China's animation industry looking to redraw itself

Updated 2017-05-22 11:31:23 CGTN

It was a milestone for China when its first cartoon studio was set up 60 years ago. Now, the country's animation industry is muscling up to meet increased competition from abroad.

In 1926, China's first animation short was born: "Uproar in the Studio." The 12-minute black and white film combined both live footage and drawings.

Although the film has now been lost, it inspired early Chinese animators to experiment with all kinds of techniques, from using paper-cuts, and ink-wash painting, to paper folding, clay figures and puppets.

The industry got a boost after the Shanghai Animation Film Studio was founded in the 1950s, and peaked during the 1970s and 1980s.

Shanghai's most famous animated films include: "The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven," "Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King," and "Black Cat Sheriff."

In 30 years, the studio produced more than 200 animation films.

Since the 1990s, however, China's animation industry has faced overwhelming competition from Japanese and American rivals.

"Many foreign animations began entering China in the 1980s, especially industrialized animations. These films hit our traditional animation industry hard. For example, Disney developed industrialized animations back in the 1950s, in which they would use one set of characters to produce several hundred cartoons," said Shi Yi, Animation Director for Shanghai Animation Film Studio.

"This allowed them to lower their costs and maximize their profits. It was not until after the 1990s that our studio produced its first industrialized animation, 'Lotus Lantern'."

The box office for 'Lotus Lantern' reached more than 3 million dollars within three months, and it was ranked the top movie of the year. The success of the film inspired many studios to do similar work.

Private companies began taking on commercial commissions from abroad, but in recent years, more and more animators began to come up with their own ideas.

Works like "Monkey King: Hero is Back" and "Big Fish & Begonia" have increased confidence across the industry. Shanghai Huan Ma Culture Media Company's Han Xiaofei has a studio of 60 animators, and says the market demand for animation nowadays is growing very fast.

"We now hire Hollywood teams, famous animation houses from Japan and Korea, and even send our work to studios in Thailand and Vietnam," said Han. "The demand for animations at home is very big, and sometimes our production is not fast enough to meet all that demand, so we need help from other countries too."

Shi and Han agreed that China has been catching up fast in terms of cultivating artists and new styles. The country's animation industry was worth more than 17 billion dollars in 2015.

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