To follow the Oscar... a 3D cartoon

The director of ‘The Secret in their Eyes’ is leaping into animation with ‘Futbolín’

'Futbolín' is a Spanish-Argentinean 3D animation about table soccer players, scheduled to be released in the fall of 2013.
'Futbolín' is a Spanish-Argentinean 3D animation about table soccer players, scheduled to be released in the fall of 2013.

In Juan José Campanella’s The Secret in their Eyes, which won the 2009 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, it’s a murderer’s passion for soccer that betrays him. “I like soccer, but it’s not my passion,” admits the 53-year-old Argentinean — that would, naturally, be cinema. But the Buenos Aires-born director has returned to the theme of soccer for his new film, Futbolín (or, Table soccer), a Spanish-Argentinean feature-length 3D animation that’s scheduled to be released in fall 2013.

The movie was one of the most-talked-about projects at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has been presold to Russia, China, Turkey and the whole of Latin America (it will be distributed by Universal). Such is the enthusiasm that Campanella has already decided to produce a second part, while the heart of executive producer Gustavo Ferrada is bursting with pride: all the effort and money — the budget is around 15 million euros — have been worth it.

In Madrid, Campanella describes that effort. “It’s a tough learning process. You have to break a lot of the habits that you’ve picked up along the way — for example, you can’t make big changes in the editing, because in animation everything happens in a very predetermined way, and you can’t fix things with a different shot. Animation has a different pace. I have had to learn a whole new vocabulary. But when I see the finished takes I enjoy an incredible world.”

The script for Futbolín — which in Argentina will be known as Metegol, as the game is called there — is based on a story just five pages long by writer Roberto Fontanarrosa. From that, Campanella, Axel Juschevatzky, Gastón Goralli and Eduardo Sacheri, who wrote the novel on which The Secret in Their Eyes was based, took the basic structure of the film, which concerns the adventures of Amadeo, a shy guy who has to face his fearsome rival, Crack, on the soccer field. To do so, he requests the help of a dismantled table football team, led by winger Capi, which is also seeking revenge on Crack.

The animation is being supervised by Spaniard Sergio Pablos, one of the biggest names in the business, having worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules and Tarzan for Disney, designed characters for Rio and come up with the idea for Despicable Me. His SPA Studios in Madrid forms one half of Futbolín; the other is in Buenos Aires, in the headquarters of production company Jempsa.

“I like to work with people with character, with ideas, who argue with me,” says Pablos. “Juan has clear ideas, and every time we chat I learn something, too. The important thing is that animations are no longer thought of as comedy stories for children and are now used to narrate any kind of story.”

Pablos left Disney after growing tired of rehashing the same stories. His aim was to find something different, like Futbolín/Metegol, the start of which was first announced way back in November 2009. “Juan is a breath of fresh air. Having him opens a wider field. And he knew to adapt himself to big changes. For instance, in his previous shoots with real actors, his decisions only needed to be transmitted to one person. Now he has to communicate them to 30 animators. I’m sure he’s struggling not to end up exasperated.”

“It’s true,” says Campanella. “On the other hand you enjoy it a lot more when you see the result, the textures, a real world. The current technology allows you do to it.”

Campanella doesn’t know how to sit still: the week before winning the Oscar for The Secret in their Eyes, he was directing an episode of US TV series House and was already talking about several TV projects in Argentina, as well as Futbolín. “The idea came from Gastón Goralli, and at its heart is one of the classic confrontations in art: David against Goliath. Fontanarrosa had taken advantage of it in a very special way in this play of differences, not saying that his main character was a table football player until page three — I was hooked.”

Pablos was also captivated by the story. “When I came back from the United States — I spent nine years with the company — I saw that everything was still to do in the world of animation in Spain. I came back because it was always clear to me that it was a return trip, that my family should grow up here, and that I fancied the professional challenge in Spain. So I had no right to complain. I set about working. I sold Despicable Me, which opened a lot of doors for us. And so scripts and opportunities arrived, such as Futbolín, which is really fascinating. You can grow as a director. If I had stayed at Disney, I would still be an animator. Directing and creating content is the same. In Spain there is raw talent, a generation after mine that has access to all the information thanks to the internet, and are even better collaborators than the ones I had at Disney.”

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