ANNECY -- Boasting Disney world premiere "Get That Horse!," sneak previews of Pixar's "Monster University" and Universal/Illumination's "Despicable Me 2," plus a Work in Progress presentation of "How To Train Your Dragon 2," France's 37th Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival hit the ground running Monday with the largest market attendance in its history.
At 2,120 though Saturday, accreditations were tracking 4% up on last year, said Mickael Marin, head of Annecy's Intl. Animation Film Market (MIFA).
A quaint country town nestling by a placid lake in the lap of a steep-buffed valley, the mountains above glistening with snow, Annecy looks like a Disney take on a European film festival setting.
But, with 7,000-plus accredited professionals in 2012, the French Alps fest also marks the biggest global gathering of animation execs and talent anywhere in the world.
They don't just come to take in the views.
Annecy's all-time market attendee/product highs point up various global toon biz drivers: Nascent emerging market toon industry growth; double-digit million dollar box office for a clutch of international toon pics; Hollywood studios' determination, matched by that of big international players, to source creative talent worldwide.
Take Nickelodeon. Like 21 other companies -- among them Disney Channel, Universal's Illumination MacGuff, Sony Pictures Animation, Turner Intl. Asia Pacific and Walt Disney Animation Studios -- Nickelodeon will launch an animator recruitment session at Annecy, unveil a new global initiative, present its editorial line and priorities in a "Share With" session, and host a Nickelodeon Creators' Party, which looks like one of the chic-est parties at the festival.
Nick execs will co-deliver two master-classes and talk on a round table (see Annecy Highlights, below).
"Our company is based on creatively driven product. We're a global company, a big believer in that Hollywood does not own all the talent," said Russell Hicks, president, Nickelodeon Group content development and production, citing Nickelodeon's hit mystery series "House of Anubis," based on a Dutch-Belgian TV drama.
Disney also pursues student outreach. One Annecy goal is "to reach out to young, talented artists from all around the world that come to this festival, to talk to these young people whose dream is to work at Disney one day," said Walt Disney Animation Studios' Dorothy McKim, producer of "Get a Horse!," a mock-classic, sepia-toned Mickey Mouse short featuring Walt Disney's voice.
Like Comic-Con, given its mass horde mix of toon fanboys and pros, much Annecy biz also turns on visibility, positioning and promoting movies, brands and technology.
Opening Annecy with "The Blue Umbrella" and "Monsters University," Pixar will celebrate the 25th anniversary of RenderMan, used in 70% of vfx worldwide, with repeat-screenings of "Umbrella."
RenderMan's lighting/shading realism makes "animation artists more like photographers than they've been in the past and able to achieve effects which previously were too expensive," said Disney's Dylan Sisson.
For Marin, it's the presence of talent -- from Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Chris Wedge, Bill Plympton, Dean DeBlois, Tomm Moore, Dan Scanlon and Jacques-Remy Girerd to animation school students -- which sets Annecy and MIFA apart from Mip and Mipcom.
But, for the indie sector, co-production, pre-sales and sales have been steadily growing, he added.
TV France Intl. CEO Mathieu Bejot agreed: "There's a lot of co-production and pre-sales talks, people getting together on the artistic and production side, which you absolutely don't get at MIP Junior and only for Europe at Cartoon."
Full-on big company interest in foreign talent is matched by a growth in the overseas talent pool.
For the first time ever, Brazilian ("Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury") and Indian ("Arjun, the Warrior Prince") toonpics play in competition at Annecy; Argentina has a strong 29-exec delegation; South Africa receives a territory focus.