Rocky Shi on How a New Generation Is Shaping the Future of Chinese Animation

 TAOST CEO Rocky Shi explains that when discussing the current state of animation, many immediately think of the United States as a leader in the industry. But there are many global players in animated films and television worth exploring — especially in China. And with one of the world’s largest audiences for animation, its impact on the market can’t be ignored.

Rocky Shi

Though often misrepresented or misunderstood by western audiences, Chinese-animated filmmaking has evolved in the past several decades, and a new generation of Chinese artists and producers continues to shape the industry’s future. Read on to learn the origins of Chinese animation and its place in the global animation industry moving forward.

Understanding the History of Chinese Animation

Chinese animation began in the 1920s, and many distinctly Chinese works were released in the decades that followed. The founding of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio in 1950 brought many talented Chinese artists together and led to the production of international animated hits. This era, from the late fifties through the sixties, is referred to as China’s “golden age” of animation.

By the late ‘60s, however, the animation industry across China came to a halt and didn’t pick up again until the 1980s. As Japanese anime series and American Disney films began to reach China, it became clear that the country had fallen behind in the animation industry. This led to a change in style in the ‘90s, with much of Chinese animation mirroring successful American or Japanese animation techniques rather than exploring their own styles. 

Chinese Animation Enters the Modern Era

Luckily, Rocky Shi, CEO of TAOST, notes that as the world entered the 21st century and access to the Internet spread, Chinese animation began to develop its own distinct style. Chinese webtoons in particular — made on software like Adobe Flash — allowed home animators to create new formats and reach wide audiences. On a larger scale, major studios began to incorporate CGI technology to produce big-budget films similar to those in the United States, but with a distinctly Chinese aesthetic.

Still, a downside to the evolution of China’s animation industry has been the outsourcing of much animation work to the country. Many Chinese animation studios are responsible for creating Japanese, European, and American IP, which makes it harder for unique ideas to take hold. With so many Chinese studios and animators dedicated to producing other countries’ work, what is the current state of Chinese animation?

Looking Towards the Future of Chinese Animation

Luckily, Chinese animators — and audiences — still care about domestic projects, with recent works such as 2019’s Ne Zha crushing the Chinese box office, and becoming the worldwide highest-grossing non-U.S. animated film. Both animated films and television shows made by Chinese animators and production companies are seeing a resurgence, often as many traditional cultural elements get mixed with modern animation techniques. And audiences outside of China are interested, too, both in the untold stories and unique art styles.

The reinvention of the Chinese animation industry makes perfect sense. After all, for several decades the country has developed a perfect workflow to produce IP for other countries — and now, with those systems in place, it’s starting to create animated works of its own. And with new entertainment companies like TAOST working to bring Chinese animated IP to western markets, it won’t be long before China has another hit like Ne Zha.

read more: Solstice East

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