Original title: Chinese animation, they want to do this
Liberation Daily reporter Gong Danyun
The just-concluded 5th Dongbuzhou International Animation Week gathered all kinds of people working in the animation industry, including the creators of popular hits such as “Chang’an 30,000 Miles” and “Chinese Tales”, as well as animation industry technology, Industry “big guys” in terms of process; there are enthusiastic project exchanges, and “rookies” who don’t know where to start for their first animation…
Animation, as a major category of cultural industry favored by young people, has produced numerous excellent works in recent years, some of which have gained as much reputation as live-action movies and TV series, setting off cultural hot spots.
But what challenges do domestic animations face? How to discover good seedlings and further cultivate more outstanding cultural works? At this professional animation week, known as the “Annual Animation People’s Gathering”, you may be able to get a glimpse of it from the side.
Dongbuzhou International Animation Week poster.The photos in this edition were all provided by the interviewees.
On the green field at night, the animation screening attracted many people to watch.
Animators organize festivals for animators
Twelve years ago, “the industry situation was not so good, there were not many hit works, and animators were generally poor.” Animation director Pi San launched the Independent Animation Forum, which was also the predecessor of Dongbuzhou International Animation Week.
He saw a batch of animation works going straight to policy subsidies, regardless of content creation; he saw practitioners changing careers from having dreams to changing careers one after another. In some film festivals, the animation unit is only a small supporting role, not large in size, and not many professionals.
“At that time, I just wanted to get together to keep warm.” Pi San said, “Without theoretical height and aesthetic thinking, creation will not go far. So I held a party to discuss professional matters.”
Now looking at the list of previous entries and screenings of this animation forum, it is really star-studded, including the creators of many hit movies such as “Nezha: The Devil Boy Comes into the World”, “Big Fish and Begonia”, “The Great Protector”, and “Chinese Tales”. At that time, they were still unknown, and they shone a little light in this professional forum.
In 2019, on the recommendation of producer Xu Yangbin, the forum came to Haimen, regrouped and planned, and opened the first Dongbuzhou International Animation Week.
This place is located at the mouth of the Yangtze River. In the morning, the fog is filled with fog, and the lake is as clear as the sea. In the evening, there are always local young people fishing on the rafts on the shore of the lake. This is a land suitable for cultural people to create.
Xu Yangbin serves as the chairman of the organizing committee. In addition to Pi San, the sponsors also include Chen Liaoyu, chief director of “Chinese Tales” and associate professor of Beijing Film Academy, and Yu Zhou, producer of “Chang’an 30,000 Miles” and co-founder of Light Chaser Animation. Everyone has their own strengths.
“Don’t chase hot topics, don’t chase traffic.” This is the tone set by Chen Liaoyu for forum planning. Every year, curators use their own observations and experiences in the industry to agree on an important but overlooked theme. For example, this year’s forum has a section called “Neglected Animation Theory.” In recent years, animation has become more popular. Everyone is keen to talk about creation and the market, but it is difficult to see people with professional level talking about theoretical research. No one realizes that this basic work is also very important.
“For the animation industry, no one is missing. So we not only invite directors, producers, screenwriters, and producers, but also art designers, animators, model designers, composers, etc.,” said Chen Liaoyu.
Some people joked that the guests on stage could directly set up a studio to take on work, which shows that there are complete types of work. In every forum held in the past five days, no one said anything high-sounding and beautiful. Some people chatted about industry innovations, some shared original development notes, and some talked about how to reduce costs and increase efficiency in work processes… “Full of useful information”, “practical” and “gaining insights” were the expressions of many viewers. There were very few audience members who left midway, but there were many who were engrossed and took notes frantically, and the audience almost dragged out the whole session to ask questions. All of this showed that everyone was hungry for professional information.
The audience questions were particularly memorable. Someone asked: As a new director, how to find a good producer? A senior director answered: Be prepared, the producer will run away halfway through the work; someone asked: I accept jobs every day and have no time to experience life. What should I do if there is a conflict between accepting jobs and creating? Guests on stage bluntly said this was “hypocritical”…
In fact, there are some good ideas that have not yet been realized. For example, some curators proposed to launch a Chinese animation overseas section. The topic is very good, but we can count on our fingers. There are too few qualified guests, we cannot invite a certain number of practical talents, we cannot talk about useful information for a few hours, and it takes up the audience’s time in vain. It is better to cancel it and leave it to the future.
Chen Liaoyu particularly wanted to talk about one topic: animation performances. The seniors of Shanghai Meiying Studio not only completed the narrative in animation performances, but also developed their own artistic aesthetic style and system. Nowadays, Disney animation and Japanese animation have their own style, which can be recognized at a glance. What are the artistic characteristics of Chinese animation? Today, there is no problem with the narrative of Chinese animation performances, but what about the higher aesthetic pursuit? When the industry’s creativity and influence reach a certain scale and the bottom-line survival problem is basically solved, it’s time for Chinese animation to ask itself – where did we come from and where will we go? He plans to save the topic for planning next year.
Interestingly, AI, which has become quite popular in recent years, is a hot topic that is often covered in other festivals and exhibitions, but Dongbuzhou is not mentioned at all.
Several curators generally believe that the animation industry requires a high degree of technical accumulation and stable operation of the internal system. If we talk about it in general terms, there is no practical information. “We would rather pursue simplicity than chase fashion.” Chen Liaoyu said.
Last year, the slogan of Tobuzhou Animation Week was “Welcome to reality.” While everyone is talking about virtuality and the metaverse, the animators who are closest to the two-dimensional world hope that everything should start from a down-to-earth perspective.
This year’s slogan is “Animation for the People”, first proposed by Chen Liaoyu. He hopes that artists can return to common sense and sincerity, communicate with the world and connect with people through their works.
Professional people do professional things. The festival is sponsored by animators and truly knows what content animators need at the moment.
“I come here almost every year. There are very few such professional and comprehensive festivals in the animation industry. Most of them are aimed at C-side comic exhibitions, not for B-side industry professionals.” One audience member said.
leap of identity
Tang Lihao speaks slowly and calmly, which seems to confirm the description that many people have said: “Animators are a bit socially anxious.”
He has only one work that has actually been released so far. However, this does not prevent the organizing committee from admiring him and inviting him to be responsible for the main visual design of this animation week.
In 2016, Tang Lihao graduated from his undergraduate degree and participated in the independent animation forum, the predecessor of Dongbuzhou, with his graduation work. “A 6-minute student short film, I couldn’t find any other place to submit it at the time.”
That year, he met a group of big names in the animation industry, saw many interesting works, and decided to continue his graduate studies at the China Academy of Art. In the second year after graduating with a master’s degree, his personally produced animated short film “The Lost Dog of the Bridge” participated in the Dongbuzhou Animation Week competition and won the grand prize. The soundtrack for this short film is from a friend I met on the forum in 2016. “As a student, it would have been difficult for me to make connections at that level without this platform.”
Today, this short film has won awards from various top animation festivals around the world, including the Annecy International Animation Festival in France, the SAVIGNY Animation Festival in Switzerland, the Seoul Independent Animation Festival in South Korea, and was shortlisted for the 59th Golden Horse Awards for Best Animated Short Film and the Tallinn Dark Night International in Estonia. Film festivals etc.
This year, he is determined to make a feature-length work. After listening to forums for so many days and understanding the industrial process of feature-length animation, he feels quite rewarded.
Another young seedling is also growing rapidly. In 2019, Liu Maoning participated in the competition of the first Dongbuzhou International Animation Week with his graduation work. Now he is the director of “Chinese Tales: The Country Bus Takes away the Wang Boy and the Immortal”.
It was also in Dongbuzhou that he talked openly about his creative ideas to Chen Liaoyu. Two years later, Chen Liaoyu invited him to participate in the “Chinese Story” project.
His status in Animation Week keeps changing, from student contestant to forum guest. “This place is like a utopia.” He lamented that animators spend a lot of time indoors and are relatively “homey”. Dongbuzhou is an open gathering for animators every year, where they chat and watch movies together. It is difficult to have such a comprehensive gathering in ordinary times.
Once a volunteer, later became a contestant, guest or judge, there are countless similar examples. Chen Liaoyu said frankly that the real pain points of the industry cannot be solved by relying on one festival or one platform. What they can help is individuals, selecting young people and providing growth opportunities. “We value every participant and allow all types of work in the animation industry chain to have opportunities to showcase and speak out.”
After long drought comes dew
Market unit curators Li Zhen, Zhang Xuan, and Rita wrote an interesting document three months in advance, which can be called a textbook for novices.
This year, Animation Week launches a marketing unit for the first time, providing animation projects with opportunities to get in touch with buyers. Li Zhen said that there are few trading markets specifically for animation in China. Maybe there are many animation festivals, but there are few industry involvements. There are also some comprehensive projects with animation units, but they are “supporting roles”. Supporting young directors and promoting market transactions is already familiar in the film industry, but it is still new in the animation industry.
Animators who were worried about “social terror” could not negotiate projects, so the three curators taught them every step of the way. The document states: “Selling does not mean selling all the projects, but selling shares of the projects.” “Find early investors who are willing to participate in the project.” “Don’t be limited to meeting each other only during road shows. You can also bask in the sun at the door. You can make a lot of good friends and even hang a brand on your body.” “Interesting and diverse are not indicators, but a direction and values. For example, if there are many types of a certain type in the market, then the judges may choose some other types of content.” …
Project people have indeed benefited a lot. Some people said that after chatting with several platform parties, they found that the company’s development direction was wrong, and they planned to make adjustments when they returned. Some people said that they were constantly questioned by the platform when discussing projects, but they were happy to be “beaten”. Another person said bluntly that the project is ready to go back and sign a contract with the platform, “If the signing is successful, I will guarantee the wine for next year’s reception”…
“Do you know how difficult it is to make an appointment with the platform?” A project person described that if you want to see the platform every day, you have to apply, make an appointment, wait, and get a QR code. Not to mention the complicated process, you may not see one in a year. .
Today, the transaction site gathers domestic first-line platform parties, producers, distributors, and toy manufacturing companies. “Within a week, I met with the heads of animation departments of all major platforms.” The project person said. Besides, Dongbuzhou Park is not big, so everyone stays here. They meet each other at the lakeside bar in the evening and can continue chatting.
This year’s Animation Week has 24 works shortlisted to participate in the investment road show. In the end, 5 awards were selected, including the “Douyin Light Comic Choice Award”, “Confucianism Choice Award” and “Shanghai Film Choice Award”.
The three curators believe that there is no need to separate the animation projects in the market unit into “one, two, and three”, so the organizing committee set up a “selection award”. Let each company choose for itself, which also expresses its own corporate culture. For example, Meiying Studio values expression that combines traditional culture with current times, and its taste in selecting projects may be different from other commercial companies. It is hoped that the Chinese animation market will become more interesting and diverse.
It was the first time for a marketing unit to be held, and everyone responded so well, but Li Zhen himself was very calm: “Actually, it’s a blessing after a long drought. Animators have been missing a ‘Canton Fair’ for too long. We still have room for improvement.”
When asked by a reporter, “Don’t you see these producers and directors in other festivals?”, a student explained: One or two are okay, but it is difficult to meet so many animation talents from various processes and fields. .
In large-scale festivals, animation is only a small part, and not many big names are invited. If your level is not high enough, whether you can enter the venue, stand in front of industry leaders, and talk face to face are all problems.
“How difficult would it be for an ordinary teacher or graduate to meet Yu Zhou, the CEO of Chasing Light? But in this park, it’s very easy.” The other party gave an example.
Gathering professional people, you can chat at any time, this is the valuable thing about Dongbuzhou.
What’s left after the event is over?
Dongbuzhou is not only the name of Animation Week, but also the name of this park: Dongbuzhou Humanities and Technology Town.
In the past four years, Dongbuzhou has introduced more than 30 teams and animation companies, and has incubated more than 20 animation projects here.
“Post-80s” Wang Wenxin comes from Shenyang. In 2008, he and two classmates studied stop-motion animation together, and founded “Inspiration Can”, which is now a well-known stop-motion animation company in the industry.
At first, Wang Wenxin only came to incubate animation projects. “There are very few incubation platforms in China that only focus on animation. It is not ruled out that some festivals and exhibitions have animation sections, but they are small and the judges may not all be professional animators.” Wang Wenxin said. In the market, commercial animation projects are generally incubated by companies themselves, and then they go to buyers after making some progress. The early incubation resources for animation are too scarce.
The project will be “incubated” until 2020, which coincides with the Dongbuzhou Park encouraging companies to land. The government provides single-family houses of 2,000 square meters with free rent for the first three years and half rent for the next two years. It also provides free supporting apartments for talents. In this way, the company saves a lot of costs. “We took over the Shenyang company and moved the headquarters here.” Wang Wenxin said with a smile. The three founders of the company moved their families. The six members of their husband and wife are all college classmates. Now their five children are studying in the same school in Jiangsu, and the next generation has also become alumni. The educational resources in the Yangtze River Delta are attractive. After the headquarters was relocated, 60% of the employees moved with their families.
Wang Wenxin likes the atmosphere in Dongbuzhou, not only because of the support and supporting facilities, but also because there are excellent peers in the industry before and after. He can talk to Pi San about script creation, Xu Yangbin to talk about business development logic, and hold various script meetings with other colleagues.
This year, the park’s practical training base was launched, one of which is a three-day master class, which is free for established companies and charges a certain fee for external companies.
The master class is very valuable and invites top producers and directors recognized by the industry. Interestingly, after the boss of Vision Tree, another mid-term production company that moved to the park, took the master class, several producer mentors invited them to make films.
In fact, there is “always a shortage of people” in the mid-term stage of animation works, especially a large number of skilled talents. Therefore, this year, an animation training base was opened in Dongbuzhou Park to specialize in training the latest generation technology, Unreal Engine UE5. It can parallelize the processes of film and television dramas and bring about revolutionary changes in the industry.
Back then, animated films such as “Nezha” and “The Great Sage” frequently mobilized dozens of production companies across the country, involving hundreds of people. Now, in theory, if the talents and new technologies are in place, a team of 20 or 30 people can complete the project. Several companies currently producing anime dramas (i.e. animated television series) are using this technology. Live-action science fiction movies and three-dimensional technology teams are also transforming in this direction.
The first phase of the training base course is relatively cheap. It is full-time for half a year, 6 classes a day, 24 weeks, including accommodation. The total cost is about 15,000 yuan, which can be paid later. At present, all 30 people are recruited, most of them are fresh graduates, and there are also people sent by animation companies. There is also an administrator in the park who was inspired by the atmosphere of animation creation here and wanted to join the industry, even if he quit his job to attend classes.
To help animators solve problems, one section is not enough, and perhaps one park is not enough either. But the efforts of this group of professional animators may tell us how to make up for the shortcomings and how to support the Chinese animation industry, an increasingly important branch of the cultural industry.
Reporter: During Animation Week, many people came from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Why choose Haimen as the venue for Animation Week?
Xu Yangbin: The Oscar in the animation industry is Annecy, France, and Annecy is a small town. My hometown, Haimen, is located in the Yangtze River Delta, which is rich in cultural and tourism resources. It is quiet, beautiful and suitable for creation. Animation Week also has a base to take root.
Reporter: Why did you upgrade from creating an animation week to building a base?
Xu Yangbin: If we only do Animation Week, it will be lively once a year. The festival is over and the crowd has dispersed. Can you leave anything behind for the local area?
The first step is early incubation. We serve as angel investors + co-founders, providing venues, funds, connections, finding industry talents, and sharing copyrights. At present, twenty or thirty projects have been incubated here, waiting for subsequent release.
An episode was that the animation week was originally called “Dongbuzhou”, and later the entire park was also called “Dongbuzhou”. The local government and animators worked together to create an “interesting town brand.”
The second step is to keep the company. After creating and incubating here for a long time, some animators had the idea to move the company here.
There is less turnover, lower staff costs, lower cost of living, and more comfort. There are schools and hospitals next to the park. The educational resources of the Yangtze River Delta are attractive to many people.
Relocation alone is not enough. In the third step, we established an animation training academy. Once qualified, students can directly find jobs here.
Reporter: Meiying Studio is based in Shanghai, which is also known as the “two-dimensional city”. From your perspective, could Shanghai do something similar?
Xu Yangbin: There is a big difference between cultural industry and industry. For example, if the director is in Chengdu, he can use the computer to outsource the production to a company in Hangzhou for mid-production.
Compared with traditional industry, culture does not have transportation problems and does not necessarily require spatial concentration. In this case, there is a possibility for towns and villages. Its advantage is a more beautiful and focused creative environment, but it also requires optimized configuration. In a cultural park, the process connection and convenience between enterprises must be easier than a director in Chengdu subcontracting to a company in Hangzhou, for a cultural park to be meaningful.
So we want to contribute a “small town model” to the animation industry. Such small towns can only be found in economically developed areas, such as around Shanghai.