When the Fantoche animation festival was founded in Baden 14 years ago, cartoons usually meant the big Disney movie before Christmas.
But animation has since gained in strength and reputation, as has the festival. This year the studio Pixar, of Toy Story and Finding Nemo fame, will be present and visitors will be able to find out how much animation goes into computer games.
"Fantoche is one of the top five festivals worldwide dedicated to animation film. It is now considered one of the best behind Annecy in France, Stuttgart in Germany, Ottawa in Canada and Hiroshima in Japan," Christian Jungen, film critic for the Aargauer Zeitung and seasoned Fantoche visitor, told swissinfo.ch.
"If you talk to people in animation they know about it, even in North America, because it has a good reputation since it was founded in 1995," he said.
When the festival started animation was still very much dominated by the Christmas Disney movies, explained Jungen. But Fantoche foresaw a trend.
Animation is now very popular - both the fantasy Coraline and the adventure story Ice Age 3 are currently in the Swiss cinema top ten.
"The Cannes film festival this year was for the first time opened by an animation movie, Pixar's Up, and also the Locarno Film Festival dedicated its retrospective to Manga movies made in Japan," said Jungen, who has also written a book on Hollywood's role in Cannes.
Trends and changes
Until now Fantoche, like many other festivals of its kind, has been held every two years. This was because animation film production used to be limited and took longer than live action pictures.
This year the six-day festival, which started on Tuesday, announced that it would become annual to take into account the thriving industry and to keep up to date.
This is not the only change. Under its new directors Duscha Kistler and Andrea Freund, Fantoche will be holding a full international competition for the first time. In all, 39 films from 27 countries have been chosen.
But the festival in the small town near Zurich has not forgotten its Swiss roots and has set up - also a premiere - a Swiss Competition, which will be judged by an international jury.
"The Swiss animation industry is healthy, it's a small one, like Switzerland itself, but we have a lot of young people who are working in the industry who are quite successful, also in the international animation film scene," Kistler told swissinfo.ch.
More than 200 animations – chosen from a total of 927 submissions - will be shown at the festival, including Up, the film shown at Cannes.
The comedy adventure movie, telling the story of a grumpy old man and an explorer who fly to South America in a floating house, is the latest from the highly successful, Oscar-winning Pixar stable.
The California based company specialises in computer animation and is a division of Disney. Finding Nemo is to date the most commercially successful Pixar film, grossing more than $800 million (SFr838 million) worldwide.
Two of its animators, who worked on the explorer figure, have come over for workshops on showing how they build up characters.
"This is a good sign for the standing of this festival," Jungen said. "If this was just a minor tiny festival somewhere outside Zurich they wouldn't send two people over for the whole week."
The great variety in animation will be highlighted with two specially themed programmes: humans in animation and animation and game design.
A special exhibition has been set up by the Zurich University of the Arts' game design department, with works that have been specially made for Fantoche. Also on display are some of the university's success stories.
Feist, which involves a little black creature battling its way through a mysterious forest, won the students' showcase competition at the Independent Games Festival in San Francisco, one of the biggest contests of its kind.
It is now being developed commercially by its makers, Adrian Stutz and Florian Faller.
"Animation is really important to communicate the mechanics behind the game to the players," Stutz said at the media preview. "We chose in our game not to have any interface elements, there's no bars or texts that tell you anything about the game, so we really needed to use animation."
Kistler said that as both game designers and animators had to use storytelling and build up characters there was much they could learn from each other. Animation fans could also delve into a new world, she added.
"Most of the audience are not really gamers... you often read about dangerous games in the media, but there are totally different sides to the computer game industry which would be interesting for a film and art-orientated audience," she said.
The 2007 Fantoche festival attracted 25,000 people, the highest number ever. This year, the organisers are hoping for a ten per cent increase. Particularly noticeable, says Jungen, is Fantoche's appeal to the young.
"If you go to Locarno you are at 35 years old, probably among the youngest. Fantoche has students, and school pupils who all grew up reading Manga comics and playing video games," he said.
"Fantoche is a very good platform for the younger audience and this makes it unique as well in the context of Swiss film festivals."
Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Baden, swissinfo.ch
The seventh Fantoche runs from September 8-13, in Baden, not far from Zurich. It is an animation festival aimed at young and old and for Swiss and foreign digital media designers.
More than 25,000 people attended the event in 2007 and Fantoche hopes to raise this by 10% in 2009.
927 animated films were submitted to Fantoche, and 39 were selected for the new look International Competition and 28 for the Swiss competition. 224 short and feature length animations will be shown during the 6-day festival. The majority are having their Swiss-German premiere.
Zurich and Disney
Disney Research Zurich is one of two external research laboratories established by The Walt Disney Company and by its business units in 2008. The second laboratory is located in Pittsburgh (DRP) with a strong link to Carnegie Mellon University.
The mission of the two laboratories is to conduct applied research in computer animation, geometric modelling, computational photography, image generation, video processing, artificial intelligence, robotics, and related fields.
"We have the mandate to develop new technologies for the different Disney products," the unit's leader Markus Gross, told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper of September 6.
The Walt Disney Company is the creator of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and has just announced that it is to buy Marvel Entertainment, which means it will take ownership of 5,000 Marvel characters, including Spider-Man and the X-Men.