Cannes: Big Projects, Bigger Government Help China’s Animation Industry Advance

Kong - H 2014

Kong - H 2014

A surge in Chinese animation projects will soon come to fruition and industryites are hailing a renaissance in quality.

China has launched a major initiative to boost the troubled animation sector, and the world’s second biggest film market is poised for a boom period centered on major projects.

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) is pushing the sector hard, with a designated China animation booth at the market in Cannes and there are local animation bigwigs patrolling the Croisette.

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“The Chinese government is heavily promoting the growth of cultural industries, especially animation. In the past they’ve been concentrated on developing industrial zones, not really creative,” said Gary Zhang, who is co-producing a $40-million animated 3D project, Kong, with Korean filmmaker JJ Kim.

“Now they are staying away from that and they want to have more authentic, real effort into the creative industry,” said Zhang.
With Kong, Aquamen – thus named as both Zhang and Kim are Aquarians in the Chinese Zodiac -- is looking to energize the Asian animation sector.

For years, Chinese animation struggled from a lack of investment and missing creative juices, completely outplayed by SpongeBob SquarePants and the Japanese anime classics, but now the sector is undergoing a revival, with domestic animated features scoring high in the box office and a slate of high-quality projects.

Sporting a $40 million budget, Kong is the latest movie or television property to be adapted from the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West. The film will tell the origin story of the titular character, who was born from molten rock in the Earth's core, but will also feature sci-fi elements, including aliens and robots. 

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Aquamen  will imminently announce a Hollywood director for the and reveal a large investor, believed to be a major Chinese distributor, and it is currently looking for a studio in Korea.

In the first four months of the year, five of the 20 best performing movies were animations, accounting for 18 percent of the $1.35 billion box office in the period.

Recent animation hits include the Pleasant Goat franchise and Boonie Bears: To the Rescue, a feature version of a hit show on the state broadcaster CCTV that took $5.2 million on its opening day alone.

“This year China is number four in terms of the population, after being eight last year. The government is helping with screenings and inviting people from the animation industry who wouldn’t normally come to Cannes, having a booth for animation,” said Aymeric Contat Desfontaines, managing director of Hong Kong and Paris-based sales outfit, All Rights Entertainment.

Dragon Nest is one of the first China/Hollywood co-productions that will repurpose with a Western voice cast to be announced shortly. The film features songs from award-winning Chinese pop star Jane Zhang, and American singer/songwriter Keely Hawkes.

Dragon Nest is one of the first China/Hollywood animated co-productions.

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There is also growing awareness of the need for animation to be part of a bigger package, including TV spin-offs and merchandizing, he said.

Domestic animated films are expected to account for 10 percent of China's total box office over the next two to three years, compared with 5.2 percent last year.

Animation has been the poor relation in the Chinese film business for a long time, and previous attempts to make a big animation feature, such as Through the Moebius Strip in 2005, have floundered. But growing technical sophistication has seen some breakout animated features do well at the box office.

At the 10th edition of the China International Cartoon & Animation Festival in the eastern city of Hangzhou this month, there were transactions worth $2.2 billion and 1.36 million participants, with 602 companies from 74 countries.

In 2013 there were 29 home-made animation films released in China, with total box office of $103.7 million, up 48 percent year-on-year, said Zhou Jiandong, an official with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

Domestic animated films are expected to account for 10 percent of China's total box office over the next two to three years, compared with 5.2 percent last year.

“The industry in general is becoming more and more professional and really raising the bar. It’s becoming more global – we are looking at a global picture. Our investor is a domestic and a global pro. We’re trying to find a Monkey King that is a true hero, and we’ve had to cut the ties with the original story to make it a global picture,” said Zhang.