of thousands of hours working unpaid overtime and attending forced art classes. It was great because it expressed beautiful ideas.

The perfect example of the sort of waste of effort Disney has become known for is the multiplane shot just before Pinocchio leaves for school. It's one of the most elaborate shots ever created, requiring a staff of CalTech scientists with slide rules to plot the complex camera moves. When the film premiered, the audience just sat through the shot as if it was just another scene, yet they applauded a shot of the boat leaving for Pleasure Island which was a static background.

Audiences don't care how many people sweat blood and lived on coffee, booze and rolaids for a year. All they want is a good picture to watch. That comes from original ideas presented clearly and expressively, not from hard labor alone. We shouldn't be emulating the torture of the past, just the inspiration.

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rocktoonz
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Well, now we have multiplane in a box. Check out this Toon Boom clip. Multiplane features with Toom Boom
Many flash houses expect animators to do a minute a week of full animation (pre-designed and TD'ed of course). So theoretically working full time you could do a 80 minute feature solo in 80 weeks once it's designed and boarded.

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Plai
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I wonder what Mr.Bluth and his team would of done back then if they had today's technology, I'm pretty sure it would've been neat!

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Plai.tv

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Charles
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Don, at any time during your career producing feature films, including your time producing video games such as Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, did you ever consider setting up a publicly traded company to raise capital? Any Heyward of DIC did this in the 1980s I believe, and so did Phil Roman. Were any of the companies you were operating such as Sullivan Bluth publicly trading its stock? If not, do you think it would've made a difference in your relationships and deals with the major studios if you had taken this route?

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SNAKEBITE
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I can dig it....and BTW, I"M TALKING WITH DON BLUTH!!! in your face!!! hahahahaha

ok, back to seriousness.

thanks for taking the time to give such insight. I can't begin to tell you how much your experience is appreciated when you share it.

So if you were to start over, and you had your garage, had the computers, had the people you cared for and had talent and vision, had your writer, how would you keep them on point through the struggles of self production? How do you keep your employees inspired when they are building for the future and not rent?

I understand these questions might not be able to have answers, be it that every situation is unique. but this is something I have experienced.
Maybe its me, maybe its my style. I'm open to it. But I also see it happen with other people. Its not so unique as one mans style or approach being lacking...or maybe it is.. Its a tough road. Not trying to be negative, I'm all about the road less traveled, but geesh, tough.

But you can't inspire investors until you inspire the content and the people who produce it.

maybe its one of those (in my best Kung Fu voice)"Find out for yourself young grasssmoka" type of answers. Maybe its just part of the struggle and the production. You gotta just working through it, keep focused, keep moving, surrender to the story and the people will follow.


hummmmmmmmm

good stuff

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Mr. Fun
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Mr. Bluth -- paging Mr. Bluth.

Where are you, Don?

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Graphiteman
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I love working with other people but what if one can't; doesn't have the opportunity? What if one can't "break-in"? Do we wait until others give us the opportunity?
I believe the computer doesn't make an artist anymore isolationist than canvas and paint.
If the independant feature is more about personal vision then moreso is the individual feature. Apples and oranges to me. The commercial feature is a product of consensus the indiviual film is (ideally) uncompromised conscience. Isolationism is an attitude that preceded computers.But hey, more power to the individual animator who can now work on a personal vision as other artists in other media and disciplines have been doing for centuries.

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Don Bluth Productions
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quote:
Mr. Bluth, with all of your experience could you tell us how much you could actually make a movie for today? Thanks!
Knowledge,
I'd like to be able to tell you that answer but I know I'd give you incorrect figures; this is outside my field of expertise. If you want some accurate figures, contact my partner, Gary Goldman, on the other website DonBluth.com

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Don Bluth Productions
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quote:
Mr. Bluth -- paging Mr. Bluth.

Where are you, Don?

Mr. Fun,
I'm here; I've always been here. I hope your in good health Floyd.

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hcjehg
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Hello Here is a little insight in how this takes place in Europe.

First I would like to mention that I do not have the Artist in me, but I have finished Feature films (incl. Asterix and the vikings and Brendan and the secret of Kells) doing pipelines and production management systems. Also, the aspiring studio owner is not in me. But; I have now followed this for about 10 years and can shed a little bit of light on the (some) shattered dreams, but also a lot of successes :-)

So, a nonprofit organization was set up in Europe in 1988, Cartoon Media. CARTOON organizes 4 types of events.

Cartoon Masters:
4 training seminars each year for European professionals in the industry (about 100 participants per session), dealing with specialized subjects affecting the development of the skills and trade involved in animation;

Cartoon Forum:
a co-production forum for animated (mainly television) series. The Cartoon Forum (about 750 participants) takes place annually in September and has no fixed location (it is in a different country every year);

Cartoon Movie:
a co-production forum for feature-length animation, mainly for the cinema. Cartoon Movie (about 600 participants) takes place every year in March in Lyon, France;

Cartoon Connection:
a new program intended to explore ways of reinforcing cooperation between EU and non EU animation professionals. The first event of the kind is taking place in Argentina (Buenos Aires) in November 2009.

I would like to mention the Cartoon Masters and the Cartoon Movie, that I have personal experience with, but before describing them I would like to add that the industry in Europe is not what would be considered a "cut throat business", where all are competing against each other. The ambience is rather that of good friends, all sharing this magic passion :-)

Cartoon Masters:
~100 professionals in 4 "intimate" training sessions a year, covering many subjects such as financing, feature production and digital media. For the finance sessions the presenters would actually bring real budgets from completed films and talk about them: "We grossly underestimated this amount, it almost killed the production", "If you make this type of film this is about what you should expect". Key being sharing rather than hiding or misleading. The audience is new professionals and experienced professionals mixed, because even if it is only a few of the subjects that might be of interest, people stay there because this is such a great place to network. You will hear about the new productions, hear about ideas, someone will be bringing some artwork or a teaser on their preferred portable media player.
And, might I add, staying also means having a great time with the good friends mentioned above.

Cartoon Movie:
~750 professionals, animators, producers, directors, distributers, finance... (Last year ~180 investors and ~80 distributers) together for a couple of days with the specific goal of finding each other. Staring in the morning with the Coffee Show, very short introductions to the sessions that will take place during the day. Sessions are presentation of projects either in concept, financing, preproduction, in production, looking for distributors, completed.. in the 3 cinemas on site. Normally a short presentation would be a short explanation of the film, some footage followed by a Q&A session.
I have seen presentations getting signed the last two million Euros (to be seen in the light of the average budget being ~7.5 million euro, co-produced between 2-3 studios) 10 minutes after such a presentation (It was rather special).
If a film is screened 2 times there is more than 90% chance that it will be produced! (As I remember the statistics of the top of my head).
Networking is most certainly a big advantage at Cartoon Movie, but again it also means having a great time with the good friends mentioned above.
750 people is a little bit more difficult, but on the other hand, you will always find someone interesting to share your passion with.

Check out the TV Reports page

Certainly these seminars are not for free, but well worth the money.

Language is normally English, French or German with simultaneous translation to the other languages.

So to get back to the subject: The CARTOON way is a great way, that works in Europe.
I don't know if it would work in other markets, but perhaps someone else can comment on that...

Certainly CARTOON is now going to try something new, the Cartoon Connection, to bring together people outside EU with those inside. Hopefully this new adventure will contribute to another 20 years of success for CARTOON and the industry as a whole.

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Chaos free animation - One stop shop for animation pipeline services
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