THE TRUE COST OF PRODUCTION
WHat does it really cost to make a good animated film these days? Light Chaser Animation in Beijing, China is answering that question with their upcoming CGI animated feature Door Guardians. While in the past, it could be said that Chinese animation, though very cheap to produce, was lagging far behind western standards of visual quality, Light Chaser Animation is seeking to change all of that. In the trailer for their new project, we see cloth simulation, realistic water effects, skin shaders and other technological advancements we would expect from high quality western CGI. The gap has closed.
I have been living in China for five years now. One of the reasons I was first invited here is because of my western animation experience, which was valuable to both schools and studios playing their part in improving the domestic animation scene. The government, at the time, was putting a lot of money into creating an animation industry that would rival the world’s best. Over the years I witnessed the slow growth of an industry as studios acquired new technologies and skills. It seemed, for a while, that it might be ages of playing catch up.
Now enter Gary Wang, the creator of Light Chaser Animation. Wang is known locally as the creator of the famous video sharing site tudou.com, which not only hosts user generated content, but secured contracts with studios worldwide for the legitimate broadcast of anime and Tv shows from global partners. Wang purportedly sold the site for over $1 billion USD, and then reemerged with a new dream. That dream is Light Chaser Animation, and they are producing a film that appears will in every way rival a $100 million USD, Hollywood, CGI animation, for only $12 million dollars.
This raises some serous questions. In an age where Dreamwork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg had his salary cut by more than half, and the studio laid off 500 employees, studios in China are aggressively hiring, even foreign talent. Chinese studios have been pumping out hours of animation content for a fraction of what it costs to create in the west, or even other Asian markets. The only saving grace of the west was that the quality of Chinese animation work was not up to par. Now that seems to be changing, but the price isn’t. What is their left to justify the cost of these $100 million animated films?
This raises another scary issue for those who work in the industry. If the same quality can be produced in China at nearly 10% of the price, won’t all the work go there? Regardless of what artists think, there are still bean counters sitting atop the Hollywood heap who are only going to look at the numbers. If those numbers say they can get the same quality that equals the box office returns they are used to, while producing in China on a micro-budget, the writing is already on the wall.
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