The Chinese short form animation studios looking to find an audience both at home and internationally are almost exclusively focusing on the pre-school (3 – 7 years) demographic, figuring that Chinese and Western kids are responsive to the same sort of content up until they reach primary school, at which point tastes diverge.
Below are 4 examples of some of the most successful case studies to date:
P King Duckling
UYoung Media is a media company headquartered in Beijing with a production studio in Shanghai. They have been acquiring large volumes of western content to distribute in the China market, which I wrote about here. Their first foray in to creating original content for the global market was P King Duckling, co-produced with multiple Emmy-award winning New York creative house Little Airplane. It’s a comedy with the obligatory Chinese elements (duck, pig etc). It launched in May 2016 and did what it was made to do – becoming the first Chinese animated series to appear on Disney Junior in the US. Following that success, UYoung recently started a cooperation with Belfast studio Sixteen South to create more original properties. I’m happy to see UYoung’s James Gu (General Manager) and Eddy Fan (Creative Director) doing well. I worked with both way back in my first job in China in 2011 when they were part of the leadership of Jetoon, a startup studio nestled in Songjiang’s faux British-themed residential development Thames Town, among the replica of a Bristol church, disused rubble-filled English pubs and statues of Princess Diana, Winston Churchill and Harry Potter.
If you’ve been on the circuit a while, particularly an attendee at Kidscreen, you’ll likely have heard of Trevor Lai by now. He is the Canadian-born-Chinese author, illustrator and all-round entrepreneur that founded Suzhou-based Up Studios and created multiple cute characters, including the rapidly growing IP Super BOOMi. I first met Trevor in mid 2015 where he laid out his highly ambitious plans for an IP empire in China. Outlandish as they were, I got the sense he could well pull it off. Sure enough, following a string of major licensing and merchandising successes, the first animated series of Super BOOMi has racked up around half a billion views on Tencent Video, with a second series now in production. I wrote about the rise of his IP empire for AWN here. Great work, Trevor!
Emmy & Goo Roo
After Jetoon closed in 2012, co-founders Xin Yu, Yiume Ying and Leno Miao started a new studio, Left Pocket Animation, just around the corner in Thames Town. They have since done lots of cool work including animating sections of the hit movie 100,000 Bad Jokes. Mainly though, they have been working tirelessly to get their first original series Emmy and Goo Roo off the ground, pitching all over the world (and winning awards at Kidscreen for their efforts), decking out their booths with prototype merchandise, and studying the global market. I’m delighted for them that French distributor Superights has now invested and the show is in production.
Magic Mall’s show Luo Bao Bei is a Chinese-U.K. co-production with Cardiff-based studio Cloth Cat Animation. The series was created by Grace Tian, GM of Magic Mall, and executive produced by Alex Chien, former Nickelodeon VP of brand, creative & content, produced by Cloth Cat and written by British award-winner Dave Ingham. Magic Mall, founded in 2008, created the character almost a decade ago, originally as a Beijing city spokesperson, road safety icon, and community outreach ambassador. The series launched in November 2017 and is distributed globally by 9Story. I wrote about it for Variety here. It is also a potentially landmark moment for UK-China animation collaboration, a relationship that has been brewing for a few years now, championed by the UK’s “Creativity is GREAT” campaign combining the efforts of the Children’s Media Conference, Department for International Trade and China Britain Business Council, who have been bringing delegations to China, and Chinese delegations to Britain. There are a number of other partnerships in the works with UK companies like Unanico, Hoho and Blue Zoo. Everyone is working hard to make these happen, and I hope to see them bearing fruit in the coming months.