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Navigating new trends in the global content business.

Bridging the gap between animation and live action

Arcane producer Fortiche Production is in Annecy this week discussing the studio’s move into high-end original production, part of its ambition to bridge the gap between animation and live action.

Fortiche hopes Penelope of Sparta will receive a cinematic release

French animation studio Fortiche Production is embarking on a new chapter, having recently announced a move into original IP production, details of which it is sharing at The Annecy International Animation Festival today.

Founded in 2009 by Jérôme Combe, Pascal Charrue and Arnaud Delord, Fortiche started out as an animator for music videos, for the likes of Coldplay and Gorillaz, and for video game-related content in partnership with Riot Games. It also provided animation for Marvel Studios’ Rocket & Groot shortform series.

After years of working with Riot Games, Fortiche was then given the opportunity to work on its biggest project yet, Arcane – an animated science fantasy, action-adventure series for Netflix adapted from Riot’s online game League of Legends.

The success of Arcane, which releases its second season this November, encouraged Fortiche to expand into original IP production for adults and young-adults – a move the company has been aspiring to do since the beginning, according to deputy CEO and exec producer Hervé Dupont.

“We had an instinct at Fortiche that there was an audience for a new kind of entertainment – and Arcane proved that. Arcane proved that there is a new audience eager for new stories told in a new way, so we want to continue to explore that. We want to close the gap between live action and animation, there have been a lot of audiences coming from live action who have really enjoyed Arcane,” he says.

Hervé Dupont

Fortiche plans to produce animated series and films using its signature graphic style, that blends 2D and 3D animation in settings inspired by live-action cinema. The ambition is to make cinematographic content with a high production value that “breaks down the wall between animation and live action, so that an animated film could be considered a film in the same way as a live-action one,” Combe said when the studio’s original production plans were first announced.

The first original project on Fortiche’s slate, announced in Annecy today, is feature film Penelope of Sparta, a sci-fi reimagining of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey.

The plot follows the untold origin story of the poem’s heroine, set in a world inspired by ancient Greece, where 17-year-old Penelope attends an elite high school with the other famous heirs of the Athenian Empire – Achilles, Helen, Circe, Agamemnon and Odysseus.

What starts as a coming-of-age high school dramedy shifts to an epic adventure as the teens from opposite worlds must learn to trust each other in order to save their friends from an insidious threat.

According to Dupont, Fortiche hopes Penelope of Sparta will find a home in cinemas, to provide “the best cinematic experience,” but acknowledges that a slump in the number of cinemagoers post Covid means that may not make sense in some markets. In that instance, the company will look into platform distribution with the streamers.

“The market is still recovering from Covid and is different from territory to territory. Ideally we would love to have our movie go to theatre, to give the best cinematic experience, but we know that in certain markets the theatres have not reached the [attendance] levels of pre-Covid,” the exec says.

“So we are open to platform distribution and can look into a hybrid distribution model. It depends where the audience is and the best way to reach it. If the theatre doesn’t make sense and it [the film] won’t meet its audience there, we will explore new ways of reaching our audience.”

Jérôme Combe

A second project on Fortiche’s originals slate is Miss Saturne, a 10×10’ shortform adaptation of Barbara Israel’s book of the same name, which follows three teens and their tumultuous and ambiguous love triangle. The miniseries explore themes of self-discovery and assigned identities, all set against an 80s cult music backdrop.

Elsewhere at the company, Dupont says Fortiche and Riot Games will continue their partnership beyond Arcane by exploring other IP for development into different formats, including series and shortform content.

Fortiche’s production ambitions will be boosted by its selection two years ago into the Grande Fabrique de l’image, part of the France 2030 programme launched by the French government to invest in companies in various sectors, including the entertainment and creative industries.

The Grande Fabrique de l’image initiative received 175 applications across categories including film studios, digital production studios, special effects, post-production and training organisations. From these, 68 projects were selected, including 12 animation studios.

The total budget for the initiative is €350m (US$380m), which is intended to boost production capacities while also supporting eco-responsible activities and job creation across 12 regions.

The funding received by Fortiche will help the company achieve its goal of having “one long format – a series or feature – a year, with a mix of projects with Riot, original IPs and third-party projects” by 2029, Dupont says.