TV Kids Festival Spotlights French Animation Sector


The last day of the TV Kids Festival opened with a panel on French animation featuring Cyber Group Studios’ Raphaëlle Mathieu, TeamTO’s Corinne Kouper and Zephyr Animation’s David Sauerwein.

You can watch the discussion, moderated by TV Kids’ group editorial director, Anna Carugati, in its entirety here. Mathieu, senior VP of sales, acquisitions and new media at Cyber Group Studios, highlighted France’s vibrant talent ecosystem across writers, animators and more. “The whole production system is very rich, and we are lucky enough to have amazing schools. One of our challenges is to keep the talent within France and Europe.”

“It’s a virtuous ecosystem in France,” added Sauerwein, producer and co-owner of Zephyr Animation, APC Kids’ production arm. “People abroad think it’s a haven of subsidies and tax credits, but it’s much more than that. Between the schools and the amazing studios that allow for artists, technicians, to grow—it’s an amazing ecosystem.”

Kouper, senior VP of development and production, co-founder and executive producer at TeamTO, highlighted the French government’s long-standing support of the sector. “We’ve had the tax credits and other tools to help us stay alive and reinforce ourselves. In the last ten years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of talents, technicians and studios. We have a pool of dynamic producers. And it’s very efficient. There is no country doing the same kind of things the way we do.”

The emergence of the streamers has given French studios “more opportunities to greenlight shows,” Kouper added. “It goes quicker because we have more people to talk to. So the financing plans are going quicker than before. The decision-making is quicker.”

Sauerwein concurred, adding, “We’ve also seen new models appear, co-commissioning between platforms and linear broadcasters. That’s an evolution as well.” International co-productions remain vital, he continued.

Mathieu noted that animation producers have long been proficient at working with partners outside their home territories. “That is one of the reasons we are so creative. The models are evolving. There is co-commissioning between platforms and free or pay television. There is the model of global co-production and co-financing. And there’s another model: the orders [for originals] from platforms. When you are the producer and the studio, it’s not the business model you want to live on. You want to live on creating IPs, owning IP.”

On what buyers are asking for, co-viewing is frequently mentioned, Mathieu said. “In reality, there are not that many time slots everywhere to have this type of content when it comes to linear television. When it comes to nonlinear, it’s different. We hear it a lot; I’m not sure the actual result is being expressed yet. Having real co-viewing programs being ordered [for linear slots], I didn’t see a lot.”

Co-viewing is better suited to digital platforms, Sauerwein agreed. “Even though some linear broadcasters are broadening their spectrum a little bit, most still have specific time slots for kids and fewer co-viewing opportunities.”

TeamTO will soon announce its first co-viewing show for kids and parents, Kouper said. “I’m excited by it. It’s a new way to write, a new way to produce. The fact that we’re doing it now is perhaps a signal that it is starting.”

Carugati then asked the panelists how they choose an animation style for a project. “I rely on the directors,” Kouper said. “So, the question for me is, how do you choose a director for a show? It’s alchemy. It’s a miracle sometimes! It’s intuition. It’s not pragmatic. It’s not mathematics. You have a feeling.”

Cyber Group has some 17 projects in development currently, Mathieu said. “Sometimes, we have a strong idea where we want to go, we try it, we have the first artist drawings and we do a test in 2D, for example. And then we see the first result and it doesn’t match with what we were expecting, so we try another solution and hopefully it works, or we try it again. We redo a lot until we’re convinced it matches what we want to say, the story we want to tell.”

Sauerwein added, “It’s not a science. Every project is born a different way. Sometimes, it comes from a simple design, and then you know what direction you’re taking from the style. Sometimes, it’s just words on a piece of paper. We’re adapting a stop-motion short film a Japanese studio into an animated series. The style was set by the short film, so it’s the continuity of that. We have a sitcom for kids, and naturally, we’re leaning toward 2D character design. It depends on the project, who brought it to you, how it was born.”

Attracting and retaining talent to keep up with the surging demand for high-quality animated content is key for all the executives on the panel. TeamTO, for example, set up a free animation training program, ECAS, four years ago. “We’ve trained 90 people; 70 percent are now in our studio, 30 percent are in other studios,” Kouper said.

Cyber Group Studios has also made it a priority to work with young talent, Mathieu said. “We can work with them on the production pipe, as well as in the development pipe. We are doing a lot of trailers. For most of our programs in development that we truly believe in, we put together a trailer. It’s an important way for young talent to test, work and get experience. This development pipe is strategically important because it helps us access young talent and discover young talent, and to give them trust and more confidence.”

Within studios across France, young storyboard artists are finding room to advance up the ladder, Sauerwein added. “The studios themselves become such fantastic places for talent to grow and learn.”

Indeed, Kouper said, TeamTO was so aware of the need for more great storyboard artists in France, it established a training program at ECAS with Canada’s House of Cool. “It’s important to have new people and new voices in our studio.”

The conversation then moved to technology and how game-changing developments are impacting the animation business. Mathieu mentioned Cyber Group’s work in real-time animation with Giganto Club, a digital-first show. “This new technology is going to be used for our traditional pipe to make it more rapid and fluid. It will help [make animation] a little faster; not that much. These are huge strategic investments, and it will probably be even more efficient in a couple of years.”

Real-time rendering is the game-changer, Sauerwein agreed. “I’m pretty sure we’ll all be working with real-time rendering pretty soon. 3D storyboarding is something that can be very interesting for certain projects. We’re working on a stop-motion show for which we’re looking at photogrammetry to scan the sets and use in storyboarding, and perhaps even save some time in the production process.”

TeamTO has long been focused on providing artists with creative freedom, Kouper said, “and to avoid giving them repetitive tasks, so we have a very efficient and reliable pipeline. We are moving to a new studio in Paris, and it will be very much into sustainability and trying to reduce our footprint. We think it’s the most important subject in these times. We are working on a French carbon footprint calculator dedicated to animation. We have an animation tool that helps people go quicker on even large shots. It gives the animators automatic feedback on what they’re doing. Of course, AI is coming and brings us a lot of new ways of doing things.”