Touch of magic
Updated: 2010-12-03 13:20
(China Daily European Weekly)
Hollywood super stars, from left, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Nick Nolte, Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson and Jay Baruchel, take part in the production of Tropic Thunder. Chinese animation producer Xing Xing Digital participated in postproduction work. [Photo/Agencies]
Hollywood productions tap into Chinese animation, special effects
When the Hollywood blockbuster Fantastic Four hit Chinese screens five years ago, audiences hardly knew that it had been embedded with Chinese elements.
Xing Xing Digital Corporation, a Chinese animation and special effects company, printed its mark on the science fiction movie's special effects. It was also the first time that the Beijing-based company served as a low-cost computer-generated special effects subcontractor to US filmmakers.
"Six years ago, a Canadian computer special effects company came to me for help because they were afraid that they couldn't finish the postproduction work of Fantastic Four within the time limit required by Hollywood film producers," says Wang Lifeng, president of Xing Xing Digital Corporation.
Established in 2004, Xing Xing Digital specializes in original animation productions, but also serves as outsource suppliers. Its services cover real movie special effects, three-dimensional modeling and online game designs. Its clients include film corporations, TV stations, advertising companies and online game providers.
In the subsequent years, Xing Xing has participated in the postproduction work of a series of Hollywood movies, among which there are many well-known film credits including Tropic Thunder, Twilight, Changeling and the Sino-US co-production The Forbidden Kingdom.
Moreover, it established a partnership with Walt Disney Co in January 2007 and added special effects to its 2009-released movie Space Buddies.
Government support for the cultural industry has helped animation firms to proliferate in China. The number rose to 10,000 last year, compared with only 120 in 2002, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
Many Chinese animation and special effects companies compete with each other to bid for part of a Hollywood movie postproduction job.
"The current domestic market is caught up in a price war," says Han Yefei, project manager of Xing Xing Digital Corporation.
Han also says that rivals from Southeast Asia and India also intensified the competition. "Some Indian rivals offered US filmmakers half the quotation price that we gave without thinking about it carefully," he says.
The price war reflects a lack of market order, which applies to many emerging industries. In addition, the frequent movement of talented people in the industry also causes big problems for many firms.
"It usually costs a company much time and money to train talent, but he resigns when he gets a better offer from a rival firm," Han says. "The investment in talent is often followed by disproportionate yield."
This makes the cost to retain talented people even higher in the industry.
However, in this emerging industry, several fast-growing Chinese companies have shown their potential and achievements to both domestic and overseas audiences.
Base FX, a Chinese visual effects and animation production studio with its production offices in Beijing but headquartered in Los Angeles, won a best visual effects Emmy award in August this year for its work on part five of the HBO miniseries The Pacific. Of its Beijing production team, more than 90 percent are Chinese.
Confronted with fierce competition, Xing Xing has already developed a transformation plan.
"We have broadened our horizons, strengthened our professional capabilities and improved production quality," Wang Lifeng says.
Expanding cooperation with Hollywood filmmakers is an important part of the plan, but they do not want to take orders just for movie special effects.
"It makes us seem very passive to just serve as a low-cost contractor to Western filmmakers," Han says.
Instead of being just a low-cost outsource supplier to the film industry, Xing Xing Digital will focus on the making and distribution of original animation productions for the international market as well as the purchase of intellectual property rights (IPR), Wang says.
In the future, it will strike deals with more Hollywood film corporations over investment in IPR and film productions, he added.
The rising animation and special effects company is currently working on its original English-language cartoon series Secret Millionaires Club, which involves US billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who provides the voice for his cartoon character in the series.
"We have invested in the IPR of this cartoon series, and probably we may develop an animation movie and online game based on it in the future," Wang says.
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