Snowball Studios, the mastermind behind these talking birds, has been working in animation for more than a decade. Snowball Studios, the mastermind behind these talking birds, has been working in animation for more than a decade. Snowball Studios, the mastermind behind these talking birds, has been working in animation for more than a decade. (Photo: Courtesy Snowball Studios)

Where is Disney producing its next animated hit?

Here's a hint: The selected startup has already done work for Coca-Cola and the Syfy Channel.

California-based Walt Disney Animation is looking outside for help on its next animated television show. And it has found a partner in Israel's Snowball Studios.

Which is good news for Snowball's chief Yoni Cohen, as it was such Disney classics as “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Toy Story” that made him fall in love with animation.

“I started drawing because of Disney," he tells From The Grapevine. "That’s why I went into animation." He founded Snowball Studios in Tel Aviv 11 years ago, and today it’s the biggest animation company in Israel, with a staff of 60 that works on everything from commercials for Coca-Cola to TV series and feature films. And as part of the deal with Disney, Cohen will now be opening a Jerusalem office.

While he’s bound by a non-disclosure agreement and can’t divulge details, Cohen is excited about the new partnership. “The only thing I can say is it’s been quite a ride, so much fun working with those guys,” he says.

The deal is part of the Jerusalem Film Fund’s initiative to bring more international film and TV production to Israel’s capital. Cohen had been in discussion with the JFF for three years and expects to open the Jerusalem facility in about a month.

Currently, Snowball produces a little bit of everything. "We’ve created characters to represent some of the biggest brands here in Israel and abroad, the kind of characters everyone wants to have,” Cohen says. “We’re working on TV series projects, we’re finalizing a feature film that’s a hybrid of live action and performance capture. That's a kids’ movie we’ll be releasing towards the holidays. Then we’ll be looking at doing a remake abroad.”

Yoni Cohen Yoni Cohen grew up on Disney cartoons and now gets to make one.

Early on, a German company gave Snowball the chance to compete for a job by creating a pilot for “Vipo the Flying Dog.” Cohen landed the gig, and had to quickly ramp up from a staff of five to 20 in a month, and revamp their technical methods and animation pipeline to handle it. “We had a lot of bottlenecks to solve. I think one of the things that makes us successful is that when we see such a challenge, we tend to dive in and find a solution, no matter what it takes,” he says.

He opened Snowball in 2004, but Cohen found that “it wasn’t getting started that was difficult, but keeping it going," he says. "Through the years, you learn the more you know, the more you don’t know, and the more you need to learn in order to expand. It’s kind of like a snowball getting bigger and bigger. But if you don’t keep it under control, it turns into an avalanche.”

Snowball is indeed expanding, with executives in Toronto and Los Angeles negotiating to bring new business opportunities to the company. Cohen is excited about the expansion. “We want to grow the company. We want to bring high-profile TV shows and feature films to the company. That’s the type of thing we enjoy the most,” he says.

Cohen lives in Tel Aviv, where he and his wife enjoy the beach and nightlife. He finds that Snowball’s location in Israel “brings a cultural distance and a different creative perspective.” At the same time, “we are very much a Western company and a Western country is also an advantage – there isn’t a big cultural or language barrier, but there’s the benefit of a huge amount of talent, thinking outside of the box and coming up with new ideas,” he says. “We are making the world a more colorful and better place.”

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Where is Disney producing its next animated hit?
Here's a hint: The selected startup has already done work for Coca-Cola and the Syfy Channel.