Fred Wolf Films to make major series on Budgie and Sinbad

 

DUBLIN based television animation firm Fred Wolf Films will make two 13 episode series this year. One will be based on the Duchess of York's Budgie the Little Helicopter character and the other will feature the adventures of Sin bad the Sailor.

The typical budget for a series 13 half hour episodes is $3.9 million, of which 60 per cent would be spent in Ireland, according to the group's general manager, Eamonn Lawless.

The typical budget for a half hour programme is $300,000 and the company has the capacity to start a new show every two weeks. A total of eight episodes of the long running Ninja Turtles series was made by Fred Wolf last year, with a further order possible in 1996.

The company has just been commissioned to make a third series of Budgie the Little Helicopter and the company is starting work on the Fantastic Voyages of Sin bad the Sailor - a co production with Warner Brothers. James Bond Junior was another series begun in 1991 and 65 half hour shows were made.

Because Sinbad is the firm's own project, it has a greater equity stake than it did in the Budgie cartoon. The Sleepy Kids company bought the rights to the Duchess's book of the animation sector.

Animation companies can apply for Irish Film Board backing once a year, at the end of May. By contrast, there are three submission dates for live action films. The Frameworks scheme, run by RTE and the IFB, does not cover series or feature length projects. It only assists animated short films, he said.

Live action films can get production loan funding from the board. But animation projects can only get development loan funding. Mr Lawless said his studio is "run by Irish people and 99 per cent of the staff are Irish. At $3.9 million per series, the economic benefits to this country are substantial". However, Fred Wolf Films has been able to avail of the Section 35 tax break for film making in Ireland.

Fred Wolf Films parent company is based in Los Angeles and a great deal of the labour intensive "brawn" work is done in the Far East. The Dublin operation, which employs 35 people, undertakes the pre production and postproduction functions for the series. Script supervision and storyboaring for the cartoons is done here.

The Dublin office takes charge of design, characterisation, props and layout. Backgrounds and the standard character cells (pictures on celluloid) are painted here. All colours must conform to a standard pallette.

"We've a strong, experienced parent company and were tightly controlled from the beginning," said Mr Lawless. "It's very important that things are done fast. We haven't got time to hang around."

The Duchess wrote four Budgie books, though the drawings were not found to be suitable for animation and had to be streamlined. New characters appear in practically every episode and these are designed in Dublin. The creative work is done in Dublin. Where the Irish operation could produce fewer than 100 painted cells per episode, there could be 14,000 cells painted per show in the Far East.

Korea and China have established studios and industries. "It is much more economical to do a fixed price contract with a Far Eastern studio," says Eamonn Lawless. A typical Far Eastern studio, contracted to do the bulk of the cell painting, might employ several hundred people.

The company finds it difficult to continue working for twelve months of the year - it is a seasonal business and there are valley periods.

In the film business generally, the number of projects which make it to the screen are a fraction of those which are "in development".