In making Arthur And The Invisibles, Luc Besson (pictured) refused to accept the conventional wisdom that European animation was a cottage industry. It looks as if his gamble has paid off, with the film already scoring more than 6.2 million admissions in France. The aim now is to shoot the two sequels, Arthur And The Vengeance Of Maltazard and Arthur And The War Of Two Worlds back to back, taking advantage of economies of scale.
Speaking at the European Film Market in Berlin last month, EuropaCorp's head of international Gregoire Melin said it was likely that Besson would direct the second and third films. The plan is to wait for the full international rollout of Arthur And The Invisibles before beginning pre-sales on the next instalments.
EuropaCorp spent seven years preparing the project. The team, led by CGI wizard Pierre Buffin, set up an animation facility at Pantin, on the outskirts of Paris. They went to extraordinary lengths to put a viable infrastructure in place.
The aim was to create a brand from scratch, and Besson wrote a series of bestselling Arthur comic books to create an awareness of the character; there were Arthur video games and toys. The merchandising was on as ambitious a scale as the film-making.
The project was a huge risk. As Besson admits, $80m (EUR61m) "is a lot of money and we had to self-finance the film for the first two years. It's impossible to convince potential partners five years ahead of the release by showing then a sketch and saying, 'It's gonna be great'.
"We started from scratch ... (with) no clue about how tough it was going to be. The technique is so huge you don't have any results for three years. That's difficult because I'm used to seeing the dailies the day after."