Cyber Group Studios’ Collaborative Approach

Based on Scholastic’s best-selling book series written and illustrated by Thomas Flintham, Press Start! has come to life in a whole new way thanks to Cyber Group Studios. The show, a Peacock original for the U.S., is aimed at children aged 4 to 7 and has been developed by Emmy Award winner Scott Kraft (PAW Patrol). Kraft serves as executive producer and head writer of the series. The artistic vision of the show is brought to life by Romain Pergod as the character designer and Sylvain Sarrailh as the background artist.

“Fittingly, a show made for kids originated with the passion of a real kid: in this case, the son of Ira Singerman, our U.S. head of development,” explains Karen K. Miller, president and CEO of Cyber Group Studios USA. “Ira’s son came across author and illustrator ***Image***Thomas Flintham’s Press Start! book series at his elementary school’s library. He gravitated toward the books because they were visually compelling and, more importantly, they were about one of the things kids love best: video games! He brought the books home, and Ira was intrigued the moment he saw them. He immediately read all the titles that were out in the market, and soon after called Scholastic to inquire about the availability of the rights.”

The rest of the global team at Cyber Group Studios recognized the potential for a unique show that embodied the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy of kids: to be able to travel inside a video game world and have adventures battling villains, Miller adds. “It was also important to us to ensure the series would have a lot of heart, and that is reflected by the characters.”

Kraft came on board and “took everything to the next level,” she continues. “He had a great take that delivered on the wish fulfillment while also really leaning into strong themes of family. He made sure that comedy was front and center, too. We knew the series would have cool action, no matter who developed it, but Scott’s ‘secret sauce’ is in the comedy and sweetness he brought to the table.”

Singerman adds, “One of Cyber Group Studios’ key questions at the onset of the series development was, how do we take Thomas Flintham’s 2D retro 8-bit style designs and adapt them to 3D? We were eager to discover what that would look like. With that goal in mind, the final look of the show is unlike anything kids have ever seen before. It features two distinct design styles. We have slick-looking traditional 3D in the real world and then, when the main characters go into the game world, we have a blocky, almost Minecraft-meets-LEGO-meets-’80s-video-game look with a ton of cartoony ‘squash & stretch.’ It was a challenge for the team to take on two different art styles—it meant almost double the assets—but the end result was worth it. We have a show that looks and feels different than anything else out there, and we are very proud of that.”

Also infusing video game-style fun, Alex Player was inspired by video game competitions. “Esports had become a true phenomenon, reaching kids in a major way,” says Pierre Belaïsch, senior VP of creative development and artistic production. “It’s massive. People gather in huge arenas and cheer on their favorite teams as if they were watching a Champions League soccer final!”

“We wanted to capitalize on this social phenomenon, so we developed a set of artistic and editorial material (including a 1-minute trailer) that tells the story of Alex and his friends Camille, Amy and Mike, who create their own esports team and strive to win the interregional college Land of Titans cup,” he continues. “That’s a M.O.B.A. game we invented for the purpose of the show. Our goal was to show that esports is a true sport, based on team spirit and shared adventure, where feelings, emotions, solidarity and friendship within the team have a direct influence on your way of playing… just like any other sport! Above all, Alex, Camille, Amy and Mike are sweet and endearing kids, and we wanted to focus on this as much as on their competitive abilities.”

This 26×22-minute animated series is a co-production between Cyber Group Studios (France), Graphilm Entertainment (Italy), Scrawl Animation (Singapore), Bee Prod and Webedia (France). The animated series is commissioned by France Télévisions in France and Rai in Italy.

Alex Player is a 2D/3D show. The 2D part is reflected in the “real world,” where Alex and his friends go to school, live their lives as teenagers, have fun and practice their favorite game. The 3D part of the series is dedicated to the game world, which is called Land of Titans, where each member of the team is represented by their own “avatar.”

“For the 3D game world, we’re working with our studios in Roubaix, Scrawl Animation in Singapore and Graphilm Entertainment in Italy,” Belaïsch says. “We’re producing Alex Player using real-time animation, powered by Unreal Engine, leveraged by Cyber Group Studios’ new real-time animation studio in Plaine Images, Hauts-de-France. Alex Player is also Singapore’s first long-term animation series produced using the real-time pipeline. Thanks to Unreal, the 3D scenes of the series really look like an actual video game!”

Just like its collaborative approach in aligning with international companies and studios on Alex Player, Cyber Group Studios works together across its L.A. and Paris offices to develop international content.

“First and foremost, Cyber Group Studios is driven by the power of story,” Miller says. “The stories and characters need to be compelling and memorable and have the ability to appeal to audiences on a universal level. From there, the U.S. team assesses if we think there’s a market for the idea or IP in North America, and the Paris team simultaneously does the same for Europe and the rest of the world.”

“We work collaboratively through each phase of development,” Belaïsch adds. “Typically, on all projects that are considered part of our U.S. slate, the U.S. team will drive the story development, and the Paris team will manage the visual development. But again, it’s all happening in lockstep with daily Zoom meetings between the two offices.”

Singerman says that the process for collaboration at Cyber Group Studios is rather straightforward: “The U.S. and Paris teams both give notes on story and design, and we discuss them with the goal of making the best show possible. The collaborative spirit and different cultural points of view help make things better than if we were each developing projects in a vacuum. It’s a dynamic that has been working very well for us!”

For both the American and French teams, it all comes down to a good story, according to Miller. “Both the U.S. and Paris development teams are super passionate about storytelling and try to create the coolest animated kids’ shows possible. The diversity in our cultural sensibilities is a powerful force because the teams complement one another, infusing our shows with a global appeal. Their European perspective and our U.S. perspective come together harmoniously to enhance the richness of our content.”

Belaïsch adds, “In France, we have a rich tradition of visual storytelling, with a world-class design talent pool. Our board artists and directors consistently excel in enhancing storytelling, particularly in the realm of comedy, often delivering content beyond expectation.”