Chinese animation at a crossroads

3 December 2012 20 h 28 min Comments Off

China animation characters image

(CNTV, Dec 03, 2013) China is now the world’s biggest producer of animated work, surpassing both the United States and Japan. More amazingly, it has achieved this feat in only 7 years. Pan Deng investigates if the numbers reflect the true status of quality and the industry’s bumpy road towards originality.

Here enters China’s latest animation hero.

Set in a fantasy world, the film “Kuiba” tells the story of how a little boy saves his world from the evil hand of a monster.

The film borrows Japan’s “hot-blooded” style, trying to refresh audience’s general views on Chinese animation.

“Kuiba” has been critically acclaimed, but it failed commercially. After a one-week appearance in cinemas, it only took in one tenth of its cost. The 35-million yuan production can now only balance its sheet by selling its copyright overseas.

Wu Hanqing, CEO of Vasoon Animation, said, “We knew there was demand for this kind of film, but we didn’t know marketing and distribution, which remains our biggest challenge. There’s a lot to learn. But, after this commercial failure, we now understand the market better. A stronger and more effective marketing campaign is on the table for our upcoming release. We need brand identity.”

The company has a grand vision for the “Kuiba” series. Four sequels are planned and one of them is in post production.

Kuiba’s ordeal is symbolic of the Chinese animation industry’s bumpy road towards originality.

Yu Peixia has witnessed and been a part of China’s animation’s boom. He ran China’s only national TV channel for kids for more than a decade. He’s now leading the China Animation Association, the country’s only industrial organization to study and promote original productions.

Yu said, “From those numbers, we could say that China is now a major animation producer in the world. But we need to see clearly that the industry and audience is not satisfied with the status quo. We need to focus on quality. So far, the industry hasn’t created its own masterpieces and a world-recognized brand name. I strongly believe that in animation, if a production is not a masterpiece, then it’s a waste.”

The Chinese government initiated its national strategy of supporting the domestic animation industry in 2004. Since then, development has surged. However, as Mr. Yu sees it, the support focuses too much on post production, rather than creating a favourable environment for ideas and talents to flourish.

So we went to one of China’s leading animation schools to see how the faculty and students are coping. It looks like they have a bigger concern than how government policies are made.

Liao Xiangzhong, VP of Communication Univ. of China, said, “I think there’s a common and serious problem with many students. They try too hard to make their work Chinese. Therefore, many foreigners don’t understand what the work wants to say. That’s not right. We pay more attention to animation’s universal language. Our students are required to learn elements that are comprehensible to global audiences.”

The strategy seems to have worked. One of Mr. Liao’s students made this short piece, called “Happy Anniversary”. It won a major prize at the Tokyo Anime Awards, the world’s biggest and most competitive animation gathering. This is also a first for Chinese participants.

Back in the classroom, these eager eyes are seeking knowledge and success. But it looks like that it’s going take more than just passion to see their dreams fly, especially if China’s animation industry sees talent as the key to its future.

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