MEXICO CITY — With a clutch of increasingly ambitious videogames and animated features in the pipeline, Guadalajara-based Kaxan Media Group is quickly becoming a key industry presence in the region.
Founded in January 2010 under the leadership of CEO Ricardo Gomez, Kaxan has spawned three subsidiaries: Kaxan Games, Kaxan Studios and Kaxan Campus.
The studios will release their first toon, the $3 million, Spanish-language feature “Secret of the Jade Medallion,” in 2012. Gomez described the pic, which does not yet have distribution, as a dry-run to train his team for Kaxan’s first major project, currently called “Lucas,” which is budgeted at $25 million.
Pic tells the story of a young boy who is transported to a world where everything from the trees to animals and cars are made of recycled materials.
That project will be English-language, and Kaxan is looking for U.S. voice talents, dedicating nearly half the budget to fill the roles.
Gomez noted that the film will be funded largely by private investors, all of whom reside in Guadalajara, but the company has already begun to reach out to the rest of Mexico and beyond in a search for venture capital. He says the company is in talks with different majors about a distribution deal for the U.S. It does not yet have a sales agent.
Gomez stresses that Kaxan is aiming for a wide, international release for “Lucas,” and that he is a big believer in the box office future of toons.
“Worldwide, they make 3,000 films every year, and of those, 30 are animated, but of last year’s top-10 films, five were animated,” Gomez says.
Kaxan is aiming for “Lucas” to be completed for a 2013 release. Both it and the company’s next animated feature, “Bruno” — about an awkward boy who discovers he has special powers — will be launched simultaneously as videogames and mobile apps.
Gomez says such cross-platform adaptability is part of Kaxan’s 360° IP strategy, which places intellectual property in vidgames, films, TV series, digital content, merchandise and print.
By March 2011, the games unit had become the first company in Latin America to win developer certification from Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft for the PlayStation, Wii and Xbox, respectively. The company’s first game to be released for all three platforms will tie into the “Lucas” pic, with an estimated $4 million in development costs raised from private investors.
In August, the company gained notoriety in the gaming world with the release of “Taco Master” for the iTunes App Store; “Taco” was No. 1 for 10 weeks in Mexico and Latin America, hit No. 5 in India and broke into the top 40 most downloaded apps in the U.S.
When asked about “Taco Master” and the potential profit of such apps, Gomez thinks in terms of market positioning strategy. “What we want to put in place is the character and the story so that the whole world gets to know them,” he says.
“Taco Master” is the first of four apps developed in conjunction with Electronic Arts and Chillingo, onetime publisher of “Angry Birds.” Two more games have since come out for the App Store under the deal — “Torture Bunny” and “Finger Shoes” — with “Fly or Die” on the way.
On the console front, Kaxan Games is readying the launch of family party game “El Chavo del Ocho” for the Wii in March 2012. Touted as the first 100% Mexican videogame, “El Chavo” is based on the kids’ TV show from Televisa of the same name, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. The game is part of a massive promotional campaign coordinated by Televisa starting early next year, which will include parades and a live-action show tour in cities across Latin America and the U.S.
The show is a staple in countries as far as Brazil, where it is known as “Chavez,” and has fans in Spain as well as the U.S., where it is carried by Univision.
Gomez says nearly $3 million went into the development of the game, which for now is arriving on Wii only. The game will be distributed by Mexican game publisher Slang, which will be handling most of Kaxan’s future game distribution, according to Gomez.
The Kaxan Campus project, where many recruits receive a stipend to help cover expenses while studying, works to help train local animation talent — a project Gomez began before he founded the company.
Gomez worked for IBM in Guadalajara for 18 years in a variety of positions, finally heading the sales division for western Mexico. From 2007 to 2009 he held the presidency of the National Chamber of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Canieti). He began to learn about the CG industry through his role with Canieti, meeting business leaders in Guadalajara — which calls itself “The Silicon Valley of Mexico” — and noting the critical mass of multimedia firms and burgeoning talent.
In 2008, when Gomez was working for Canieti, the federal government called on the org, along with Mexico’s film institute, to develop 52 animated shorts to celebrate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico’s war for independence and 100-year anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.
That project began with an open call for young animation talent, with no software skills required, and the creation of the multimillion-dollar Chapala Media Park, a high-tech infrastructure initiative funded by the state of Jalisco and federal coin.
In the course of that training, Gomez helped create the Creanimax animation festival and brought a host of lecturers like Ricardo Curtis (“The Incredibles”) and others from companies including Dreamworks, Pixar, Disney, Lionhead and Ubisoft.
According to Gomez, about 30% of the 250-plus students who have undergone training went on to professional careers in animation, many jumping on board with Kaxan when it opened.
Gomez has gone on to establish ties with the more traditional Mexican film industry, taking part in programs like this year’s Morelia Lab producers workshop in October.
“We give (the students) total creative freedom,” Gomez says. “Many of them have now spent three years animating every single day.”
As a result, the company now has just over 100 increasingly seasoned employees whose average age is 23.