‘Wakfu’ Creator Ankama Expands Scope With Minority Stake in French Animation Studio InTheBox

Ankama, the French company behind the cult favorite adult animated feature “Mutafukaz” and video game franchises such as “Dofus” and “Wakfu,” has acquired a minority stake in Inthebox, a thriving Annecy-based animation studio.

The alliance will allow Ankama to “fast-track its production pipeline and benefit from Inthebox’s expertise with different techniques, such as 3D animation,” Ankama’s co-founder Anthony Roux told Variety in a conversation with Inthebox’s co-founders Mathieu Marin and Madjid Chamekh (pictured). “Even if they also do 2D and stop-motion projects, they have a know-how in 3D which we don’t have,” Roux continued.

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Roux said that working with 3D animation opens many doors that are no longer accessible to 2D projects. “In France, there are still people working in 2D but as soon as you want to make a bit of money or be slightly more commercial it has to be in 3D,” Roux said, adding that even “Netflix will pay more for 3D animated projects because they have found that kids are more engaged than when watching 2D content.”

InTheBox has a track record spanning from TV series to movies and commercials. The banner recently worked on Jim Capobianco’s (“Ratatouille)’s “The Inventor” for which it created 350 shots in 3D vfx, as well as rotoscoping tracking and compositing; and “Even Mice Belong in Heaven,” a stop-motion puppet animation combining with 3D and CGI which earned nominations at the Cesar and European Film Awards.

The news of Ankama acquiring a stake in InTheBox follows the creation of Studio Unagi, a new animation studio based in Montreal Animation, launched by veteran Guillaume Dubois in partnership with Ankama. With InTheBox and Unagi, Ankama will look to build a larger development slate of projects and ramp up its production volume.

“Going forward, we’ll be able to all work together and mutualize our ressources,” Roux said. Ankama’s biggest success to date is the series “Wakfu,” an epic fantasy-adventure show adapted from the banner’s in-house hit video game. The series, whose initial plot revolves around the adventures of an orphan with extraordinary powers who embarks on an epic journey to find his family, scored top ratings with fourth season on French broadcaster France Televisions.

Roux said France Televisions innovated by premiering the series on its digital service ahead of its linear channel. “France Televisions has an audience whose average age is 65 and ‘Wakfu’ brought in the 15-35 crowd so we checked all the boxes thanks to the way it was programmed,” Roux said. Ankama is now developing a longer, half-hour series format on “Wakfu.” While the banner focuses on TV series, it has made movies in the past, for instance Mutafukaz, a comics-based 2D crime comedy, and more recently “Princesse Dragon” which won several prizes.

Over at InTheBox, Chamekh said he and Marin have built a strong team of animators with technical skills because they both have that background as CG supervisors.

“The more you master the technical aspects, the more creative you become. We have always used those skills and creativity to serve artists and we have earned the trust of many producers along the way,” said Chamekh. Marin said they were lured by the prospects of partnering up with Ankama and Roux because they “share the same ambition to push boundaries, produce quality content and shine a light on French creation overseas.”

“Up until now, we were mostly active in France, even if we work a bit with the U.S., but it’s crucial to have a base in Paris to play in the big league; and with Ankama we feel that we can accelerate our growth,” Marin said.

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