Learning curve for Chinese animators

VANCOUVER – Chinese animation was well represented at SIGGRAPH, an international conference and exhibition on animation, this week as the leading lights in computer graphics and interactivity technologies descended on Vancouver to display their latest offerings.

Exhibiting in Canada for the first time, the show featured 150 exhibitors, including such giants as Pixar Animation Studios and Disney Research, but also a handful of Chinese companies looking for funding and distribution to break their animated film offerings into the lucrative western market.

Lucy Yang is a former journalist turned animated film producer. With her Shanghai-based company, RedMotion Animation and Design Co, she’s come to Vancouver seeking distribution for Legends of Silk Boy, an animated film she did last year for the Shanghai Expo featuring the voice of martial arts icon Jackie Chan, and K-Boy, K-Girl, a new 52-part animated series for children.

“Yes, we met a lot of distributors, an local distributor and also the local animation studios who are interested to distribute our movie and TV series. They try to work with us because right now China and North America studio projects they work very close. So we are talking about a new project as well now,” she said.

“It is very important to distribute internationally because if we only look at China we won’t go around the world. That means Chinese animation is going to end. So it is very important for us to connect with the west and the world.”

Crimson Forest is a new animation studio that started operation in a space near Beijing’s ultra-cool 798 art zone earlier this year. Already, with an army of 100 computer graphic designers, the company is about two months away from finishing its first offering, the Bull Brothers. The 90-minute film features the voices of Hong Kong crooner Andy Lau, starlet Shu Qi and veteran actor Zhang Guoli, among others.

Andy Chen, Crimson Forest’ s chief operating officer, said it was important for the company to be at SIGGRAPH — short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques — as it represented the annual gather of computer graphic artists and filmmakers from all over the world and “we want to make our presence known to the world.”

More than 10,000 people are expected to attend the show over its five-day run which ends Thursday. In December, the Asian leg of SIGGRAPH will be staged in Hong Kong.

Chen, a Taiwan resident who has lived in Beijing the past four years, said Bull Brothers was about the adventures of two siblings and how they try to save the family farm. He’ s hoping to get it into China theaters by the end of the year and get a good reception from distributors at the Vancouver show to break it in overseas markets.

“I’m hoping it is good because there are so many good movies from the West already from companies like Pixar, Dreamworks that make great, great movies. But there’s always room for these interesting ideas from other countries, like from China.”

With a big part of the Chinese animation industry now doing outsourcing work for major animation productions for film companies in the United States and Japan, among other countries, Chen said it was important China learn from the experience and produce its own animated films with original story lines.

He felt what’s holding China’s nascent animation industry back was a “massive lack of technical talent,” adding if he could hire another 100 technical directors he could ramp up his output to two or three film releases a year.

Chen explained that technical directors write tools, write plug-ins, assist the animator and “help the entire pipeline of CG (computer graphics) workflow of doing a better job.” He lamented only a few Chinese universities were teaching such skills.

“I think this is what makes Crimson Forest special because of instead of just being an outsource company, we also do our own ideas, we do our own IP (intellectual property). So that really makes us stand out and actually it’s more fun for us too. It is more satisfying. It’ s more fun for the artists themselves to be able to work on our own stuff.”

RedMotion’s Yang also felt it important to be at SIGGRAPH as only a day earlier she was able to attend a conference with DreamWorks Animation, producer of Kung Fu Panda. The 2008 animation blockbuster took in a reported $630 million at the box office and also spawned a 2011 sequel, a television series, a holiday special, video games and a merchandise line, among others.

“They were talking about Chinese martial arts and Chinese background culture, but they are not Chinese. They are American and they went to China to stay for three month or more to get to know about Chinese culture,” Yang said of the DreamWorks conference.

“But as artists, as Chinese, we have a lot stories from ancient China and we would like to tell these stories. But with our technology, we are still developing, we are still learning. And it is this learning curve we would like to come and learn more and then we can combine with our culture, our stories, and with the western technology we can show the world our Chinese culture.”


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