Recruit, educate and release — the three essential components of Argentina’s Catmandu Studios’ staffing strategy hold no guarantee of a long-term return-on-investment. Instead, the strategy bets on the idea that young professionals will be motivated by the project, go off and learn through other experiences and then return to be close to family and to build and mature Latin America’s animation business. Is this a fool’s investment? Or a wise strategy that relies on creating desirable projects to motivate youth to return with global experience?
Catmandu, the creator of Metegol (Foosball by its title in English) in Buenos Aires, aims to build an industry around animation in Argentina. Created through the concept of partnering young animation professionals with seasoned industry veterans, Catmandu is betting that opportunities will pull talent back to Argentina, thus fueling a thriving business in graphic film-making like those found in other parts of the world.
Metegol’s executive producer, Diego Rosner, recruited known leaders in the animation business as a critical part of his hiring strategy. While there were roughly 200 junior members on the team, Metegol’s success would not have found its way to market without seeding junior talent with seasoned animation expertise. This meant recruiting 90 professionals from abroad (Spain, Italy, United States, New Zealand and others) forming Catmandu’s initial team including award-winning director Juan Campanella. The junior team was recruited from Latin America as well as other parts of the world by promoting the opportunity to participate and learn from the industry’s best.
The low-budget (~$20M), high-success animated film depended on junior staff, cultivated by world-wide experience. Management then encouraged its team to move on and garner more experience even outside of Latin America. According to Rosner, early career animation professionals are “like nomads, following interesting projects” and relocating as needed to participate in new animation films; often around the globe until they reach their mid-thirties. The objective for most is to simply gain experience. Rosner, on the other hand, aims to develop a robust animation industry by increasing experienced animation professionals over the course of five years.
As quoted in Animation Mentor, Manuel Menéndez and Mariano Lopez were both part of the Metegol team. They traveled from Spain to Latin America to become part of the team after completing Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program. From their perspective, “The best part about getting hired for this gig was probably the opportunity to work on my first feature film with amazing artists and a great director, but also the chance to make great friends and keep on learning and growing as an animator.”
In Rosner’s view, the most challenging roles to fill were head of production, pipeline developers and programmers. The easiest roles to fill were in modeling and artwork; as Argentina is brimming with creativity. Positions needed in any animation project range from producers, directors and production leadership to more detailed technical roles such as lighters, shaders, animators and editors. For Metegol, there were many junior designers involved in the process as well.
Catmandu established a scholarship fund to help educate an up-and-coming team. Scholarships were initially available to 20 participants with anticipated growth in the 300-plus range in coming years. Supporters of the fund include a number of commercial organizations as well as Catmandu such as Microsoft, nVidia, HP Software, Autodesk among others. Students attend programs with La Academia de las Artes, Ciencias Cinematográficas de la Argentina, INCAA or ENERC.
Catmandu’s Entertainment Aspirations
Many journalists have suggested that Catmandu may present itself as competition to U.S.-based production giants Pixar or Dreamworks. However, Rosner has set his sights on building a company and dynamic that more closely resembles entertainment companies in France or New Zealand.
For example, Rosner targets French animation company Mac Guff Ligne, which was used when a Universal affiliate, Illumination Entertainment, outsourced for Despicable Me with overwhelming success. Similarly, Rosner has dreams of creating a successful operation similar to that created by Peter Jackson in New Zealand. Jackson’s Weta Workshop and Weta Digital. Collectively, these operations have been used for TinTin, Avatar and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and have put Kiwis on the map as a strong resource for animation and film.
At the end of the day, Rosner wants to make entertaining and meaningful films that touch people around the world while developing a business that fuels Latin America’s economy. Metegol is a story about people much more than it is a story about Foosball. As Rosner put it, Metegol is about “…friendship, love and relationships. If it makes you laugh and in the end it touches [the audience] with a human message,” then his Latin America-based team was successful.
There will be other projects with similar goals following Metegol. As its early-stage talent pool gains experience in Argentina and through projects they pursue abroad, Catmandu will utilize its new-found resources to build its own core team. This strategy required outside assistance early on in the process and will increasingly rely on local resources that Rosner predicts will return to home territory.