Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chinese Animation

Kevin Geiger, a longtime TAG shop steward at Disney and now captain of his own ship, sent me this article a few days back. Slug that I am, I'm just getting to it now. Kevin gives us a short primer (via o-meon) in Chinese animation, past and present:

The history of Chinese animation dates all the way back to 180 A.D., when inventor Ting Huan created the first zoetrope. Ting Huan's automated contraption hung over a lamp: rising hot air turned vanes that spun sheets of paper on which sequential images magically “came alive” ... With ambitious animated films such as the Wan brothers' Princess Iron Fan (released within two years of Disney's Snow White, during the Second Sino-Japanese War no less), China's fledgling animation industry was technically and artistically on par with the rest of the world. At the Shanghai Animation Film Studio, remarkable animated features, such as the vividly colored “Havoc In Heaven”, were created with the active support of the central government ...

China has done sub-contracting work for American animation for decades. (A Shanghai studio inked bubbles for Disney's The Little Mermaid back in the late eighties.) As Kevin points out, China is now in the process of building its own domestic animation industry.

The question comes up again and again: "Is U.S. animation going to be sub-contracted away?" My answer is the same now as it was a half-dozen years ago. The world gets more inter-connected by trade and high-speed internet minute by minute. Work will be "going away" at the same time work grows by a factor of three.

Labor costs are only one part of the equation. There's also the concern of quality control and cultural differences, also this: American producers have discovered over the years that some types of out-sourcing work better than others.

American animated features outsourced to the Pacific rim have never made it big at the box office. Doesn't mean that it won't someday happen, but it hasn't happened yet. And that plays into production calculations by American Animation Studios. Ice Age: The Meldown was created in White Plains New, York, not Beijing ... or Dubai ... or Monaco. There's a reason for that. Hoodwinked -- out of Manila -- made money, but it wasn't a $700 million worldwide blockbuster.

Which isn't to say that the majors won't produce a big-budget feature in China or India at some point in the future. World economics are ever-changing. But global animation has grown steadily for years, and I have a tough time envisioning the United State and Southern California not being major players in it far into the future.


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