MTM Medien & Television Muenchen, which has been nominated in the Foreign Language Film Academy Award category for Caroline Link's Nowhere In Africa is branching out into animation production.

This follows plans by MTM and the animation production house Papa Loewe Filmproduktion to work together on the development of animation films.

The first joint project will be the 26-part TV series Antje & Friends, based on an idea by children's author Janosch, which is being produced for the Tigerenten Club to be aired by public broadcasters ARD and the German children's channel Kinderkanal from this autumn.

The two partners are also developing two animated feature film projects which would include Papa Loewe's Der Grosse Janosch Kinofilm.

In summer 2000, Papa Loewe Filmproduktion acquired the film rights to the majority of around 300 books by bestseller author Janosch as well as the ancillary rights to existing film and television productions based on his works.

MTM's move into animation comes as a fellow Munich production house Odeon Film decided earlier this month to close down its animation unit.

Last week, MTM announced that it would be producing Mostly Martha director Sandra Nettelbeck's next feature Helen, with Pandora Film's Karl Baumgartner serving as co-producer.

Meanwhile, in Spain, animation veterans Sergi Reitg and Myriam Ballesteros unveiled the launch of start-up animation production and distribution outfit Icon.

Reitg was formerly managing director at Barcelona-based Cromosoma, best known for its series The Triplets (Las Tres Mellizas). Ballesteros produced the animated series Meme, which Icon will now distribute, and will act as creative director for the new company.

Unveiled in Spain earlier this month, Icon will debut internationally at MipTV in Cannes.

Spain's animation sector is growing, with four feature films made in 2002 as compared to one or two every other year since 1995. A recently-published report on the animation sector in Spain also tallied 16 animated series in production last year and six animated short films, both slightly more than the annual average.

Dygra Films' 2001 The Living Forest (El Bosque Animado) broke records in Spain. Seen by more than 500,000 spectators at the local box office, the film has also sold widely abroad and won numerous international festival prizes and a best animated feature Goya Award.

It was one of 17 films pre-selected for the best animated film Oscar this year.