As Hollywood looks for new sources of revenue, studios are eager to capitalize on China's silver screen ambitions. China's film industry showed impressive gains for 2013, generating $3.6 billion in box office revenue, a 27% gain compared to 2012. However, as Hollywood continues to push its features into Chinese theaters, Chinese filmmakers are looking for ways to break into international theaters as well. One area which has increasingly shown promise for Chinese filmmakers to appeal to a global audience is animation.
China is certainly no stranger to the international animation community. Between the low labor costs and a vast talent pool, China is the world's largest producer of outsourced animated work. According to Entgroup Entertainment Consulting, China's animated film market pulled in ¥1.5 billion last year, an increase of over ¥630 million in comparison to 2009.
Some of the notable Chinese animated content which has fueled this growth includes the Pleasant Goat, Kuiba, and Kunta. series Although there are dozens for studios throughout China, the dominant local players controlling most of the landscape are CCTV Animation, Creative Power Entertaining and Shanghai Animation Group.
Animated content can provide solutions to many of the cross-culture issues China faces in winning over a global audience. Two common complaints of international features usually involve some aspect of association and subtitles. Animated content easily addresses those issues, as animation features can be seamlessly dubbed and removes the cultural baggage of a live action film.
Chinese studios have plenty of experience creating high quality animation to satisfy a global market. China produces much of the OEM work for global studios around the world: roughly 226,000 minutes of animated content every year, resulting in more than 60% of the animated content on television today.
The Chinese government has also been nurturing the growth of the animation sector. Preferential tax policies, industry investments and stronger copyright laws have been included within the most recent five year plan to encourage industrial growth. However, the Chinese government involvement with animation has managed to spark some internal and external conflicts for the industry as well.
Although China has been involved with the production of animation for years, the industry infrastructure for original animated content development is still very much fragmented. In an attempt to give studios time to develop successful original content, the government has implemented certain tactics to protect local studios from the Hollywood smash hits. These tactics, including double dating and delayed feature releases, manipulates foreign studios’ revenues and causes concern abroad regarding China's willingness to cooperate.
The government's involvement with animation has also caused many fraudulent studios to sprout up throughout China. In an attempt to capitalize on the government's soft power spending spree, individuals have developed animation studios to scam not only the government but also unsuspecting foreign studios. Even if the start up studio is a legitimate attempt to produce quality animation, the lack of experience and expertise can lead to poor consequences for both the government and foreign studios.
Despite the government's efforts, creativity is still one issue that has continued to plague the industry. Creativity suffers in this industry as a result of numerous causes including low pre-production funding, weak copyright enforcement, underdeveloped creative education and rigid censorship. Creative talent often feels the weight of these factors, causing talent to be hesitant with creative experimentation. The lack of experimentation has led to poor storytelling or even copying concepts from successful IPs, which does little to improve China's chances to win a global audience.
Although the animation industry battles with internal obstacles, foreign interest in China's film market may provide Chinese studios with solutions. Major studios, such as DreamWorks and Disney have been opening Chinese based studios and collaborating with local Chinese studios and filmmakers. Such collaboration is highly valuable and is sought on both ends, as the major foreign studios can aid the local studios business and creative efforts, while local studios can provide the major studios with access to the most promising film market in the world.
The combination of the Chinese film industry's rapid growth, local studios’ technological capabilities, government financial aid, and foreign studios’ active involvement could likely provide a pathway for original Chinese animated content to break into international markets and pierce the hearts of viewers worldwide.
Max Peskin is from Brookline, Massachusetts. He received his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from Boston University with a concentration in international management. He has also studied in Fudan University, China. Passionate about China's relationship with Hollywood, he moved to Beijing and is currently working in China's film/animation industry for Vasoon Animation.