***This article originally appeared in the 35th Anniversary Issue of Animation Magazine (June-July ’22, No. 231)***
Cyber Group Studios is one of the most active indie animation outfits attending Annecy this year. Hot off the acquisition of three studios in the U.K., Italy and Singapore in recent months, the studio behind such shows as Gigantosaurus, 50/50 Heroes and Digital Girl, brings a full slate to the MIFA market this week. We had a chance to catch up with Chairman & CEO Pierre Sissmann, who founded the Paris-based studio 24 years ago. Here is what the toon veteran shared with us during a Zoom interview:
Animation Magazine: Congrats, Pierre, on another very busy quarter for Cyber Group. Can you give us a quick overview of what you’ve been up to in recent months?
Pierre Sissmann: Well, the big news is that we acquired a majority stake in several multi-award-winning companies — U.K. studio A Productions (The Monster at the End of This Story, Love Monster), which is headed by Mark Taylor and managing director Katherine McQueen, and Italian animation studio Graphilm Entertainment, which is led by founder and CEO Maurizio Forestieri and exec producer Anna Lucia Pisanelli. Both of these studios are hugely respected and have won Royal Society and International Emmy Awards. We worked with Graphilm on the animated series Nefertine. Maurizio also directed the 40-minute project La Custodia (The Case), which set records when it premiered on Rai last year and has won more than 22 awards so far. We also acquired a majority stake in Scrawl Animation (headed by Seng Choon Meng and Wong Chi Kong) in Singapore, which has produced acclaimed shows such as Guess How Much I Love You and partnered with us on Zou.
What was the final goal for these recent acquisitions?
As you know, we have the U.S. studio headed by Karen Miller, and now with these latest acquisitions, we have footprints in France, West China, Singapore, Italy and the U.K. The idea was to create a network of best-in-class studios and talent around the world. We also have the biggest real-time animation studio in Roubaix, in the north of France, where we are currently working on shows such as our Giganto Club, as well as offering service work. We looked at companies that we knew would fit well with us, in terms of creative philosophy, history and a mission to create the best entertainment for families, and that’s reflected in the number of awards they’ve received over the years. We are now also looking at the Hispanic market and eying the Eastern Europe territories as well, because of the region’s strong traditions.
So, my dream is to create properties that not only will be global hits, but could resonate for kids from all different parts of the world. It’s all about bringing talent together with the latest in technology, which is something we have invested in — especially in the real-time arena, which is something that we have been working on for the past two years. We’ve also created a big direct-to-consumer division, which is an area in which we have been growing: Our Giganto Club show was produced especially for YouTube, for example.
You have talked about the importance of having the means to have creative and artistic freedom. Can you elaborate on how that goal aligns with the recent expansions of your studio?
I think everyone all over the world is experiencing a very challenging year, both politically and financially. That’s why it’s so important to be able to support the creators in a way that your future only depends on you. For example, we are co-producing our real-time series Alex Player with France Télévisions and RAI, and it’s co-produced in France and Italy. We’ve never worked in stop-motion animation before, but now we have our partnership with Bristol’s A Productions in the U.K. and they have many years of experience in this area. Scrawl Animation in Singapore are experts in TV animation and they work closely with our associated studio in mainland China.
Another example is our new show Digital Girl, which is a comedy that I wrote — the BBC loved it, so it became a U.K. production. It’s all about cross-fertilization across the board. It allows you to explore more possibilities in different territories. Everything is evolving very quickly these days. Cyber Group started out by producing animated preschool shows, and now we are going to be creating two major shows for adults. We’ll be making a big announcement with a major award-winning independent producer in the U.S. at Annecy, so stay tuned!
You also mentioned that, like several other animation studios around the world, Cyber Group is dipping its toes in the NFT market. Can you discuss that?
As we all know, this is an area which is still in its infancy, and we are witnessing how it changes and evolves every day. It’s a form of art, but it moves backwards and forwards and evolves in all directions. You have organizations like Sotheby’s doing NFT auctions. Just the other day, I was talking to a very well-known painter who wanted to know about the future. Things will develop, but you have to be very careful about what you offer. We are in the process of signing contracts with four very different artists. One is an acclaimed street artist who has done murals all around the world and has numerous followers, for example. We are also talking to a popular animator who is going to create NFT art that will be in motion — some of his work is so cool that we think we can write a series or movie based on them. I think at this point in time, you have to be very creative in what you offer. You can’t just create a static image or a design and expect to sell millions. There is a future for NFTs, but you have to have something special. It’s like creating your own YouTube channel.
One final question: We have all read the news about the recent changes at Netflix and some of the other streamers, which will have a big impact on the animation landscape. What kind of advice would you give animation creatives who want to stay afloat during a very unpredictable period?
What I would say is that you have to rely on your own creativity and develop as much as you can. Yes. Because whether you are dealing with a streamer or a linear broadcaster, they all have their own constraints and are all trying to differentiate themselves from each other. So, you should have a strong slate of shows in development. Of course, sometimes that might be difficult for a smaller company to have a wide range of shows to serve every purpose. We have always been mindful of trying not to inflate the costs of the shows. Real-time technology allows us to cut 20% of our costs. Always be mindful of the customer, because we are going to witness massive inflation all over the world. So the takeaway would be to invest in more development and lower budgets, but rely on technology and talent to have higher quality shows!
For more information, visit cybergroupstudios.com.