The Sky’s the Limit

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PCy­ber Group Stu­dios fires all cylin­ders this fall with sev­eral new prop­er­ties at the mar­kets.

aris based an­i­ma­tion pow­er­house Cy­ber Group Stu­dios is mak­ing ma­jor strides on sev­eral dif­fer­ent fronts as it em­barks on a very busy fall sea­son. With 19 ma­jor an­i­mated projects in var­i­ous stages of de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion, the toon house is forg­ing ahead as it builds on the global suc­cess of re­cent hits such as Zorro the Chron­i­cles, Mirette In­ves­ti­gates and Zou.

“I look at this year as one of the busiest our stu­dio has ever had both in terms of pro­duc­tion and de­vel­op­ment,” says Pierre Siss­mann, chair­man and CEO of the 12-year-old com­pany. “We have re­or­ga­nized our re­sources, have three shows signed with ma­jor net­works, and have six pro­duc­tions that we haven’t shown to any­one yet. We are also look­ing at de­vel­op­ing fea­ture films in the next five years. When I was at Dis­ney, I pro­duced fea­tures such as Duck­Tales, Hunch­back of Notre Dame and Tarzan. But when I started Cy­ber Group Stu­dios, I knew that it was too risky to jump into the fea­ture film arena right away, so we put our fo­cus on TV se­ries.”

One of the re­cent highlights for the stu­dio has been the up­com­ing preschool se­ries Gi­gan­tosaurus, which will pre­miere on Dis­ney Ju­nior world­wide (ex­clud­ing In­dia and Tai­wan) in 2019. The show, which has al­ready been picked up by France Tele­vi­sions and Su­per RTL in Ger­many, is based on the best­selling book by Jonny Dud­dle about the ad­ven­tures of four young dino pals, who go in search of the big­gest di­nosaur any­one has ever seen. “An­other big project for us is The Pi­rates Next Door, which was com­mis­sioned by France TV,” adds Siss­mann. “It’s also based on an­other Jonny Dud­dle book, which has sold mil­lions world­wide, and next year, we’ll be­gin pro­duc­tion on Dud­dle’s Jack and the Th­e­saurus. These are all am­bi­tious se­ries for us, and they have big toy prop­er­ties as well.”

The team at Cy­ber Group also has high hopes for Taffy, a 78 x 7-minute com­edy project with Turner In­ter­na­tional for its Boomerang chan­nel, across in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. “I cre­ated this show with Mike de Seve of Ba­boon An­i­ma­tion,” says Siss­mann. “It fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of a loyal dog named Bent­ley whose el­derly bil­lion­aire owner takes in an im­poster, pos­ing as a wide-eyed fluffy cat. It has a great Looney Tunes, slap-sticky feel to it.”

An­other hot item on the Cy­ber slate is Droners, a co-pro with Su­pa­monks Stu­dio, La Chou­ette Com­pag­nie and TFI. This 26 x 26-minute show is aimed at chil­dren aged six to 10, and is based on an orig­i­nal con­cept by Su­pa­monks’ direc­tor of pro­duc­tion Pierre de Cabis­sole and La Chou­ette pro­ducer Syl­vain Dos San­tos. The in­no­va­tive toon fol­lows four mem­bers of a drone rac­ing team known as the Tikis, who are try­ing to save their ar­chi­pel­ago home, Ter­raqua, from marine sub­mer­sion. They will have to com­pete in one of the most dif­fi­cult drone rac­ing com­pe­ti­tions in the world.

“We are very proud of this project be­cause it has a very dis­tinc­tive look, of­fer­ing a rich mix­ture of CGI and 2D,” notes Siss­mann. “We are al­ways look­ing at solv­ing the next tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges with our shows. For Tales of Ta­tonka, we had to de­velop an ef­fec­tive way of de­pict­ing an­i­mals in mo­tion, with re­al­is­tic mus­cle and tex­tures. For Zorro, we were tasked with cre­at­ing hun­dreds of an­i­mated char­ac­ters per episode. Now, with Droners, we have full CG, 3D drones rac­ing in a 2D en­vi­ron­ment, and we are go­ing to cre­ate dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, just like a videogame. We want the viewer to feel as if they’re in the driver seat. It will be spectacula­r.”

At this month’s Car­toon Fo­rum, Cy­ber Group will also present King of Space, a whim­si­cal CG se­ries about a young boy named Ralph and his dog Rex who live on a tiny planet called Oopaluna. After dis­cov­er­ing that the dog has royal ori­gins, the young boy en­rolls him in a train­ing program for fu­ture kings of space.

Over­all, Siss­mann says he is pleased that Cy­ber Group has ex­panded its reach in France, the U.K, Ire­land and the U.S. “We are also set­ting up a dig­i­tal di­vi­sion be­fore the end of the year. In the next five years, we hope to cre­ate more TV se­ries, both with old and new clients, as well as mov­ing for­ward with our movie and dig­i­tal di­vi­sions. I think in gen­eral, the mar­ket has been bet­ter for us than it has ever been. The growth of new dig­i­tal plat­forms has been a very pos­i­tive trend for ev­ery­one. Of course, there have been hic­cups here and there, but over­all, it’s a great pe­riod. There is de­mand for com­edy, ac­tion and fan­tasy shows, and both boys’ and girls’ se­ries. Seven years ago, preschool or bridge shows were all about an­i­mals. Now it’s all about boys and girls! It’s a very bal­anced field now.”

To find out more about this thriv­ing French out­fit, visit­ber­group­stu­

Each September, Euro­pean an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­ers, in­vestors and broad­cast­ers head over to the beau­ti­ful French city of Toulouse, lo­cated on the banks of the Garonne river, to at­tend the pres­ti­gious Car­toon Fo­rum event (Sept. 11-14). Since its launch in 1990, over 700 an­i­mated projects have found fi­nanc­ing at the Fo­rum, so it’s easy to un­der­stand why each year more and more toon pro­fes­sion­als are drawn to this spe­cial gath­er­ing.

In ad­di­tion to the usual pitch­ing ses­sions and screen­ings, the Fo­rum will fo­cus on one spe­cific coun­try, and this year it’s Poland and its 30 stu­dios. “Since last year, we de­cided to put the an­i­mated projects of one spe­cial coun­try in the spot­light,” ex­plains gen­eral direc­tor Marc Van­deweyer. “[Poland]’s pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion is fight­ing to pass a 25 per­cent tax credit law, which would strengthen its will to be­come a co-pro­duc­tion part­ner, in­clud­ing part­ner­ships in am­bi­tious projects. The knowhow of the Pol­ish stu­dios is widely rec­og­nized and their cre­ativ­ity has be­come in­creas­ingly con­tem­po­rary and well in tune with our times.”

Van­deweyer says, as in years past, the projects and the cre­ativ­ity be­hind them are the stars of the Fo­rum. “Euro­pean pro­duc­ers dare to in­no­vate in terms of mod­ern and un­usual graphic styles, and de­liver in­tel­li­gent con­tent for kids and new tar­get groups such as young adults,” he notes. “These shows not only aim to en­ter­tain, but also push the en­ve­lope with their clever scripts.”

Com­ment­ing on the over­all state of the Euro­pean scene, Van­deweyer says he sees the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try as quite boom­ing in many dif­fer­ent re­gions of the con­ti­nent. “The stu­dios are work­ing a lot,” he says. “They even have a short­age of an­i­ma­tors. This sec­tor has a great po­ten­tial as the pro­duc­ers co-pro­duce eas­ily with other coun­tries: They can adapt quickly to new tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments, they sell their se­ries and fea­ture films all over the world. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in Brus­sels has con­sulted ex­ten­sively to the an­i­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als to cre­ate an ‘An­i­ma­tion Plan for Europe,’ which is quite am­bi­tious and meets the needs of the sec­tor. The an­i­ma­tion pro­fes­sion­als in the re­gion are ex­pect­ing a new im­pe­tus and fo­cus to im­prove their suc­cess com­mer­cially and to make their in­dus­try stronger than it is to­day.” Dragons, Di­nosaurs and Space

Kings Among the many projects that will be showcased at the Fo­rum this year are:

Anima Pic­tures’ Bal­loon Marco, An­i­moon’s I Love This, Fabrique d’Images and Wun­derWerk’s Mil­lie, Mil­lim­ages’ Louie Builds, Kavaleer’s Neenawsaur­s!, Me­dia Val­ley’s Dragon Slayer’s Academy, Stu­dio 100’s Galac­tic Agency, Cy­ber Group Stu­dios’ King of Space, Gruppo Al­cuni and Warsaw Movie Home’s Leo Da Vinci, Xilam’s Moka, A. Film’s The Knomes, TeamTO and Nexus Fac­tory’s The School of Magic and Colling­wood’s Thor­gar.

An­drew Ka­vanagh, CEO and founder of Dublin-based Kavaleer Pro­duc­tions, is bring­ing Neenawsaur­s!, a new preschool show fea­tur­ing a group of di­nosaurs with sirens. He says, “I think we’ve got a fresh ap­proach to story that kids will re­ally love—all the stuff we’re not meant to do in preschool sto­ry­telling—tantrums, melt­downs and hissy-fits—they’re the trig­gers for a Neenawsaur emer­gency,” he says.

“This will be our eighth at-

ten­dance at Car­toon Fo­rum, so I think the fact we keep go­ing back year on year speaks vol­umes about its ef­fi­cacy for launch­ing a show,” Ka­vanagh points out. “It’s also a great op­por­tu­nity to check in with our­selves and fig­ure out how we should be de­vel­op­ing new prop­er­ties for a con­tent-land­scape that’s shift­ing more rapidly than at any time in the 16 years that Kavaleer’s been in busi­ness. There’s no bet­ter way for an IP-fo­cused pro­ducer to con­nect with the in­dus­try, and see­ing so many great Euro­pean shows launched is a great way for us to tap into the cre­ative main­spring of con­tent de­vel­op­ment on this con­ti­nent.”

As Nima Yousefi, pro­ducer and direc­tor of Swe­den’s Hobab stu­dio, whose show Moon­wolves de­buted at Car­toon Fo­rum last year, points out, “Hav­ing your con­tent at Car­toon Fo­rum will put it on the an­i­ma­tion map to at­tract buy­ers and dis­trib­u­tors to come on board the project. You also re­ceive great feed­back from the ex­perts on how to con­tinue to de­velop the program.”

Marie-Claude Beauchamp, pres­i­dent of Mon­treal-based CarpeDiem Film & TV, is bring­ing her new an­i­mated se­ries Snows­naps (a TV spin-off of the stu­dio’s Snow­time fea­ture) to the Fo­rum this year, after pre­sent­ing it last fall for fi­nanc­ing. “We are very pleased to of­fer the fin­ished project to the Fo­rum par­tic­i­pants this September,” says Beauchamp. “Our pre­sen­ta­tion con­firmed to us that buy­ers were ap­pre­cia­tive of the bold­ness of our ap­proach and that they would be there when the se­ries will be ready.”

Of course, one of the best things about Car­toon Fo­rum is that when all is said and done, it is the qual­ity of the pitched projects that make the dif­fer­ence. “It’s im­por­tant to dare,” Van­deweyer notes. “The Car­toon Fo­rum is a bou­tique event and is much more ac­ces­si­ble to new pro­duc­ers than MIPCOM, for in­stance. At the Fo­rum, only the qual­ity of the project is im­por­tant—not the size of the pre­sent­ing com­pany. Our event is per­fectly de­signed for new­com­ers. If their projects are re­ally good, they will be im­me­di­ately in the spot­light.” For more info, visit­toon-me­dia. eu/car­toon-fo­rum.

ing of one movie, the pre-pro­duc­tion for the sec­ond movie started. Many artists from the first movie also worked on the sec­ond one. One of the big­gest chal­lenges these days is at­tract­ing and keep­ing good ta­lent, so I think it’s very ef­fi­cient to work on two projects al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The work over­lapped in many in­stances at our stu­dio, but we were able to make it hap­pen smoothly.” Dif­fer­ent Styles for Dif­fer­ent

Projects Yuasa has used both Flash tech­nol­ogy and tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion tech­niques in his work be­fore, but he says what is most im­por­tant is the ta­lent that works on each film. “We rely on the ta­lent of many artists, so the qual­ity of the film is safe re­gard­less of the method we use,” he says. “Flash al­lows you to com­plete

a project with fewer staff mem­bers. Also, be­cause the vec­tor lines can be ap­plied in var­i­ous ways, they al­low more flex­i­bil­ity. We can change the style or pat­terns of the an­i­mated film de­pend­ing on the de­mands of the project. I think I use a cer­tain style to take ad­van­tage of my strengths and cover up my short­com­ings.”

When asked about his in­flu­ences, Yuasa men­tions a wide range of artists. “I have been in­flu­enced by both an­i­mated and live-ac­tion films,” he ex­plained. “I have been in­spired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki, of course. Spir­ited Away is a fa­vorite, but I’ve also ad­mired many of his TV work, in­clud­ing Fu­ture Boy Co­nan.” He also in­cludes the films of Tsu­tomu Shibayama, Shun Izaki, Steven Spiel­berg, Ya­su­jiro Ozu, Brian De Palma, Tex Avery, Akira Kuro­sawa and Al­fred Hitch­cock, as well as Ge­orge Dun­ning’s Yel­low Sub­ma­rine among his all-time fa­vorites.

In Night Is Short, Yuasa also pays homage to the great Amer­i­can mu­si­cals. “I love clas­sic Amer­i­can mu­si­cals, films like Sin­gin’ in the Rain and West Side Story. I think it’s ex­cit­ing to see mu­sic syn­chro­nized with images on the big screen: Au­di­ences al­ways re­spond to spectacula­r pro­duc­tions like that. We have a mu­si­cal par­ody scene in the movie, but it’s not done in a full-scale cin­e­matic scale. Some day, I hope to make an au­then­tic an­i­mated mu­si­cal.”

Yuasa says it’s equally chal­leng­ing to adapt a work based on an ex­ist­ing prop­erty as it is to direct an orig­i­nal project. “You al­ways try to come up with the best ver­sion of a story that is suit­able to the medium, whether it’s a short, TV se­ries, or a movie,” he notes. “You need to con­sider your abil­i­ties, your rea­son for mak­ing the project and what is the best way to ap­proach a project tech­ni­cally. I be­lieved that styles should change to match the ma­te­rial, and I was taught that the mark of a skilled an­i­ma­tor is the abil­ity to change their style eas­ily.”

The self-rein­vent­ing direc­tor’s next project is an adap­ta­tion of the manga Devil­man Cry­baby, which will be pro­duced by Sci­ence SARU for Net­flix. The se­ries will be writ­ten by Ichiro Ok­ouchi and Eun­y­oung Choi is the an­i­ma­tion direc­tor. Yuasa says he is con­scious of the in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence of his movies and TV shows when he’s work­ing on a project, but he also doesn’t think that you have to make dras­tic changes for over­seas view­ers. “When I worked on my Kick­s­tarter project Kick-Heart a few years ago, I was aware of the over­seas po­ten­tial, but I felt that it re­ally didn’t im­pact my cre­ative de­ci­sions that much,” he says.

When asked about at­tend­ing the Ot­tawa fes­ti­val, Yuasa says he loves the loose for­mat and con­vivial vibes of the event. “Although it is a ma­jor an­i­ma­tion fes­ti­val, I feel that is very easy to en­joy and feels quite in­ti­mate,” he says. “In ad­di­tion, ev­ery­one in the city seems to be a fan of an­i­ma­tion. Even my taxi driver loved to talk about an­i­ma­tion with me. I am very pleased and hon­ored that both movies were se­lected to be part of the fes­ti­val this year.”

TThe 2017 Edition of the Ot­tawa In­ter­na­tional An­i­ma­tion Fes­ti­val prom­ises to de­liver a fresh slate of in­spir­ing, highly orig­i­nal and ir­rev­er­ent toons.

he fall sea­son of­fi­cially be­gins this month when the much-loved Ot­tawa In­ter­na­tional An­i­ma­tion Fes­ti­val opens its doors for a week of cut­ting-edge shorts, fea­tures, mind-expanding pan­els and dy­namic par­ties. The event, which runs September 20-24 at var­i­ous venues in Ot­tawa, On­tario, prom­ises to be an­other mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence.

The 2017 edition will show­case 92 films se­lected from 1,992 en­tries from 20 dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Among the highlights are Mark Ro­manek and JAYZ’s The Story of O.J. (de­signed and an­i­mated by The Mill and Tit­mouse), Clyde Petersen’s Tor­rey Pines, Ab­hishek Verma’s Fish Curry, Frank Ternier’s Riot, Emilio Ramos’ Nos Fal­tan, Eva Cvi­janovi ’s Hedge­hog’s Home and Ross Hogg’s Life Cy­cles. The Of­fi­cial Com­pe­ti­tion also serves up five fea­tures, in­clud­ing two from Ja­panese film­maker Masaaki Yuasa: Lu Over the Wall and Night Is Short, Walk on Girl.

“There is a def­i­nite air of de­fi­ance, not just in terms of con­tent, but also through stylis­tic choices and a re­jec­tion of con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive sto­ry­telling,” notes the fes­ti­val’s artis­tic direc­tor Chris Robin­son. “After I pro­grammed the com­pe­ti­tion films, I just sort of looked back and saw that ev­ery screen­ing had a few films that were some­how de­fi­ant. By that I mean films with un­har­nessed ex­pres­sions about race, pol­i­tics, eco­nomic sys­tems, sex­ual

FHow a UCSB com­puter sci­ence stu­dent helped Pixar de­velop a new noise-elim­i­nat­ing so­lu­tion. By Ellen Wolff

or many peo­ple, the words “Monte Carlo” con­jure images of high-stakes casi­nos serv­ing cock­tails that are shaken, not stirred. But for those who ren­der com­puter-gen­er­ated images, Monte Carlo is any­thing but glam­orous. It refers to the noise that’s a typ­i­cal by-prod­uct of ray-traced images…like film grain ar­ti­facts, but on steroids. So it’s not sur­pris­ing that CG pro­duc­tion stu­dios have long sought de-nois­ing so­lu­tions. But cost-pro­hib­i­tive and la­bor-in­ten­sive strate­gies have been im­prac­ti­cal for fea­ture film pro­duc­tion thus far. As Mark Meyer of Pixar Re­search Group ex­plains, “The com­pu­ta­tional re­quire­ments are so large for the com­plex­ity lev­els of our images. It’s only re­cently that com­put­ers are fi­nally catch­ing up to the math that they’re be­ing asked to do.”

This is where com­puter sci­en­tists from the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Santa Bar­bara en­ter the scene. Steve Bako, a UCSB doc­toral stu­dent, was col­lab­o­rat­ing with fel­low re­searchers Nima Kalan­tari and Pradeep Sen on a ma­chine learn­ing ap­proach to fil­ter out Monte Carlo noise. They trained their lab’s com­puter network to make “noisy” images look more like images that had been com­puted with greater num­bers of light rays. While their process can be con­sid­ered a sub­set of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, Bako notes that ma­chine learn­ing has been around for decades. “But now that hard­ware is so pow­er­ful, we can do mil­lions of cal­cu­la­tions in par­al­lel. That’s why there’s been an ex­plo­sion of com­pli­cated ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms for var­i­ous ap­pli­ca­tions.”

Bako and his col­leagues pub­lished their re­search in 2015, and Pixar took note. As Bako re­marks, “Pixar had moved to a ray-traced­based ren­der­ing sys­tem, and they were pay­ing at­ten­tion to de-nois­ing meth­ods out of ne­ces­sity.” When Bako joined Pixar as a 2016 sum- mer in­tern, he quickly found him­self in hy­per­drive. He had “trained” UCSB’s com­put­ers on about 20 gar­den-va­ri­ety images—a typ­i­cal aca­demic as­sort­ment of lamps and desks. “On my first day at Pixar, they gave me Find­ing Dory,” he re­calls. “The images were di­verse, and ideal for set­ting up a ma­chine learn­ing frame­work. Ma­chine learn­ing is good for a stu­dio be­cause they can train on one movie, and it’s ready to go for an­other. They’ll be able to take their Dory- trained network and throw more data at it for an­other movie.”

The vi­a­bil­ity of this ap­proach soon be­came ev­i­dent, notes Tony DeRose, who heads Pixar Re­search Group. “We ex­per­i­mented with noisy images from Cars 3 to see what the al­go­rithm would do. It did very well on that, and also with images from Coco and Piper.” While this project pro­ceeded at Pixar, re­searchers at Dis­ney Re­search Zurich were also test­ing de-nois­ing on Big Hero 6.

As Pixar’s Meyer ex­plains, “Projects that use ma­chine learn­ing used to take months and months, but now we’re train­ing within a few days to a week.” While this strat­egy has clear po­ten­tial, DeRose cau­tions that it could take a year or two to be pro­duc­tion-ready. “It’s still spec­u­la­tive enough that a pro­ducer couldn’t bud­get it for a par­tic­u­lar film,” he notes.

In the mean­time, Pixar’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with UCSB sci­en­tists con­tin­ues. Back in his lab in Santa Bar­bara, Bako is able to ac­cess stu­dio as­sets, and he’s push­ing for­ward us­ing the Tung­sten open source ren­derer. The re­sults have been strik­ing enough that Bako pre­sented them at SIGGRAPH 2017. He couldn’t re­lease any in­for­ma­tion that’s pro­pri­etary to Pixar, but Bako has posted enough open source in­for­ma­tion on­line so that oth­ers can test and build upon this re­search. As Meyer ob­serves, “We’ve found that we reap ben­e­fits from let­ting other peo­ple con­tinue to come up with ideas that move the whole field for­ward.” It is proof, as Bako notes, “that aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions re­ally can make a dif­fer­ence.” Dis­ney-Pixar’s lat­est fea­ture film Coco will be re­leased in the­aters on Novem­ber 22.

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