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  • http://english.dbw.cn銆€銆€ 2010-01-27 10:31:14
    Drawing on experience
    A scene from the Japanese cartoon movie
    Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser.


    Despite being an exceptional year for Chinese animated films, the industry still lags behind its foreign competitors and doesn't measure up to its former glories. Wu Chen of China Features reports



    Freelance writer Wang Xin watched James Cameron's new movie Avatar last week during her visit to the United States. She was moved by the story and amazed by the 3D effects.

    The film reminded Wang, a 29-year-old cartoon fan, of a Chinese-made animated movie Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf (鍠滄磱娲嬩笌鐏板お鐙? she watched at the beginning of last year.

    The film is about several goats who battle their enemy, Big Big Wolf, who wants to eat fresh mutton.

    It cost 6 million yuan ($878,400) to produce and fetched more than 80 million yuan ($11.7 million) at the box office.

    In addition to children, many white-collar workers liked the film. "How to marry a husband like the Big Big Wolf" became a hot topic on the Internet.

    Drawing on experience

    The singer, Yafeng, even recorded a song on the subject, explaining why the wolf was worthy of love.

    "I love you more than loving myself ... Although I'm very hungry, I will let you take the first bite when I catch a goat ..."

    There were at least eight domestically produced animated films last year in China, making it an exceptional year for China's cartoon films according to critics.

    Yin Hong, professor and director of the Center for Film and Television Studies of Tsinghua University, said China's cartoon industry recorded more than 140,000 minutes of animation in 2009.

    He said growth was due to the government, which set up a series of supporting policies to boost the domestic animation industry.

    In 2000, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) required local TV stations to get approval from the administration and set quotas for imported cartoons to air on TV.

    In 2004, it issued another regulation, stipulating that at least 60 percent of cartoon programs aired in any given quarter had to be domestic.

    In September 2006, the SARFT banned all foreign cartoons from 5 pm to 8 pm. In February 2008 it extended the ban to 9 pm.

    Additionally, the Chinese government has made an annual investment of 200 million yuan in the animation industry since 2006.

    Last July, the Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation jointly issued a favorable taxation policy to support the development of the comics and animation industry.

    It seems the measures have started to pay off.

    Drawing on experience

    China currently has some 6,000 companies making cartoons and comics. According to a report from the Ministry of Culture last March, the industry employed more than 200,000 workers and the yearly production of animations had gone up to 130,000 minutes in 2008.

    However, besides Pleasant Goat and the mainland-Hong Kong co-production McDull, Kungfu Kindergarten, other animated films, including The Magic Aster, Happy Running, and the 3D Prequel of the Monkey King didn't do so well at the box office.

    A poll by the China Youth Daily in November 2008 showed that only 14.2 percent of nearly 3,000 people polled liked Chinese cartoons best.

    By contrast, 62.4 percent of respondents said their favorite animated films were US-made. Another 45.9 percent favored films from Japan.

    Chinese animation started in the 1920s with Uproar in the Studio, a 12-minute cartoon made in 1926. The first animated feature length film, Princess Iron Fan, was made in 1941.

    Before the 1980s, China made a lot of animated films. Many of them are still thought of as masterpieces today by fans, including The Monkey King, Secrets of the Heavenly Book, and Nezha Conquers the Dragon King. These were adapted from Chinese legends.

    The first foreign cartoon introduced to China was Japan's Astro Boy series in 1981. Since then foreign cartoons have flooded into China. Because of their more entertaining stories and better business models, they rapidly took control of the market. This was a low point for the Chinese animation industry.

    From 1993 to 2003, China only produced 46,000 minutes of animation. Jin Cheng, a director with the Guangzhou Animation and Cartoon Association, said the main reasons for the box office failure of these films was poor preparation and too much focus on success and money.

    "Some animation companies made a film in 9 months. They never paid attention to the details," Jin says.

    Drawing on experience

    Many of these films, launched with high expectations and great public relations campaigns, got an indifferent response from the market after hitting the big screen.

    To Wang Xin, the movie version of Pleasant Goat was a simple cut-and-paste from the original TV series. "The ideas, images, and technology were terrible compared to foreign cartoon movies. The film even didn't have a full storyline," she notes.

    She says that today's Chinese-made animation lacks the human touch that earlier Chinese cartoons had.

    Many producers prefer to add hot social topics, such as the financial crisis, or popular Internet stories to their movies, she says. "I feel no sincerity from local animation producers toward their audience."

    Yin Hong said, under the current circumstances, it's reasonable for local producers to avoid competition with their foreign counterparts in terms of technology and special effects.

    "The gap between them is too wide," he says.

    Wang Xin blames the gap on protective policies. "These companies won't make progress without competition. Instead, they will lower the taste of domestic audiences as they can only watch low-grade animation. It's a vicious circle," Wang says.

    Lu Ming, a cartoonist who publishes his comic books in European countries, said the policy which regulates how animation producing companies get subsidies according to the time length of their productions, destroys creativity.

    "They become total businessmen, and cartoons are only a tool for them to make money," Lu says.

    He used his own experience with his book as an example. Even with well-connected storylines, complicated images, and Chinese cultural relevance, he could not find publishers in the domestic market. He had a stable group of readers in foreign countries.

    Yin Hong said in the first stage, the policies did stimulate the expansion of the domestic animation industry, however, the policies only emphasized quantity.

    He said the direction should be shifted from competition on costs to competition in quality.

    "Instead of getting money from just making an animation, the producers have to consider more the market response, which will force them to pay more attention to the animation's quality," he says.

    He also said policies should encourage the integration of companies and the development of brand and reputation.

    As they develop the quality of domestic animations, they will attract larger audiences. As the market grows, local producers will have more space to focus on creativity, Yin said.

    "That will be a favorable circle," he says.

    Author锛? Wu Chen 銆€銆€銆€Source锛? China Daily 銆€銆€銆€ Editor锛? Wu Qiong
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