FILMART Seminar: China Animation: Ready to Hit the International Market?
17 March 2017 – Leading producers of animated films and content are excited about the potential for studios in the Chinese mainland to create movies that will earn global recognition. During a panel discussion at the HKTDC Hong Kong International Film and Television Market (FILMART) (13-16 March), the speakers said the focus should be on developing creative stories that stay true to Chinese values yet resonate with overseas audiences.
The seminar entitled “China Animation: Ready to Hit the International Market?” was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and co-organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and ANNECY Festival.
Expert speakers from United, States, Canada and China said studios in the mainland needed to take a step-by-step approach as they embarked on introducing Chinese animation content to the world. They all agreed that while mainland studios are able to compete with Western companies in terms of technical ability, there needs to be more creativity in their story-telling.
Panel moderator Dan Sarto, Co-Founder and Publisher of Animation World Network, said the challenge for animation studios worldwide, and especially China, was to convince audiences to consume their products.
“We are here for business, and [animation] is still a business,” said Mr Sarto. “There are not only challenges facing Chinese studios but opportunities as well. It is a tough, competitive business where even the best and most successful studios are only as good as their last good effort.
“It’s not only about money and distribution leverage but also about great content and creative business people working hard and creating ways of getting in front of audiences worldwide.”
Mr Sarto opened the discussion by posing the question of whether or not mainland studios truly understood what was needed to make an impact on the worldwide market. Gordon Chin, CEO of Asia Animation Limited, said the concept of overseas markets for mainland studios included Asian countries and regions where Chinese content was popular.
“When it comes to international markets, it does not always mean Western countries,” said Mr Chin. “We can go inside mainland China but can also go to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. Singapore and Malaysia also have Chinese channels.
“We need to go step by step. I can say 10 years ago when I first started my studio, we did not consider the international market, but over the last few years, there has been a lot of production or cooperation with agents to get into the international markets.”
Joe Aguilar, CEO of Huayi Brothers Wink Animation, who was formerly with Oriental Dreamworks and worked on the movie Kung Fu Panda 3, said Chinese producers needed to generate story ideas that highlight strong characters.
“When I receive outside pitches and ideas, they tend to be very focused on the family market,” said Mr Aguilar. “In terms of stories I receive, I feel like for the most part, it is heavy, heavy, heavy in plot and very little character development.
“So, I’m like a broken record talking to outside producers. I say to them I’m unclear about your story. You have about three different story lines and I don’t know which one is your main story. By the way, who is your main character?
“Many of the Chinese producers produce stories with many story lines and jam-packed with characters. They need to have simple stories, focus on characters and have one character that audiences really want to follow.”
Delna Bhesania, Chief Executive Officer of Bardel Entertainment Inc, based in Vancouver, Canada, said one of the challenges facing Chinese studios that want to capture a global following was finding a story that all audiences can appreciate.
“One of the things we want is to find relevant stories that hold true in China or are relevant to Canada, or North American or whichever market you are going for,” said Ms Bhesania, whose company was involved in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Puss In Boots. “Once you have that, you should let one side lead and decide what your primary market is.
“If the primary market is in China, then it should be led in China. If the primary market is elsewhere, then you should be able to let go and allow that market to lead it. It is difficult to be something to everybody and that sometimes turns stories into mush.”
Christopher Tremble, CEO of Base FX, which worked on Chinese production Wish Dragon, said from a technical point of view, mainland companies possessed the expertise to produce high-quality animation that could compare with the best production houses in Hollywood and other parts of the world.
However, mainland studios need to take a step back and focus on the quality of their stories, as well as be patient when it comes to producing films.
“They need to be a bit more patient,” said Mr Tremble. “Sometimes, people invest millions of dollars and all they see is a line drawing after a couple of years and they start panicking.
“But that is the way it is. Projects take many years. It could take four to six years to complete a project. Sometimes if there is no story, a project may stop after several years.”
In the end, all speakers agreed that the potential of the Chinese mainland was huge and it was a learning process. As the mainland gains more experience and increases collaboration with top production houses in the US and elsewhere, the quality of mainland animation will rise and content from China will become popular domestically and abroad.
FILMART Website: http://www.hktdc.com/hkfilmart
Panel discussion, “China Animation: Ready to Hit the International Market?” on 15 March.
From left to right: Joe Aguilar, CEO of Huayi Brothers Wink Animation; Delna Bhesania, Chief Executive Officer of Bardel Entertainment Inc; Christopher Tremble, CEO of Base FX; Gordon Chin, CEO of Asia Animation Limited; and panel moderator Dan Sarto, Co-Founder and Publisher of Animation World Network.
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About the HKTDC
Established in 1966, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is a statutory body dedicated to creating opportunities for Hong Kong’s businesses. With more than 40 offices globally, including 13 on the Chinese mainland, the HKTDC promotes Hong Kong as a platform for doing business with China, Asia and the world. With 50 years of experience, the HKTDC organises international exhibitions, conferences and business missions to provide companies, particularly SMEs, with business opportunities on the mainland and in international markets, while providing information via trade publications, research reports and digital channels including the media room. For more information, please visit: www.hktdc.com/aboutus.