Robby & Toby’s Fantastic Voyager

ROBBY & TOBY’S FANTASTIC VOYAGER

  • Original Title Robbi, Tobbi und Das Fliewatüüt
  • Director Wolfgang Groos
  • Writers Jan Berger, Based on the novel by Boy Lornsen
  • Main Producer Wüste Film (DE)
  • Co-Producer BE Walking The Dog
  • Cast Arsseni Bultmann, Alexandra Maria Lara, Sam Riley, Friedrich Mücke
  • Genre Family Entertainment, Adventure
  • Local suppliers Walking The Dog, Ace Image Factory
  • Total Budget 7 million EUR
  • Financed in BE 15.7%
  • International Sales ARRI Worldsales

Flemish animation companies have got used to tapping into the international co-production pipeline, even if the learning curve is sometimes a little steep, as it was when the opening date of Robby & Toby’s Fantastic Voyager was brought forward by four months.

Film, said director John Boorman, is many things, but at its most basic it is the process of turning money into light. Many Flemish companies would agree: they have been doing just that for a variety of clients, in Europe and beyond.
Recently completed, Robby & Toby’s Fantastic Voyager is the latest big-budget project to come down the animation pipeline, drawing simultaneously on the finance available from Screen Flanders and the Belgian Tax Shelter and the skills and experience of a number of Flemish animation and special effects companies, in this case Walking the Dog, a regular partner in European animation films which is based in Genk; and Ace Image Factory, a digital special-effects house operating out of a former tannery near Brussels Airport in Zaventem.
Robby Toby’s Fantastic Voyager - original title Robbi, Tobbi und das Fliewatüüt - is a EUR 7-million German children’s film based on a much-loved TV series from the 1970s which was turned into a stop-motion movie at the time. The new version, on which Hamburg-based Wüste Film is the lead producer, combines live action and animatronics with 3D animation in an entertaining mix of flying cars, comic robots, plucky kids and evil adults. It opened in Germany at the beginning of December 2016.

A FLYING CAR

Tobbi is a 10-year-old boy with a penchant for invention. One day, there is a big explosion and Robbi discovers Tobbi, a little robot who has been separated from his parents when their space ship crashed. Despite the best efforts of the wicked Sir Joshua and his henchpersons Brad Bloodbath and Sharon Silencer to capture Robbi, the two friends build a car that can operate on land, sea and air – the Fantastic Voyager or ‘Fliewatüüt’ of the title - and set off in search of adventure and Robbi’s parents.
Walking the Dog is no stranger to working on international co-productions, which have included Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (co-produced with France) and Another Day of Life, which was produced in Poland, Spain, Germany and Belgium; cleaned up in the Philippines; and reanimated in Poland and Hungary.
Robbi Tobbi, says the company’s founder Eric Goossens gratefully, “was less complicated because the live shooting was done mainly by Wüste Film in Hamburg. The only company working on animation was Walking the Dog.”

A VERY BIG CHALLENGE

“The robot took a while to develop,” says Goossens, “as did the Fliewatüüt, which was based on an old-model Fiat 500. When the real robot was finally green-lit, we started to shape and animate it on a rough model for every sequence. We worked with F-Track, a data management system that everybody could use. You upload what you’ve done, and the director can see it wherever he is. The challenge was to get as close as possible to the animatronics, but that is always the case for these kinds of movies.”
Everything was going fine until the opening date was brought forward from March 2017 to December 1, 2016, so as to hit the Christmas market.
“That,” says Goossens, was “a very big challenge.” Recalls Ace Image Factory’s VFX supervisor Stefan Rycken, “the last shots were delivered on a Tuesday, and on Saturday it was the premiere in Cologne. That was quite heavy.”

RECREATING ICELAND

In all, Ace did around 650 special-effects shots, of which the most challenging was Robbi and Tobbi’s trip to the frozen north. “We had a big scene in Iceland,” says Rycken. “They shot everything in the studio on a green screen and we had to create Iceland behind it - the landscape, mountains, snow: everything. We worked with different plates (background and foreground) and some other elements like rocks and ice sculptures, which we integrated to obtain both a very realistic Nordic landscape and a seemless interaction with the three main characters.”

Ace also specialises in digital housekeeping – ‘invisible effects’, like removing wires from shots – alongside effects which are very much visible, like the presidential Air Force One used in The Prime Minister which would have been too difficult or too expensive to shoot for real.
Robbi Tobbi may already be delighting audiences in Germany - it sold over 25,000 tickets in its first week - but life goes on for both companies. Ace has operated very successfully for 26 years, recently working on both local films like The Prime Minister, Blind Spot, Pippa and The Ardennes and co-productions like Robbi Tobbi.
Walking the Dog, meanwhile, is prepping a feature directed by Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir, The Congress), with a new animated film by Bibo Bergeron (A Monster in Paris) at the financing stage. Clearly, there is no sign of the pipeline drying up.

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