We speak to Cyber Group Studios about its hotly tipped IP ahead of its BLE debut.
Independent animation studio Cyber Group Studios is exhibiting at Brand Licensing Europe this week for the very first time to showcase Gigantosaurus, its most recent production currently airing worldwide, including on Disney Channel and Disney Junior. We spoke to Pierre Sissmann, chairman and ceo of Cyber Group Studios, ahead of the event about its success in achieving a global audience for its IP.
Tell us about Cyber Group Studios and your journey from start-up to international independent?
We started four of us in three little rooms and our only ambition was to start creating a nice preschool series for kids that would touch upon the values we shared with our families and drew from our experience at Disney and other companies.
One project led to another as we were fortunate to find talented artists and authors to work with us. Today, we have a great team of over 150 people around the world and several offices on different continents. We are still enthusiastic about discovering new talent, sharing new emotions and creating kids entertainment that will be screened all over the world, which is what happened with Zou, Zorro, and now with Gigantosaurus in more than 150 countries in over 30 languages.
Tell us a bit about the IP in your portfolio and how successful it’s been?
We started in preschool CGI, at a time where nobody believed CGI was a technique to be used for preschool, and moved up rapidly to kids and then kids and family and now we are developing big series for pre-teens and teens.
We are always learning different animation techniques so that we can explore new concepts. At CGS, our concepts drive the technique we use, which is why it’s so important that we learn every day.
We developed many tech ideas with our engineers to enhance the image of our series and this is an ongoing process. So, in terms of IP, we really started in preschool with the Ozie Boos – a penguin driven show that toured the world, and then we moved to the Tales of Tatonka, where we added some very realistic nature CG nature shorts and created live shorts as well.
This received awards all over Europe, China and Russia. Then came the age of Zou. We made three seasons for Disney worldwide and sold it to terrestrial broadcasters all over the planet. It was awarded many prizes, including Best Children’s Series at the Chicago Film Festival.
We followed it by working with Zorro Productions to create the first animated CGI series starring Zorro and, as one of the two creators, I was happy to see that our idea to create a twin sister to Zorro that would revitalise her brother was met with enthusiasm all over the world. We produced over 1,500 hours of animation and have 53 series in our catalogue. But our biggest hit to date has been, without contest, Gigantosaurus.
Tell us more about Gigantosauras…
Gigantosaurus originated as a Jonny Duddle book. We had already adapted his famous The Pirates Next Door book for TV. I saw a few sketches in black and white on Jonny’s note pad many years ago and was immediately fascinated by the designs and the creation and the universe. So, we developed the series for a year, presented it at Cartoon Forum four years ago and were fortunate to sign a European development deal with Disney. The first season was met with huge success on its US release at the beginning of 2019 and it is now spreading around the world, carried by broadcasters such as France Télévisions – one of the first two original broadcasters – but also Super RTL, Tiny Pop, RAI YOYO, Clan, Netflix and many others.
Gigantosaurus is about friendship, adventure, autonomy, curiosity. Four attractive characters are discovering the prehistorical world. The key message is learn to dare with fun and great adventure. Each episode is based on a specific quest undertaken by our heroes. It is a worldwide property enjoyable by boys and girls. This is a really innovative series that talk about prehistorical world as it has never been done in the past.
Why is Gigantosaurus different to the other animated productions in your portfolio? What’s special about it?
Gigantosaurus is definitely a brand and we are building a whole universe around it. From video games to be released next year, to short-form content for YouTube, to all sorts of book lines, toys and merchandise licensing. We have a worldwide brand manager – Jean Philippe Randisi – who is the former head of Zodiak and created his own company bRAND-WARD in the UK and was instrumental in the international launch of Dora in the early days. So, we look at Gigantosaurus as a unique IP in terms of distribution and spearheading efforts on various continents with Richard Goldsmith in the US running our US operations or Raphaelle Mathieu and Bruno Danzel d’Aumont out of our Paris office in sales, digital and licensing.
What makes Gigantosaurus so interesting is that, for the first time, the director Olivier Lelardoux who also directed Zou worked on the image at three different levels, mixing CG characters and 2D backgrounds enhanced by CG props upfront and in the back. So, the image of Gigantosaurus is in a way unique and does give a warm feeling to the viewer while immersing him in the action. Working on the stories with our head writer and script director Jacqueline Moody in the US and a pool of American and French authors has enabled us to reach a global audience worldwide.
What is the secret to building strong relationships with US networks? How do you even get across the Disney threshold?
The US has always been seen as the Mecca of entertainment, certainly in animation. Even though there is incredible talent all over the world, we soon realised that, if you want to work with the US, you have to be there. We now have some very talented people in our US office. You also need to learn how to think globally and this can take years.
North America is the largest preschool audience in the world – how did you make sure Gigantosauraus resonates with a US audience?
We were working with the European Disney team and they involved US colleagues from very early on. While I remember some very hot discussions on concepts and voices, they proved to be a key asset to the series.
Cyber Group Studios is an international independent studio founded in France. What do you think is fuelling the creativity and success of the European animation industry right now?
There is a long tradition of animation in Europe. In different styles from south to eastern Europe; this has been going on for over 100 years. Today the development of digital devices, new tools, the way entertainment has expanded in the world, etc, makes it really attractive for a young population of artists to join the industry and create for the future at a time where new content is critical for all the broadcasters, platforms and telco companies.
What could other independent studios learn from you? If you could give them one piece of advice for reaching a global audience, what would it be?
Always be passionate and never get discouraged; try and try again if you are convinced that your creation or production has the qualities it needs to meet its public. This is essential. Passion, motivation, perseverance… and always try to find talent to work with you.
What’s next for you and Gigantosaurus?
For Gigantosaurus, a gigantic feature film and that will be an achievement we’ll be proud of if we can climb that mountain. For me, to continue to feel passionate about creating new IPs, meeting new talent and learning from others to make even better series for kids and families.