Home-grown animation studio sets foot in China
Behonce Beh 
Dragon Keeper is an on-going project between Animamundi Studios and China Film Animation
While Hollywood remains the epicentre of global entertainment, offerings from the East are well received by a worldwide audience.

At home, one studio is embarking on a project to co-produce content for the Chinese and other markets.

In July, Animamundi Studio Sdn Bhd entered into a strategic cooperation framework agreement with China Film Animation Industry Co Ltd to develop and produce animation intellectual property for projects in China and North America.

Prior to this, Animamundi had delivered a number of visual effects (VFX) projects that appear on feature films and television series for China and international clients. The titles include Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms and Dream.

Leong spent many years working with the likes of Disney and Electronic Arts

Animamundi’s founder and CEO Leong Chun Chong is no stranger to the entertainment industry as he has worked on film visual effects and game development for the likes of Disney and Electronic Arts.

His last stint abroad prior to his return to Malaysia was in Shanghai where he was the studio art director for Disney Interactive Studios.

“When I came back to Malaysia in 2011, I had little idea of the local animation industry. I did at that time have contacts who were keen to work with me,” Leong says.

On his wife’s advice, he started KL Art Centre to train and develop talents in the areas of game art development, computer-generated imagery (CGI) and animation.

Working with foreign partners

Animamundi was founded last year and one of its first collaborative projects with a foreign partner was a China online movie called The Hunter.

For that movie, Animamundi produced about 20 minutes’ worth of VFX, which took the company two months to complete.

Leong says working with Chinese partners differs vastly from working with people in the US.

“In the US, you plan ahead based on shots and in accord-ance to the story boards. Whereas with Chinese partners, where things happen so fast, you do not have the luxury of time. You have to read through the script provided and visualise what needs to be done,” he explains.

Animation projects with China Film Animation that have been completed include Sharp, The Bull! and Zhong Ying while Beast of Burden and Dragon Keeper are on-going.

China Film Animation is a subsidiary of China Film Co Ltd that serves as a public technical service platform for national animation production capabilities. These include 2D animation, 3D animation, cel animation and supports both domestic and international mainstream animation categories.

Huang says working with proactive partners ensures a smoother production process

China Film Animation CEO Huang Jun says partnering Animamundi goes beyond the typical outsourcing relationship where the client dictates the end-result.

“We have worked with other production teams, and some of them often accept the instructions passively, rarely taking the initiative to think about how to make the work show better visual effects or how to tell the story better.

Team of problem-solvers

“Animamundi is different as it is open to communicating with our creative team, to the extent of spending extra time and effort; as long as it will help improve the quality of the whole film,” he says.

Huang jokes: “I often tell my team members – Animamundi’s team is like the problems terminator of animation production – it can always find solutions to difficult production problems and that helps us to push further on the projects.”

One of the main challenges faced by Animamundi is to hire the right talent for the job. Currently, it has over 90 personnel with plans to expand to 150 by year-end.

“We notice many projects done by local studios are focused on television series where you get paid for the job done. Our monetisation is not from the production but the product itself,” Leong says.

Co-producing a title allows Animamundi to have a share in the project’s profit and also control on the content that goes in.

Leong says the barrier of entry to the animation industry has dropped significantly over the years. Anyone who is able to purchase the relevant design software and have the skills to work on them, is able to accept jobs from all over the world.

“Our team consists of not just an artist or technicians to execute design. We hire problem-solvers who are able to address change as it happens,” he highlights.

As such, team members are encouraged to think independently on how to approach certain projects. Animamundi’s concept team is encouraged to create and work on its own projects every Friday.

The company’s own intellectual property (IP), a short film called Ah Yah, serves as a learning platform for the team to manage IP.

“You want to fail fast and from that failure, learn something about that,” Leong reasons.

With Ah Yah as a short film, the investment in its own IP is much lower compared to a full-length TV series or a feature film. Hence, a lower burn rate.

Apart from the existing three projects with China Film Animation which are worth a combined US$30 mil (RM128 mil), Leong says there are other projects in the pipeline to keep his team busy until 2020.

China’s burgeoning digital art entertainment market

China’s population of over 1.3 billion is indeed a big market for any industry. The same can be said for its digital art entertainment market which is said to exceed 480 bil yuan (RM304 bil) and to grow by 15% this year.

WeCanWill Entertainment Co Ltd CEO Wang Ke, who is one of the partners working with Animamundi Studio Sdn Bhd, says digital art entertainment is inclusive of online videos, mobile games, film, online content and animation.

He says China’s animation market alone was valued at 130 bil yuan last year and is expected to reach 150 bil yuan this year. It is estimated that there are over 300 million Chinese youths to consume animation content.

Currently, animation content from Japan, Europe and the US dominates over 89% of the market share in China, leaving a small room for original local content.

On the other hand, China has been actively co-producing or co-investing in Hollywood films in recent years. Movies such as The Fate of the Furious featured investments from China Film Co Ltd while Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was co-produced by China’s Fundamental Films which acquired a 28% stake in Paris-based production house EuropaCorp late last year. 

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 245.