Ben Stassen • Director & Producer
"Our market is the international market"
by Aurore Engelen
- Ben Stassen and his animation studio nWave, based in Brussels, are leaders in international 3D animated film. The Son of Bigfoot is their 6th feature film.
Since Fly Me to the Moon [+see also:
film profile], the first European 3D animated film, every feature film by Ben Stassen and his animation studio nWave, based in Brussels, has pulled in at least 5 million viewers. Now it’s the turn of The Son of Bigfoot [+see also:
interview: Ben Stassen
film profile] to hit theatres.
Cineuropa: Could you tell us about nWave’s journey?
Ben Stassen: I’m one of the founders of the company, which has been making animated films for 25 years. To begin with, we made special 3D films for amusement parks, museums, and i-Max theatres. Since 2008 and the release of Fly Me to the Moon, we’ve been making feature films for the global market. Our biggest success, Sammy’s Adventures: The Secret Passage [+see also:
film profile], made 100 million dollars at the international box office. We always have lots of projects on the go, our team is almost 120 people strong. The first teams work on the models, designing the characters for almost a year. The animators then take over, followed by the lighting specialists and other technicians. While this is happening, the first team starts working on a new project.
How do you overcome competition with American studios?
We work in Brussels, but our market is the international market, and we play on the same field as big American producers. That said, our budgets are a lot smaller. The average budget in the United States is 100 million dollars, whereas our average budget is €20 million! So we make adjustments to the screenplays to brings costs down a bit, without it having an impact on the story of course. When we talk about competition, we should nonetheless differentiate between production and direction aspects, and promotion and marketing aspects. I’m extremely proud of our teams, we make very high-quality animations, but have a budget that’s four to five times smaller. There’s 120 of us while the Americans have teams of 350 people; we take two years, they take three. The arrival of computers, which allow us to stitch images together, was a phenomenal revolution. Today, having a computer is like having a mini Hollywood studio on our desk. We have the same tools here in Brussels as our colleagues in Los Angeles. One of our biggest advantages is that we’re an SME: our decision-makers are our three shareholders and that’s it. Some of our employees have been with us for over 20 years, which is a rare thing in American studios. All our films have raked in over 5 million admissions globally, and yet at 6.5 million admissions, Crusoe [+see also:
film profile] was, rather ironically for a Belgian film, considered a failure. When a film costs €20 million, you have to tot up 10 million admissions, and at least 8 or 9 million.
Our films work relatively well, but we’re garden gnomes compared to the Americans. The average American animated film in France spends between €3.5 and €4 million in marketing. We spend €1.8 million at best. The big challenge is the American market. They’re hyper protectionist, animation is a private sphere. Breaking into the United States isn’t all that easy. Thankfully, I think we’re the only studio in the world of animation that has had all its films released in China, thanks to the quota policy. Not even Pixar or Dreamworks can say that! Crusoe racked up 2 million admissions in China!
Where are we today with 3D?
I really encourage people to go and see films in 3D. I know that 3D has a bad reputation, and with good reason. 99% of films made in 3D aren’t worth going to see in 3D. It’s not 3D, it’s barely 2D and a half, the depth is added in the post-production stages and the 3D aspect isn’t part of the development of the film’s drama: there’s no interest in it. It’s something we’re really working on, it’s important for us to keep the viewer immersed. We don’t want the viewer to feel like they’re watching the film through a window, we want to put them right there in the film.
(Translated from French)
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