When it comes to building and shepherding creative teams across a range of animated formats and genres, Gaumont’s Alex Soto is up to the task.
With a 20-year career that has spanned companies including Sony Pictures Animation, Disney, Cartoon Network and Spin Master Entertainment, in a range of roles from director to storyboard artist, Soto is all about creative vision. His skill set was most recently on display at Toronto, Canada-based Spin Master, where he served as executive producer of creative development, overseeing Super Dinosaur for Skybound Entertainment and working on the rebrand of Bakugan.
Based out of the company’s Los Angeles office, Soto says working for the entertainment division of the award-winning toyco was a great experience, but he felt a little removed as the bulk of Spin Master’s management team was based in Toronto.
“Technology obviously makes it a lot easier to communicate, but there was a bit of a disconnection,” says Soto.
Looking for a change, but not wanting to relocate, Soto joined the LA office of Paris, France-based Gaumont last month, in a newly created position as creative director for animation and family.
Reporting to Terry Kalagian, Gaumont’s LA-based SVP of animation and family, and working alongside Kimberly Dennison and Gaelle Guiny—VPs of creative development in the US and Paris offices, respectively—Soto is responsible for the creative vision of all Gaumont series, as well as building creative teams for each project in development (including features).
On the slate are a number of book-based projects, including Stan Sakai’s comic book series Usagi Yojimbo; Touch the Earth and Heal the Earth from children’s book authors Julian Lennon and Bart Davis; YA series The Star Shards Chronicles from author Neal Shusterman; and Bryan J.L. Glass’s bestselling comic book series, The Mice Templar.
Several original series are also in the works—like Bionic Max with French broadcaster Gulli, and Molly and the Cryptos with France Télévisions—along with feature films High in the Clouds and Plunder.
High in the Clouds is based on a book authored by Sir Paul McCartney and Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Geoff Dunbar. It is the first animated feature project for Gaumont in the US, spearheaded by president of animation Nicolas Atlan. Produced in association with Unique Features co-founders Michael Lynne and Bob Shaye and Paul McCartney’s MPL Communications, High in the Clouds is in early development with a script and original songs by McCartney in the works.
Plunder, meanwhile, is a family treasure-hunting adventure from award-winning writers Leo Chu (Supah Ninjas) and Eric Garcia.
Soto’s appointment comes at a key time for the company, as many of these projects are close to beginning production. The untitled CGI series based on Usagi Yojimbo, for one, is expected to begin production by the end of this year. Following an anthropomorphic samurai rabbit, this action-comedy series targeting six- to 11-year-olds will be produced by Gaumont’s US TV division alongside Dark Horse Comics.
“This is the moment where I come in and relieve some of that pressure from a creative perspective,” says Soto, noting that Gaumont is currently on the lookout for a broadcaster to help support the toon’s development process. The company is also looking for a toy partner for the series.
Soto’s hire to support the slate follows the promotion of ex-Cartoon Network exec Kalagian from creative VP for animation to her current role, and the onboarding of former Disney TV Animation development director Dennison last June. According to Soto, his longstanding relationships with both creative execs helped cement his decision to join Gaumont.
“I’ve known Kimberly since she started at Disney, and Terry from our time at Cartoon Network. Knowing what Terry’s created with Nicolas in such a short amount of time since Gaumont Animation began is impressive,” says Soto.
“As creative director, I’m helping the company find a style and creative look that is fitting to each show I’m working on, but finding the right artists is the biggest challenge today. With networks like Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Hulu, it’s a beautiful time for an artist; But the more demand there is, the more creative you have to be with your artwork.”
Although current series are his priority right now, Soto says Gaumont wants to generate more momentum with new original shows and its animated features division.
“Once we help propel the shows forward to greenlights, we will look at other IPs and original content. With features, it’s a very slow process because the scripts obviously take longer to lock in. It’s also a challenge knowing if the story is strong enough to actually connect with the audience, especially in the US,” he says.
“The biggest thing for me is to have the ability to work with a studio that is as global as Gaumont. It covers every media aspect, which really helps drive us as artists, designers and directors.”