In a highly anticipated animation event at this year’s Cannes Festival, Emmy-winning Spanish director Rodrigo Blaas attends on Sunday the screening of his short film “Sith,” part of Disney+’s “Star Wars: Visions” Season 2 anthology. The first big-screen exhibition of “Sith” — released worldwide May 4 on Disney+ — followed by a meet and greet with Blaas marks one highlight of the Animation Day Revelations New Animated Shorts From Spain, organized by ICEX Spain’s Trade & Investment.
The Spanish animation event at Cannes will also showcase Alberto Mielgo’s celebrated 2022 Oscar-winning short film “The Windshield Wiper.”
Another leading light in the renaissance of Spanish animation, Mielgo also took an Emmy Award last year for individual achievement in animation for “Jíbaro,” part of Season 3 of Netflix’s animated series “Love, Death + Robots.” An earlier episode of the series directed by Mielgo, “The Witness,” won three Emmys in 2019.
Blaas has worked on successful animated films such as Blue Sky Studios’ “Ice Age” and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles” and was the showrunner on Guillermo del Toro’s acclaimed series “Trollhunders” for DreamWorks and Netflix, which earned six Emmy awards.
The Cannes showcase underscores the vibrancy of the Spanish animation scene. Spain has produced 16 animated feature films, 72 seasons of TV series and 156 short films in 2020-2022, according to toon-VFX federation Diboos.
“We are growing at a beastly pace,” said Diboos president Nico Matji at a Malaga Festival press conference in March.
Spanish animation has been building a reputation for decades, but over the last four years, recognition has grown in prizes — Sergio Pablos’ “Klaus” won seven Annie awards in 2019, for instance — and this year, Juan Jesús García Galocha’s “Mummies,” from 4Cats and Atresmedia Cine, has snagged $52 million worldwide, handled by Warner Bros.
Enrique Gato’s “Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet,” produced by Telecinco Cinema and Lightbox and the third installment in Spain’s highest-grossing toon franchise, scored $33 million in 2022. It was distributed worldwide by Paramount.
Like many Spanish animation professionals, Blaas and Mielgo had to migrate decades ago in search of opportunities to develop their talent.
“I left Spain in the ‘90s because it was impossible to make an animated feature,” says Blaas, who recently returned to the country to co-found El Guiri Estudios, a Madrid-based bridge with Hollywood, from where he wrote, directed and produced “Sith.”
“When I started 20 years ago, there were a lot of people working in international studios because there was not much industry in Spain,” Mielgo notes.
What caused a shift? “The sector was regulated, animation schools launched, great technical teams were assembled and very good studios emerged financing feature films. That’s admirable,” Mielgo explains.
“Spain is now far more competitive, with tax breaks for animation, which very much drive the big studios’ interest in collaboration. Creative Spanish talent is now highly interested in animation, mixing artisanal techniques and technologies,” Blaas says.
“Although Spain is not yet ready to finance films of the budget levels of Pixar and Disney, there are many adventurous and incredible people who have managed to create blockbuster films, promoting them very well, on very tight budgets,” Mielgo says.
Animation company exports perform 95% better than the general industry average, per Diboos estimates.
“At the time, this was out of necessity: We had to go abroad in search of financing that was difficult to find here,” says Diboos VP and Peekaboo CEO Iván Agenjo.
“Now that factor doesn’t come into play so much since we really are important players on the international scene, recognized both for our talent and for our companies’ abilities to move projects forward. Co-production is the key word that makes all this possible,” he adds.
Public broadcaster RTVE, with 37% of investment, Basque Country’s Euskal Telebista (16%) and paybox Movistar Plus+ (14%) head the main local investors rank; while Amazon (25%), Netflix (20%) and Disney+ (20%) top international co-production partners’ commitment on Spanish toon projects.
“Animation is a team effort. For years we have been used to carrying out projects in this way, both with Europe and with the rest of the world,” Agenjo notes.
The animation/VFX industry generates more than 10,000 direct jobs, 20% of the audiovisual industry, with an annual turnover of €900 million ($990 million) in 2021.
March’s Malaga Festival underscored the moment of effervescence animation is going through.
Some of the biggest deals announced there were for animated features, such as the multiple pre-sales Pink Parrot inked on “SuperKlaus” — previously known as “4 Days Before Christmas” — a 3Doubles and Capitán Araña co-production with Canada’s PVP Media, scheduled for a worldwide December release.
FilmSharks has closed Latin America with Walt Disney/Star Distribution on “Dalia and the Red Book,” an Argentina-Perú-Brazil-Colombia-Ecuador co-production with Spain’s Doce Entertainment and Mr. Miyagi.
Despite the recent giant leap of the sector, boosted by a mix of talent, tax incentives and stable co-production alliances, some financing limitations remain.
“In Spain it is difficult to raise financing. That weighs down the industry, especially in TV series, which are the ones that can give benefits to the studios,” laments Darío Sánchez, CEO at Tenerife-based 3Doubles. “A bigger workforce that meets the industry needs, greater support in IP development and a clear commitment from broadcasters are essential.”