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Chinese animation’s progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

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Tian Xiaopeng’s 2015 animated feature film “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” is considered a milestone of Chinese animation.

In this episode of our cultural column “Lights, Camera,” we will tell the story of Chinese animation produced from 2007 to 2016.

It was an important period of both opportunities and challenges.

It laid a solid foundation for the thriving Chinese animation industry we see nowadays.

The Chinese animation market was ignited with several high-grossing milestone works, which strengthened Chinese animators’ confidence in innovation.

Animated film franchise “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” released its first installment “The Super Adventure” in January of 2009.

The movie based on the characters of the hit animated TV series reaped more than 86 million yuan (US$11.9 million) at the box office.

One year later, the box office receipts of the second installment “The Adventure of the Lost Totem” hit 128 million yuan, making it China’s first home grown animated film to reach the 100-million-yuan box office benchmark.

Targeting young children, the film franchise ushered in the profitable era of Chinese animated films and encouraged animation producers of that time.

A few years later, another popular animated TV series “Boonie Bears” started to be made into big movies.

Since January 2014, the “Boonie Bears” film franchise has released 10 movies, most of which were box office sensations during the Spring Festival holiday.

The film series has totally grossed over 7.5 billion yuan at the box office. It is considered one of the most commercially successful film series in China, with a total box office comparable to series like “Detective Chinatown,” “The Battle at Lake Changjin” and “The Wandering Earth.”

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The second installment of the “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” film franchise hit 128 million yuan at the box office in 2010.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The “Boonie Bears” film franchise is one of the most commercially successful film series in China.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

After its release in 2015, “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” became a trending topic in Chinese media and on social networks.

Previously targeting children, the franchise has expanded its audiences to adults.

More and more people recognize that “Boonie Bears” is a brand for all ages. Over the past decade, the sustainable animation brand has also accumulated many derivative authorized partners to develop more than 3,000 products, covering a wide range of categories like food, beverages, clothing, learning supplies and toys.

Another milestone of Chinese animation is Tian Xiaopeng’s 2015 animated feature film “Monkey King: Hero Is Back.”

The 3D film tells the story of the Chinese hero Monkey King’s encounters with his future master, Monk Tang, also known as Xuanzang, before they embark on the journey to the West. However, the iconic Monkey King is forbidden from using his all-mighty powers in the film.

After its release in July of 2015, the original, inspiring and visually stunning film was called by many critics a new cultural phenomenon. It also became a trending topic in Chinese media and on social networks like Weibo and WeChat.

The phenomenal movie made 956 million yuan at the box office on the Chinese mainland, beating the mainland performance of popular Hollywood animated movies such as “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “The Croods.”

It evoked public enthusiasm for home grown cartoon films and encouraged more and more Chinese animators to produce compelling works to cater for audiences of all ages.

The CG-animated film received the Best Animated Film prize at the 30th Golden Rooster Awards in 2015, making it an important turning point in the Chinese animation industry.

Shi Chuan, vice president of the Shanghai Film Association, commented that although “Monkey King: Hero Is Back” was not perfect in storytelling, it did give domestic animators new inspiration in drawing on China’s own cultural roots to tell Chinese stories.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The 2016 Chinese animated feature “Big Fish and Begonia” was released to wide acclaim for its poetic scenes and artistic scores.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The architecture in “Big Fish and Begonia” are based on tulou, fortress-like residences in East China’s Fujian Province.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The original online animated series “The Legend of Qin” has been translated into seven languages and distributed in 37 countries and regions worldwide.

The success of this movie also increased film professionals’ attention to an animated feature’s originality, scripting and distribution, and pushed filmmakers to spend more time on the early phases of production.

In 2016, another popular animated film “Big Fish and Begonia” gained wide acclaim for its poetic scenes and artistic scores. Inspired by a myth from the ancient Chinese Taoist classic “Zhuangzi,” the film has deep philosophical themes about life, death and the human soul.

The architecture in the film is based on tulou, fortress-like residences in East China’s Fujian Province. In various subtle aspects, the film showcases the integration with traditional Chinese culture, especially the element of lanterns running through almost every shot.

The film also adopted a new marketing approach — crowd funding. Within only 45 days, approximately 1.58 million yuan was raised from 3,596 people on the Internet, which also set a new fund raising record for domestic animation on crowd funding platforms at that time.

The crowd funding name list was released at the end of the film, giving movie fans a strong sense of participation. The marketing strategy also increased public attention to the movie. The 30 million yuan-budgeted film sold a total of 575 million yuan worth of tickets.

Ever since 2010, there has been a significant increase in both the quantity and quality of Chinese animation.

In 2011, the duration of Chinese TV animation surpassed Japan and reached 260,000 minutes. At the same time, Chinese online animation began its vigorous development. A period of transition from TV animation to online animation unfolded.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

“The Legend of Qin” is about the rise and downfall of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC), the first dynasty of Imperial China.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The 2013 production “Zombie Brother” is the first online animated series invested by Tencent.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

The martial arts elements in the “Hua Jianghu: Buliangren” series attracted a large overseas audience.

An array of original online animated works emerged in this period, such as “The Legend of Qin” (2007), “One Hundred Thousand Bad Jokes” (2012), “Zombie Brother” (2013), and “Hua Jianghu: Buliangren” (2014).

Inspired by Wen Shiren’s martial arts novel of the same name, “The Legend of Qin” is a historical animated series about the rise and downfall of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC), the first dynasty of Imperial China.

With a background spanning 30 years, the series centers on the growth of a young man Jing Tianming, who eventually becomes a hero and influences history.

The 175-episode series released in five seasons has garnered more than15.3 billion views on the Internet. It has also been translated into seven languages and distributed in 37 countries and regions worldwide.

The 2013 production “Zombie Brother” is the first online animated series invested by Tencent. It is also the first time a domestic streaming platform has made an investment and participated in the whole production process of an animation.

The series revolves around a graphic designer’s adventurous journey to find his girlfriend after a city’s entire water is polluted. People who drink contaminated water become zombies.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

A poster advertises “WALL•E.”

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

A poster advertises “Frozen.”

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

“Hua Jianghu: Buliangren” is another popular online animated series about a vast hidden treasure of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Several organizations are in competition for a sword kept by Buliangren, a police agency loyal to the crown to unlock the secrets to the treasure.

The total online views of the series have exceeded 3.5 billion. The martial arts elements in the series also attracted overseas audiences. So far, the series has been developed into a complete franchise of live action drama, stage play, novel and mobile game.

Meanwhile, a few acclaimed foreign animated features also impressed Chinese audiences in this period. Among them were Disney productions “WALL•E” (2008), “Frozen” (2013), “Zootopia” (2016) and Japanese productions “5 Centimeters per Second” (2007), “The Wind Rises” (2013) and “Your Name” (2016).

Most of these films combined digital technology with film art to present stunning visual effects. They were praised for rich imagination, creative narrative, intricate plots, vivid and interesting characters. Some of them even touched on the problems of modern society and resonated with adult audiences.

Their success also inspired Chinese animators to improve their storytelling methods and technologies. More importantly, they realized that animations are not created just for children. Animated films that are full of cultural inclusiveness can gain cultural recognition from audiences from different countries and open up a vast world market.

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

A poster for “5 Centimeters per Second”

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

A poster for “The Wind Rises”

Chinese animation's progress from 2007 to 2016 revealed

In the opinion of Professor Chen Zhihong, a veteran animation director and scholar from Shanghai University’s Shanghai Film Academy, the period from 2007 to 2016 had a profound impact on the subsequent development of China’s animation industry. It laid solid foundation for its rapid rise and sustained prosperity.

“Firstly, breakthroughs have been made in diversification and depth of content creation,” Chen said. “Chinese animation began to explore a wider and more profound range of themes.

“Secondly, with the rapid development of digital technology, our animation works also made significant improvements in terms of image quality and special effects. This not only improved the visual experience of the audience, but also earned a reputation for Chinese animation on the international stage.”

Chen used to be chief director of a spin-off series of “The Legend of Qin.”

He recalled that during this period, Chinese animation made significant changes in market positioning.

It started to pay more attention to the preferences and needs of audiences of different ages, and expanded the audience of animation through precise market positioning and innovative marketing strategies.

“Chinese animators’ innovative concepts in content creation, the technological advancement and industrial upgrading jointly helped to boost the rapid development of Chinese animation,” he said.

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