How Catalonia Became One of Europe’s Fastest Growing Animation Hubs (2024)

Catalonia‘s animation scene is flourishing thanks to a motivated and well-trained base of artists, generous government backing and early involvement from public broadcasters.

One need look no further than this year’s Annecy Animation Festival for proof of the Catalanimation boom. Titles from the Spanish territory appear in the main competition (“Rock Bottom”), Contrechamp competition (“Black Butterflies”), Annecy Presents non-competitive section (“Buffalo Kids”), Work in Progress (“Olivia and the Invisible Earthquake”), Annecy market MIFA Pitches sidebar and several other high-profile sections of the French festival.

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Given the quality and diversity of productions emerging from the region, there is no doubt that the foundation of the Catalan boom is artist-driven. Auteur indie titles like “Robot Dreams” (Arcadia Motion Pictures) have achieved critical and award success, including European Film Awards and an Oscar nomination.

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Producing those types of films isn’t free, however, and often wouldn’t be possible without the involvement of government cultural programs like ICEC, the Catalan governmental culture industry division.

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According to Catalan Councillor of Culture, Natàlia Garriga, “It is a priority to promote [audiovisual] as a strategic sector that creates imagery, describes landscapes, inspires ways of doing things, creates references, transmits our language, generates conversation and boosts the economy.”

ICEC’s budget for animated features and series is €4.5 million ($4.9 million), but animated films can also qualify for further backing from the ICEC film fund. As was the case last year, the fund will distribute more than €41 million ($44.7 million). That compares very favorably to the agency’s pre-pandemic budget of €12.6 million ($14.0 million) in 2019.

Other possibilities for funding can be found in a €1.5 million ($1.6 million) development fund for early-stage fiction, animation and documentary features and series for theatrical or broadcast release alongside a €400,000 ($436,000) short film fund.

In 2020, ICEC introduced a Minority Co-Production Fund that now sits at €2 million ($2.2 million) earmarked for international theatrical productions with a Catalan co-producer. 40 films have received Fund backing in the four years since, three of them animated.

“When we launched, the goal was to provide Catalan producers with the best conditions and framework to enhance and promote their creative, professional and artistic exchanges in the international arena,” says ICEC director Edgar Garcia.

According to ICEC, more than €14.7 million ($16 million) in financing is available to animated Catalan productions.

“For us, the support of the government is capital,” insists Mikel Mas, whose company Cornelius Films is producing “Olivia and the Invisible Earthquake,” the first-ever stop-motion feature produced in Catalonia. He added, “ICEC is our main ally. They have a specific line for animation that you can get €500,000 ($544,500) for production and, at the same time, they have another grant for development.”

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There are also plenty of non-financial opportunities to support animation producers in Catalonia. Events like Animar BCN bring in producers from around the world, creating a vital networking platform for local companies. Sitges, one of the world’s premiere genre film festivals, has always supported local animation and offers a pair of toon prizes each year.

Producers worldwide have recently suffered as major studios and distributors have cut back on the number of greenlights granted to new projects, and Catalonia wasn’t immune to that decline. Scaling back has emphasized the enduring importance of local broadcasters in getting animated projects off the ground and into production.

According to “Rock Bottom” producer Alba Sotorra, “In Spain, public broadcasters are essential for these kinds of projects. They’re looking for culturally significant projects and they want more animation on their platforms.”

“Rock Bottom” benefited from financing provided by local public broadcasters in Catalonia (3 Cat), Valencia, Majorca and national broadcaster RTVE.

Beyond just a commercial boon, broadcaster involvement also offers producers and filmmakers peace of mind. Spending years working on a feature film is a more pleasant experience when the people involved know that the fruits of their labor will be available to a wide audience.

“We want commercial success, but first and foremost, we make films for the audience,” says Edmon Roch, whose company Ikiru Films produces Annecy Contrechamp player “Black Butterflies.” He continues, “The key is to get as many of the right people to see the film as possible, and that’s much more possible when a public broadcaster adds the film to their platform.”

Roch knows what he’s talking about when it comes to commercial success. His company, along with Jordi Gasull’s Catalan studio 4Cats Pictures, produces the “Tad, the Lost Explorer” franchise, which has grossed $115 million worldwide. 4Cats also produced “Mummies,” which grossed $54.5 million worldwide last year.

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“I’m convinced films from Catalonia can continue to have a larger impact all over the world,” says Roch. “We have seen a rise in the technical quality of Catalan animation that lets us compete with the big American studios. Also, during and since the pandemic, many of our artists have worked for companies like Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks, so they understand the techniques needed to achieve that quality.”

Ivan Díaz, head of international at Barcelona-based sales, distribution and production house Filmax agrees and says that in today’s market, animated films are some of the easiest to sell abroad.

“Animation and genre films are the kinds of titles I’m most comfortable working with in terms of foreign sales,” says Diaz. “Animation, horror and genre films are the ones you’re still able to sell and resell in an increasingly difficult theatrical marketplace.”

To that end, Filmax is looking to increase its animation involvement and, at last month’s Marché du Film, revealed it has boarded two upcoming animated films, “The Treasure of Barracuda,” from Goya winner Adriá Garcia (“Nocturna,”) and Shadi Adib’s feature “The Light of Aisha.” The company also co-produces with Tándem Films and Turanga Films on “Superthings,” a new transmedia property based on a popular toy line from Magicbox. In total, the companies plan to produce a 52-part series and a feature film, all of which are planned for release in 2026.

“We think this property can become very big for our company. We’re extremely active in animation right now,” Diaz added.

With robust government backing, eager public broadcasters, well-trained artists and a track record for commercial success, there is every reason to believe that Catalan animation will continue to flourish.

How Catalonia Became One of Europe’s Fastest Growing Animation Hubs (2024)
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