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Animation domination

After success at home, Spain’s animators are drawing up plans for global invasion

Las aventuras de Tadeo Jones is the most successful animated feature in Spanish cinema history. Ampliar foto
Las aventuras de Tadeo Jones is the most successful animated feature in Spanish cinema history.

Along with Blancanieves and The Impossible, the other big winner at last Sunday’s Goya Awards was the animation Las aventuras de Tadeo Jones. From four nominations, the movie won three prizes — Best Animated Feature, Best Adapted Screenplay and, most surprisingly, Best New Director for Enrique Gato. It was the first time in Goyas history that an animated movie had been nominated in the category and testament to how far Spanish animation has come in recent years.

Tadeo, which follows the adventures of an amateur archeologist on the hunt for Incan treasure, is the latest and greatest miracle produced by the ever-more powerful and buoyant Spanish animation industry. It is the most successful animated movie in Spanish cinema history — raking in 18 million euros since its release last August — and, along with the record-breaking The Impossible, proved the savior of the Spanish box office in 2012.

It’s taken sweat and tears to get this far, but a wealth of talent and good animators (although some have had to seek work overseas) are creating a solid industry. The figures are encouraging, and more so at a time when the country’s audiovisual sector is not going through one of its best moments.

In 2011 the animation industry had a turnover of 306 million euros — the estimate for 2017 is 879 million — and employed 8,600 people both directly and indirectly — 21,000 is the predicted figure for 2017. What’s more, 38 percent of its income is generated overseas.

“We have come a long way in a short time,” says Carlos Biern, president of Diboos, the Spanish Federation of Animation Producers Associations. “In just 30 years, we have gone from being suppliers of design to the North American studios — because we were a very cheap country back then — to being great creators of content and truly competitive at the international level.”

Perhaps the big jump came in 2009 with Planet 51, which opened the way up to making big Hollywood-style animated productions in Spain. With a powerful distributor — Sony — behind it, the 55-million-euro movie, the first to be produced by Alcobendas-based Ilion studios, was released across the world.

Since then others have followed suit: Fernando Trueba made the Oscar-nominated Chico & Rita and now Juan José Campanella, director of The Secret in their Eyes, is making Futbolín, a Spanish-Argentinean co-production in 3D, while Antonio Banderas and director Manuel Sicilia’s Granada-based Kandor Graphics are about to release Justin and the Knights of Valour, which has already been sold in 140 countries.

Getting the films out to the rest of the world is the key factor, everyone agrees. Tadeo is the first Spanish film to go on widespread release in China and has been sold in 50 countries, including South Korea and Russia.

Now all the ambitious productions are created with one eye on the foreign market, and a greater number of investors. “From minute one our thoughts are on the international market and we direct all our energy there,” says Tadeo producer Nicolás Matji.

“If we fail here, we still might have success abroad,” adds Biern.

What’s more, while Spanish live-action films have trouble competing with big European and American productions, things are more equal in animation. The difference in budgets — an average of 30 million euros in the US compared with eight to 12 million in Spain — is not so visible up on the screen. “We can compete with anyone,” says Biern.