Making a mark with animation

BEIJING(China Daily/ANN) – Chinese animators are now producing more quality works and making their mark abroad. Xu Fan reports.

When Wu Jia, then aged 23, returned from Canada to work for her father’s Hangzhou-based Zoland Animation in 2007, she found Chinese animation productions were lacklustre.

Back then, Chinese animation showcased at overseas events, such as the global entertainment content trade market MIPCOM in Cannes, received a poor response.

But things soon changed following a boom in China’s movie and television industries.

By 2011, China developed into one of the world’s largest animation producers, with its annual output of animation and cartoon products reaching a record 260,000 minutes. But that figure has witnessed a fall in recent years.

The latest statistics from the State Administration of Radio and Television show that China distributed only 244 animated productions totaling 83,600 minutes in 2017.

But Gao Changli, the director of the publicity department with the administration, sees this as a blessing in disguise as it shows that Chinese animators are shifting from the pursuit of quantity to focus on quality.

And Chinese animators are now producing more quality works, says Gao at the 14th China International Cartoon& Animation Festival, which ended earlier this month.

Gao says the Chinese animation industry is now encouraging local talent to excel, and he hopes Chinese illustrators and animators will reciprocate.

In mid-April, an annual report released by the Beijing-based researcher Entgroup shows that the gross output of China’s comic and animation industries was worth 150 billion yuan ($23.7 billion), accounting for 24 per cent of the country’s 630-billion-yuan culture and entertainment industries.

Wu, now the chairman of Zoland Animation, is among those who are part of China’s burgeoning animation industry. She says the company has so far distributed more than 8,000 hours of animated content to 93 countries and regions, including the United States, United Kingdom, France, South Korea and Russia.

Magic Eye, one of Zoland’s most popular animated franchises, which was sold to just Singapore in 2006, is now reaching the screens of nearly 80 countries and regions worldwide.

The 500-episode animated series about an alien boy’s adventures on Earth also has a sequel series Magic Eye is Back, which has 104 episodes.

Thanks to Magic Eye’s popularity, the sequel quickly sparked interest in overseas markets and is being distributed in 38 countries and regions.

Separately, Zoland’s Zheng He’s Voyages to the West Seas, a 52-episode animated series about the Chinese legendary mariner from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), has been sold to 23 countries and regions, including Kazakhstan.

The company’s Panda Fanfare, an animal-themed fable, has also been translated into 11 languages for 15 countries and areas in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Speaking about how to succeed abroad, Wu says: “First, the works should be good. And, you need an experienced team who knows international markets.”

Chen Boyan, the founder and chief executive officer of the Beijing-based animation studio Boyan Pictures, says he finds that foreign audiences are keen to know more about China. Stories rooted in China’s history and culture are very attractive to foreigners, says Chen, who is also the director of the hit animated series The Young Imperial Guards.

The series, set against the backdrop of Jinyiwei, the Ming court’s most notorious espionage agency, follows a young warrior’s efforts to clear the name of his framed father, a former high-ranking officer with the agency.

As of now, its two seasons, released in 2016 and 2017, has more than 1 billion online clicks and an average of 9.3 points out of 10 on the popular videostreaming site Bilibili.

Speaking about the series which may soon air in Malaysia, Chen says: “The Malaysian buyer contacted us … It boosted our confidence that a quality work can travel beyond borders.”

Liu Zhijiang, the producer of the runaway hit Monkey King: Hero is Back, had a similar experience.

“Before that (the domestic success), we had promoted the movie in overseas exhibitions but few people were interested,” says Liu.

But Monkey King’s 960 million yuan box-office takings at home impressed foreign purchasers, helping it enter mainstream markets like the US and Japan.

And Liu believes this played a positive role in contributing to Chinese content being picked up abroad.

Speaking about the future, Liu, also the director of the movie and television animated industry research centre at the China Academy of Art, says: “Chinese animations have to go abroad first, and then expand their influence in overseas markets.”

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