China animations to conquer highest peaks
Chinese animated films have amazed movie buffs with their stunning visual effects and storytelling in recent years. A lot of acclaimed productions have emerged, including “Monkey King: Hero Is Back,” “Big Fish and Begonia” and “White Snake.”
Many are inspired by Chinese folklore and legends, which have shortened the psychological distance with local audiences. Now, Chinese animations are taking aim at the global market.
This year, Shanghai’s Pearl Studio will present “Abominable.” A co-production with DreamWorks, the movie will take audiences on an epic 3,000-mile adventure from the streets of a city to the heights of the Himalayas.
The film is a story of courage, friendship and family. When teenager Yi encounters a young Yeti (a mythical ape-like creature said to dwell in the Himalayas) on the roof of her apartment building, she and her mischievous friends, Jin and Peng, embark on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family at the highest point on Earth. But the trio of friends have to stay one-step ahead of Burnish, a wealthy man intent on capturing a Yeti.
The film will be released by Universal Pictures worldwide on September 27. Officials from Pearl Studio, best known for the box office sensation “Kung Fu Panda 3,” spoke with Shanghai Daily to share the stories behind the production and their expectations for Chinese animation.
CEO of Pearl Studio
Q: What inspired you to collaborate with DreamWorks on the movie from the beginning?
A: As a global family entertainment brand rooted in Shanghai, Pearl Studio has different global partners for movie projects of different types and budgets, and we considered DreamWorks the most suitable to work with.
DreamWorks and Pearl have a history of successful collaboration and we think they’re the perfect partner to produce family entertainment for the global audience.
With their expertise on premium content production, and Universal Pictures’ experience in global distribution, we believe we make a perfect team.
Q: Any adjustments to the film’s script in order to attract audiences from all over the world?
A: The movie was original created by Pearl Studio — our unique East Meets West creative team. Authentic Chinese elements have been integrated to the story from the beginning of the project development.
Despite the fact that “Abominable” is set in China with Chinese characters, the main themes of the story are about family and finding a home, which don’t belong to the East or the West — they are universal.
Q: What’s your strategy for the film’s overseas distribution and marketing?
A: We have a very strong global distribution partner — Universal Pictures, who is a leading distributor globally. So we’re very confident about its expertise on global distribution and marketing.
We’ve already had business and ancillary plans regarding “Abominable” IP, although information about its sequel is not disclosable for now.
Q: What do you think of the development of the domestic animation industry?
A: China generated more than 60 billion yuan at the box office in 2018, and it’s currently the second largest movie market in the world. It has frequently been predicted that the film business in China will overtake that of North America. It’s a growing market with opportunities, especially when we’ve noticed the gap of animation box office between China and US.
As we see the industry is still growing and developing, offering huge space given the types and quantity successful films. An animation is a comprehensive delivery of a total package including visual effects, story-telling, character design, animation and etc.
There’s a virtuous circle between the industry and single movies. A successful movie will help build confidence, while a developing industry encourages great projects. The overall growth of the industry requires diverse, high-quality animation, to appeal to a wider audience and contribute to the industry in return.
Q: What’s your suggestions for domestic animators? What do they still need to learn from their Hollywood peers?
A: We strongly believe in the potentiality of the China animation market. And this potentiality provides opportunities for the China animation community.
We think the Chinese animation industry is filled with incredible talent, the only gap we see sometimes is in years of experience, and the skill set that brings. We have Chinese artists on all of our films, alongside world class veterans that have worked in animation for literally decades.
There is a lot of learning happening there. Part of our mission at Pearl is to do our part in creating opportunities for more artists in China to get the right exposure and experience to elevate their skills to a world class level.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
A: Yes, our next global release is “Over the Moon,” directed by Academy Award winner Glen Keane and produced by another Academy winner Sony Pictures Imageworks.
The movie will be released in 2020 by Netflix to the global audience and distributed by Pearl Studio in China. Another project “The Monkey King” is co-developed between us and Stephen Chow.
We have more than a dozen projects on the go. We plan to produce one to two movies per year.
Chief creative officer
Q: How long did it take to make this film?
A: It takes almost seven years, including pre-production (creative, development) and production. The project began while we were still working on “Kung Fu Panda 3.”
Q: What challenges did you meet?
A: Given the setting of our film, we wanted our story and characters to be authentic and true to China, while, at the same time, relatable to the world.
It’s always the small details that make the biggest difference, so we tried to pay quite a lot of attention to those things.
Story-wise, we wanted to create something really special between our main human character and Yeti, so we spent a lot of time tracking each of their individual journeys and insuring the intersection of these journeys yielded something much bigger than each of them alone.
Both of these characters need help in different ways, and the friendship they form changes both of them for good.
It is a beautiful story about the power of friendship, and the strong bonds of family. The major themes of this film are ultimately universal, and we look very forward to sharing it with audiences in China and around the globe.
Q: Are there any distinctive Chinese elements?
A: Yes, we would love to call it a “love letter to China.” It tells a story that happens in contemporary China.
Audience will witness the true beauty of China through fantastic animation scenes. More details of the film will be revealed later this year.