Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Staying animated about animation

Many people have seen or heard of the classic Walt Disney animated films such as `Snow White,' `The Little Mermaid' and `The Lion King,' but few know that much of the work on these features was done by Taiwanese animation companies. After producing animation for foreign companies over the last two decades, some local firms have decided to focus on more indigenous work. Last week Wang Film Productions Co's general director Wang Tung met with `Taipei Times' staff reporter Jessie Ho to discuss how his company, the nation's largest animation production firm, wants to push projects with a local flavor onto the world stage

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Wang Tung, general director of Wang Film Productions Co, said Taiwanese animation companies must produce their own original material if they want to survive in an industry that is moving toward more computer-generated graphics and fight off competition from rivals in other Asian countries.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: The animation production business in Taiwan is considered to be withering since three-dimensional (3D) computer-graphics technology no longer needs the hand-drawing that gave local cartoonists an advantage. How will the industry weather this challenge?

Wang Tung (王童): First, I would like to correct that false impression of the industry. Although 3D is replacing the hand-drawing that we have traditionally been good at, this doesn't mean we that we are losing our way of life. In fact, we still have contracts for a lot of US TV cartoon productions because they are trying to save on costs. Good animated films require creativity and brilliant ideas, which are the lifeblood of the work and cannot be replaced by any form of technology.

Advances in computer-graphics, however, give us an opportunity to rethink our business model. Therefore, we've been trying to transform the company from a tool, which merely works on other people's scripts, to an independent producer, which comes up with original pieces of work. I think this is a direction the local animation industry should go.

TT: What made you switch your career from film director -- which you did for the last 22 years -- to a producer and director of animation? Is this because you see an opportunity for the sector to grow?

Wang: Absolutely. In the last few years, a few Chinese directors and actors such as Ang Lee (李安), Jackie Chan (成龍) and John Woo (吳宇森) have entered the mainstream US entertainment market. Their success also introduced Chinese aesthetics to Western audiences, such as martial arts, which are selling like hot cakes and therefore make our products more marketable than they used to be. In addition to cartoons, animation technology has been used very well in movies such as The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. Animated features are a trend. This is definitely the right time for us to take the lead in the industry in the Asian region.

TT: As you mentioned earlier, motion pictures with a Chinese cultural background are now more acceptable to US audiences. Does this mean that Taiwan's animation industry should target the US market instead of Asia, especially the Chinese market?

Wang: Not exactly. I think the smart way is to work along both lines, and this is what we are doing and testing right now. We've devoted US$20 million to a new animation work, "Marco Polo," which is currently under development. This film is being made to market to the world following in the footsteps of Walt Disney Pictures' Toy Story and other Hollywood hits. With a story that is familiar with both Eastern and Western audiences and powerful marketing, we expect the project, which is estimated to be finished in 2005, to bring in a considerable box office.

In addition to "Marco Polo," we also adapted the most absorbing segment of the famous classical Chinese story Journey to the West into "Monkey King," a US$6 million-budgeted animation made especially for the Chinese community. We're looking forward to seeing how the dual-business model works after the two films hit the big screen.

TT: In talking about animation content, the local industry is split into two camps. One likes to adopt ancient Chinese fairy tales or historical stories in a bid to differentiate their work from Western pieces, while the other argues for taking the cultural element out of the films in order to cater to a general audience. Which side are you on?

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