Les enjeux du développement et de la production d’un film d’animation
Sébastien Lachaussée & Elisa Martin-Winkel

Sébastien Lachaussée & Elisa Martin-Winkel

Challenges of developing and producing an animated film

French animated films are regularly recognized at festivals, whether they are aimed to children or adults, original films or adaptation.

In 2020, during the Annecy animated film festival, « Calamity, a childhood of Martha Jane Cannary » by Rémi Chayé was awarded the Cristal for the feature film (Maybe Movies). Before in 2019, Jérémy Clapin’s « I Lost My Body » (Xilam Animation) had won the same award but was above all the first animated film to win the Grand Prix of Critics’ Week in Cannes.  

Once again this year, as the festival begins, 3 feature films in the official selection are French co-productions and no less than 13 short films are produced or co-produced by France.

Animated feature films are subject to specificities with regard to their development, funding and production.

I – Development

Development is a crucial period, during which it is essential for a producer to secure the rights to the burgeoning project of an animated picture.

In this context, it is necessary to take into account the specificities of an animated film which leads to the joint development of literary and graphic bibles, then a screenplay, generally involving the director and the animation studios early enough in the project in order to forecast its future production.

Literary and graphic bibles may be the subject of option contracts or transfer of rights. Screenwriters and director contracts will be subject of order and assignment of rights contracts.

In both cases, it is essential to detail the authors’ services and to take into account that the development period for an animated film is long. In this sense, duration of the option or that of a possible return of rights clause must really allow the producer to develop the film project, with no risk of losing the rights in the process.

The mission of the authors must be established broadly, by providing for the work to be delivered and any rewritings and adaptations of such literary and graphic works. The director must be entrusted with the supervision of the preparation of all documents pertaining to the picture, in collaboration with the authors chosen by the producer or by mutual agreement.

Regarding the scope of the assignment of rights, it is important for the production to ensure that the rights to adapt graphic creations are included, but also the rights of novelization, publishing of the screenplay and graphic bible or even merchandising rights, as such rights are often exploited regarding animated pictures.

Finally, it is not uncommon for animated films to be adaptations of pre-existing works (books, comics). The case may be, an option contract is first signed on the acquisition of the adaptation rights of the pre-existing work, then a definitive transfer contract, which can be integrated. in the option agreement, in order to provide more legal certainty for the parties. Here again, it will be necessary to take into account the time required for development of the animated film and provide for a long and renewable option period. The assignment of rights will also have, when possible, any derivative rights, being understood that in the case of a pre-existing literary work, new literary edition will have to be discussed.

It is necessary to consider the involvement of the author of the pre-existing work in the film project. Some authors will demand the right to obtain the script, the choice of the director, or even the casting or other artistic or technical elements of the film; which will be subject to negotiations. These provisions are binding, and a fair balance must be found allowing the proper development of the project, knowing that a minimum freedom will be necessary to allow adaptation of the preexisting work.

II – Financing

The production costs of an animated film are significant, often resulting in the implementation of national or international co-productions.

The traditional financing counters are open to animated films (writing aids, advance on receipts, aids after production, mobilization of support funds, etc.), as well as certain devices dedicated to animated films.

In particular, we can mention the following dedicated aids in France:

  • Aid for the preparation of animated feature films cinema : this aid allows audio-visual producers as an exception, to invest sums from their automatic audiovisual support account for the development of animated feature films. Preparation work (copyright, location scouting, designs, development and modeling of characters and sets, etc.) must be spent in France for at least 50% of their cost.
  • Selective support for visual or sound creation through the use of digital image and sound technologies (CVS). This aid will allow the financing of the use of innovative technologies for manufacturing and processing images and sound, when the use of such technologies constitutes an essential aspect of the artistic process of creation, this aid is not reserved for animated films, but these can evidently benefit from it.

With regard to animation films, the quality and originality of the graphic proposal will be mainly considered, but also the ability to renew, improve or optimize the manufacturing processes, the anticipation of the animation or the consistency of the quotes such digital works. This aid is particularly interesting as it can in particular benefit to a feature film pilot.

  • Tax credit benefit to delegate producers, for expenses incurred in France for the production of films benefiting from automatic financial aid for the production of feature films. It consists of a reduction in corporation tax or by payment of the difference between the amount of corporation tax and that of the calculated tax credit if the latter is higher.

With regard to animated films, it is specified that the work of design and writing,, manufacturing and image processing and post production must be carried out mainly in France. Among the eligible expenses are added: expenses pertaining to providers specializing in the preparation and production of animated pictures and expenses pertaining to technical materials necessary to make such animated pictures.

Finally, it can be noted that VOD / SVOS platforms such as Netflix and Amazon offer new financing possibilities for animated films. In this regard, dedicated services have been set up.

III- Production

It is essential to note here that there is some confusion between the development and manufacturing phases of an animated film, including the possibility to produce a pilot or previews of the film during development.

In this context, we can highlight that the attendance time of the director of an animated film will be very important, including during development (animatic, test scenes) but especially during all the stages of creation in collaboration with the animators and 2D/3D technicians but also during voiceover recordings and final editing.

It is therefore important to define director’s services widely and to integrate all the stages of development (bibles, synopsis, note of intent, pilot, animatic etc.) and production (monitoring of the animation, post-production etc.) until establishment of the final version of the film.

Since the director’s participation is generally very long, the portion of salary usually takes precedence over the portion of transfer of rights granted to him (60/40%).

We can also note that it is necessary for the producer to enter employment agreements with the actors engaged for dubbing, in compliance with the relevant collective agreement. In this context, it is necessary to negotiate the widest possible for the assignment of rights, the presence of the artist until the recordings are finalized, but also to consider the presence of the actors during the promotion.

Finally, the employment agreement concluded with technicians, and in particular with the animators, must include a clause of assignment of rights in favor of the producer which will apply if necessary where their contributions would be protectable by copyright. It should be noted that if such contributions can be individualized and protected by copyright, the latter must have a proportional remuneration on the individualized operations of their creation.

IV – Conclusion

All agreements established as part of the development and production of a project must take into account the specificities of animated films, including its development phase and the importance of derivative rights.

To negotiate and draft such agreements, it is therefore wise to resort to a specialist lawyer in order to study the characteristics of each project to best meet the needs of the parties involved.











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