Back in October of 2009, I had the pleasure of co-hosting the 1st Zhengzhou International Animation Forum with my friend & colleague, Mao Xue Bing, CEO of Huayu Brothers Animation Group. During those proceedings, animation & media professionals from across China and around the world witnessed the unveiling of the new Zhengzhou Animation Base model on the construction site grounds.
Less than two years later, the Zhengzhou Animation Base stands tall in place of the model: nearly complete and newly operational.
Now I know what you may be thinking: “Great, just what China needs – another regional animation base.” But the Zhengzhou Animation Base is particularly noteworthy: not for its external construction, but for its internal “foundation”.
During the 2009 Zhengzhou Animation Forum, I commented on the proliferation of animation bases in China: observing that unless these building were filled with ideas, they would stand as empty monuments to failed ambition. Such dubious landmarks already exist throughout the mainland.
The co-founders of Huayu Brothers Animation Group – Mao Xue Bing, Lin Bo, and Li Qing Guo – were savvy to this, and understood the principle of intellectual property as the necessary “software” to run the “hardware” of their new base. Furthermore, they knew that a focus on the Chinese market should not preclude an eye towards the international stage.
Hence Huayu Brothers’ multi-point strategy, which includes the exposure of their original animation properties in international forums, the ongoing invitation of high-level foreign animation experts, and the engagement of Magic Dumpling Entertainment as creative consultants. In other words: “thinking outside the base”.
To first point (international exposure), it has been my pleasure to introduce the work of Huayu Brothers Animation Group to international audiences during my various lectures on the subject of Chinese animation. Watching a German audience enjoy a clip from a Chinese animated TV series puts the lie to the notion that Chinese culture can’t “travel well” in popular entertainment.
To the second point (foreign experts), I was happy to bring my friend and colleague Nathan Loofbourrow, CG Character Supervisor at DreamWorks Animation, to the new Zhenghou Animation Base as a guest speaker.
Huayu Brothers CEO Mao Xue Bing rolled out his signature hospitality as Mr. Loofbourrow was greeted with rock star status by regional officials and eager students & professionals.
Nathan presented four sessions on topics ranging from the original “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda” films, to the making of “How to Train Your Dragon” and the evolution of DreamWorks Animation’s production process. I can tell you that it was a treat for newbies and old hands alike.
Magic Dumpling’s VP of Development, Wen Feng, provided translation during the presentations and moderated Q&A sessions with Nathan Loofbourrow and myself.
As a consultant to the Zhengzhou Animation Base, I make regular trips to Henan to advise the Huayu Brothers Animation Group and to lecture their team & their students on the creative & business aspects of animation. During Nathan’s visit, I delivered a pair of presentations on CG character modeling and animation performance.
But what excites me most – and what I believe distinguishes the Zhengzhou Animation Base from any other in mainland China – are the improvisational performance classes that have now become a regular feature of my visits. (The animation students who pack the room in almost unmanageable numbers would seem to agree.)
In a mirrored studio specially built by Huayu Brothers for the purpose of movement exploration & performance brainstorming, I introduced students and professionals alike to improv games & exercises that I learned at bang studio in Los Angeles. Anyone who thinks that Chinese people are too reserved (culturally or personally) to participate in such exercises should see what takes place in this space: Chinese animators, free from the confines of their desks, exploring physical movement & expressive performance.
So-called cultural barriers quickly fall away in these improv sessions, and the language of physical expression goes beyond the bridging of East and West: hearing-impaired Chinese students proved to be the most adept at the exercises, quickly picking up the principles and then building upon them in an impressive display of attentiveness and collaborative expression.
It is my privilege to facilitate these sessions, which are remarkable to witness, and bode well for the future of Chinese animation.
My colleagues in Zhengzhou are truly “thinking outside the base”.
~ Kevin Geiger