Animation more than a fantasy; It took Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks studio to make the blockbuster Kung Fu Panda – and both the martial art and animal are Chinese icons

Animation more than a fantasy

Updated: 2013-10-05 09:30

By Eric Jou ( China Daily)Creative approaches needed in artistry and business as animators face bottlenecksin traditional broadcast media, Eric Jou reports.

The names of Chinese animation studios have long been showing up in the credits of foreignproducts. That might please those mentioned, but creating quality content for domesticaudiences has been incredibly hard with so many animation companies engaged inoutsourcing. But a change is on the way as more and more domestic animation houses usetheir skill to produce the content they conceive. In early September, the People’s Daily saidmore Chinese viewers are tuning in to watch domestic animations because the quality is gettingbetter. It also stressed the need to create original content.

According to the China International Cartoon Network website, revenues from domesticanimation will hit $32 billion by 2015.

There is even growing demand from overseas. The Blue Ocean Network has found foreignviewers starting to follow Chinese animations such as Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf.

But the path to original content is long and domestic animation companies have suffered undercriticism for failure to even create quality China-themed work.

It took Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks studio to make the blockbuster Kung Fu Panda – and both the martial art and animal are Chinese icons.

So some local studios are taking a different route to creating and producing original content.

Dans Digital in Shenzhen has been around since 2003 and has reaped award after award forits original work. While Dans isn’t pursuing animation in cartoons, it is deemed an animationcompany in China because it works in graphics.

Dans Digital founder Deng Bohong said he and his relatively small 40-man team strive to usespecial effects and computer graphics to tell a story. He said since the company was founded,there was never a desire to do outsourcing work or even full-length features.

“We’ve never done outsourcing and we don’t care for it,” said Deng. “Movies to us also lackcreativity. We use our techniques but ultimately we are working to create someone else’svision.”

Movies and outsourced work can help cultivate skills and techniques, but ultimately they do notoffer creative freedom, he said.

So Dans Digital has chosen to create commercials and short films. Most recently it won a seriesof awards at the prestigious Siggraph conference, which is short for Special Interest Group onGraphics.

Competing with companies that have worked on graphic-intensive movies such as JamesCameron’s Avatar, Dans was the only Chinese animation house to take home trophies.

To Deng, it’s never been about going commercial. He said all he wants to do is tell stories.

While he has his sights set on raising the bar, he said China’s animation industry as a whole isfacing an uphill battle. “I believe the problems that China’s creative industry faces right nowaren’t about itself alone – it’s the social and cultural environment.”

“In every nation in the world, once society and economics are stable there will be a period ofcultural expansion. There will be an expansion in China, but right now all we can do is wait.

“That doesn’t mean do nothing – it means to work on other issues such social issues andvalues.”

A look at the way traditional broadcast animation is produced in China illustrates Deng’s point.

For a domestically made animated cartoon to air in China, studios and art houses usually mustprovide 100 episodes of a show and be able to sell it to Chinese Central Television. Only afterthe show is picked up by CCTV will it be viable for airing on satellite networks.

That makes it very hard for animation studios to break into the industry. To avoid the roadblockand create interesting work, the duo at Wolf Smoke studios in Shanghai have droppedtraditional media in favor of the Internet.

Founded in 2006 by Yang Jinroh and Xie Xianhui, Wolf Smoke has been producing animatedshorts for both domestic and Western companies, but their work is their own and not anoutsourced product for someone else. They have been winning awards and clients alike.

Last year, Wolf Smoke was approached by Warner Bros to create their take on the iconicBatman property. They brought the caped crusader to Shanghai. It was highly popular.

“We just like to create work with our own values and style so we started making our own originalcontent,” Xie said.

Citing issues with Chinese networks about animated programming and how short animated filmsaren’t highly desired on Chinese TV, Xie said the Internet became the medium for Wolf Smoketo share its work.

A current project called Woo Yin is a blend of martial arts fantasy and Chinese ethnic elements.Xie said the idea is to create original projects with a focus on the highest caliber and quality ofanimation while at the same time blending in some Chinese character.

“China has a long history which gives us endless source material,” said Xie. “However the worldhas limited knowledge of Chinese original animation, so we try with our original work to dig upunfamiliar parts of Chinese culture to bring the audience a special experience.

“We would like to present what has been overlooked in Chinese culture in the form ofanimation.”

Growing up fond of the work by Shanghai Animation Film Studio in decades past, Xie says thatWolf Smoke draws from inspiration from the studio’s golden age. “China has excellent classicanimations such as In the Heavenly Palace, Nezha Conquers the Dragon King and Conch Girl,”said Xie. “But in recent years China has lost its momentum. When we carry on that style, wecombine modern popular techniques of expression to create works both innovative andvintage.”

Ultimately Xie says she and Yang both feel strongly about the pursuit of original content. “Thequality of work is the most important thing,” said Xie. “Our competitors aren’t from the low-end -we are competing against excellent work from Hollywood and other places.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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