An animated feature film about an abandoned elephant that saves Thailand from an invasion is spearheading the country's push into the multi-billion dollar global animation industry.
Thailand is banking on the success of the movie, which is being released in Asian cinemas this month, as it prepares its challenge to longtime powerhouses Japan and South Korea as the capital of Asian animation.
"The animation industry in Thailand is much more developed than in Singapore and Malaysia, where no feature animation film has been made," said Auchara Kijkanjanas whose company made the 90-minute movie called Khan Kluay.
"We have seen significant developments in Thailand recently in terms of craftsmanship and creativity," said Auchara, vice-president of Kantana Animation.
Costing 150 million baht (US$3.4 million), the 3D movie whose name means "pretending to ride a horse on a banana leaf," was the first produced entirely in Thailand.
Auchara hopes the flick, plus the investment in Bangkok's annual international film festival which began in 2003, will focus attention on Thailand and its plan to become a low-cost base for producing quality animation.
More than 90 percent of animation for films and television shows in the US is produced in Asia, mainly in Japan and South Korea. India and China are also emerging as a regional rivals.
With five major animation companies already operating, Thailand is vying for a slice of that market by becoming an alternative outsourcing destination for Hollywood and European animation projects.
"Global outsourcing has moved from North America and Europe to the Asia-Pacific where producers offer cheaper production costs and competitive wages for almost the same quality of animated products," said an analyst from the Kasikorn research firm, which has investigated the market for Thailand's industry.
Thailand has already made solid inroads, selling television cartoon series to China and South Korea where they have proved popular.
Chinese cable channel CCTV is interested in co-producing one of the next series for its subscribers, said Santi Laohaburanakit, managing director of Vithita, the firm that made them.
Thailand also aims to become a leader in animation software, cashing in on a growing demand for the technology in computer games and mobile phones as well as in movies. Animated content accounts for 12 percent of the global digital content market and is expected to be worth US$271.3 million next year.
Research conducted for the industry estimates the export value of Thailand's software will reach 80 billion baht by 2008. But Thailand faces tough challenges in its battle for market share as India is expected to sign US$950 million in outsourcing contracts alone with Hollywood animation houses for delivery by 2009.
And Japan, which produces 60 percent of the world's animation, has moved into China, seen as a burgeoning market for animation.
Thailand's industry is rallying though and the government has promised to help. The stock Market for Alternative Investment signed a memorandum of understanding with the government's Software Industry Promotion Agency to promote Thailand as the "Hollywood of Asia" in the digital content industry.