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November 20, 2017

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Hollywood in race for Chinese alliances and co-productions

CHINA is backing animation projects with Hollywood as a means to stimulate international co-production and strategic alliances in the cultural and entertainment sectors.

Disney has been an active presence in China for decades and has stepped up its commitment for co-production with Lu Chuan’s critically acclaimed documentary “Born in China” — that the mouse-house co-produced with SMG Shanghai Pictures.

Disney also recently co-produced the live-action romantic comedy “The Dreaming Man,” starring Bo-Lin Chen and Lin Yun, with Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Artrendwave. It is due to be released at the end of the year.

Aside from their formidable theme-park presence and incomparable brand merchandising machine, Disney also expends significant resources and personnel mentoring to Chinese animators with the studio’s powerful and unbeatable know-how.

It hosts the Disney US-China Animation Exchange Program each year to bring powerhouse Disney executives and world-class creatives, like John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, Andrew Millstein, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Ed Catmull, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, together with China’s leading animators and animation executives to exchange top-shelf ideas and proprietary techniques.

“We invest a lot of time, money and efforts into our relationships, in order to create better stories for global audiences and get our best artistic efforts on the screen. We look forward to the opportunity to exchange ideas with our friends in China,” Millstein said.

Disney also regularly hosts master classes and lectures at China’s top universities, including Beijing Film Academy and Communication University of China, and supports numerous Chinese film festivals and China’s homegrown version of ComiCon the International Cartoon & Animation Festival in Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang Province.

Anthony Vogels, former senior vice president of Imax, is confident co-productions have a real chance in the global market. “Just look at ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ that was a Chinese story, a US script and US animation technology. That was a great success,” he said.

In response to the resounding successes of “Kung Fu Panda” and “Kung Fu Panda 2,” DreamWorks Animation and Oriental DreamWorks have also moved into the co-production race, registering “Kung Fu Panda 3” last year as its first official US-China animated co-pro, with partners China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance. Plans are in the works for more co-productions to follow.

Another US company swinging for the fences with China co-productions is industry leader Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment. Stan Lee, one half of the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby industry-redefining team behind the Marvel Comic Universe that has come to dominate Hollywood, is jumping on a fast boat to China, partnering with China’s Camsing International Holding Ltd to bring new Stan Lee characters, stories and universes to audiences in China and worldwide.

“We hold a treasure of intellectual property created by Stan Lee, a universally renowned figure. His ability to this day to create an emotional connection with each character is uncanny. We have already announced Stan Lee China and the Shanghai Stan Lee Comic Con and are looking for other ways to capture the legacy of Stan Lee and nurture new product into the marketplace that he will be proud of and his fans will run to see,” said Shane Duffy, CEO of POW! Entertainment.

“Camsing benefits from Hollywood everyday with its ability to inject worldwide brands into their everyday platforms. Licensing, production and distribution opportunities are now more apt to part of the everyday vernacular of the company,” added Duffy.

Cooperation to gather steam

Chinese companies are trying to learn not only the ideas and experiences to make good stories from Hollywood, but also the technologies and skills to improve animation production.

Strategic alliances and international coproductions are nothing new to China’s own Perfect World (PW) video game developer. Though PW began with Chinese-themed games, such as “Perfect World” and “Legend of Martial Arts,” by adroitly partnering with Microsoft and Sony’s Xbox and Playstation platforms, the company rose rapidly through the ranks to become one of the top game companies in China.

PW has also strategically moved into the global motion picture and television business by securing a place at the coveted Hollywood table by investing a reported US$250 million into Universal Studio’s high-profile production slate.

Now, looking to foster better design and improve the digital visual effects industry in China, PW recently announced it is entering into an alliance with Hollywood’s famed Gnomon School of Visual Arts Workshop Program to bring a robust online curriculum of Master Classes in Hollywood-style Entertainment Design and Digital Visual Effects Production to China in Mandarin.

Founded by Alex Alvarez in 1997, Gnomon is one of the leading visual arts schools in the world. Its faculty includes top-level working professionals from the motion picture and video game industries, who teach professional-level production design and digital visual effects for film, television and video games.

“Entertainment is a very competitive industry and it’s always a big challenge to hire and keep the best visual artists who have the talent and skills we need to excel. We noticed many of the digital artists we hired still needed at least six months more of on-the-job training to reach the professional skill levels we require,” Kai Hu, deputy general manager at PW’s Educational & Technology said.

“We welcome international students at Gnomon and are delighted that the Gnomon Workshop online curriculum, from beginners to advanced courses, will now be available to students and professionals in China,” said Lynette Clee, senior editor and creative content manager of Gnomon.

If these recent deals are anything to judge by, the race to find winning co-productions and alliances between the United States and China is just beginning to gather momentum.


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