At the recent Cartoon Moviefinancing market in Babelsberg, German animation producers were feelingparticularly bullish. Of the 14 countries present with projects, Germany wasrepresented with eight of the 40 projects - after France and Spain - and was alsoa co-production partner on the Danish studio A.Film's The Ugly Duckling& Me.

Moreover, in the space ofjust three weeks after the market, two hotly anticipated locally producedanimation features opened in German cinemas: Ambient Entertainment's Back ToGaya was released by the local office of Warner Bros. on 250 prints on 18March, while Michael Schaack's Inspector Derrick - Duty Calls,co-produced by Ireland's Magma Films with ndF and ZDF Enterprises, opened forUIP on April 1.

At the same time, the nation'sanimation studios have several new features in production or pre-production,ranging from TFC Trickompany's Der Alte Sack and ndF's Briefe VonFelix II through Cartoon Film's Laura's Star and Little PolarBear II to Trixter Film's Moby Dick, ASL's Winnetoons, andBenchmark Entertainment's Little Big Panda which is being co-directed byJimmy Murakami and Greg Manwaring.

As the range of Germanprojects pitched in Babelsberg showed, the German animation industry appears tohave reached a level of technical versatility which stretches from the 2D animation of InspectorDerrick and Laura's Star tothe CGI 3D animation of Back To Gaya, the first fully computer-animatedfeature made in Germany.

"One of the realchallenges for us on this film was our own self-doubt and the scepticism fromothers as to whether we would be able to get the project off the ground,"recalls Lenard Krawinkel, co-director of Back To Gaya with Holger Tappe.

Some four years in themaking, the production saw its team swell to around 80 animators in the mainproduction phase, but "almost all of the people we had working for us werefrom Germany or were Germans from LA who had worked for Emmerich on IndependenceDay and Godzilla. We really do have the people with the technicalskills here," says Krawinkel.

"German animation isnow qualitatively on a European level," adds internationally recognisedanimation expert Rolf Giesen after seeing a sneak preview of 12 minutes from Laura'sStar at the Cartoon Movie market. And Warner Bros. Pictures Germany vicepresident and managing director Willi Geike, one of the film's co-producers,points out that this adaptation of Klaus Baumgart's children's books will mark "an important point foranimation production in Germany"since Warner Bros. plans to release it theatrically in more countriesthan has ever been achieved before for a German animation feature.