Wall Street Journal 2014.6.30
A year-old Chinese animated-film studio has hired former employees of U.S. powerhouses such as Pixar,while raising $20 million in the latest round of venture-capital funding.
Light Chaser Animation Studios in Beijing now employs about 130 people — including some Westerners as well as over 20 Chinese “returnees”who have worked overseas in U.S. and French animated film industries.The studio plans to increase its staff to 160 by August,according to founder Gary Wang,a Chinese Internet entrepreneur who previously co-founded online video site Tudou in 2005.
Screenshot of Light Chaser Animation Studio’s short film, Little Yeyos. Light Chaser Animation Studio
Wang first announced his plan to launch a film studio in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last March.
Venture capital firms GGV Capital and Chengwei Capital led the latest round of funding,which closed earlier this month.Light Chaser plans to complete the production of its first feature-length 3-D animated film,called Little Door Spirits,by July 2015.
Light Chaser’s films,according to Wang,tell stories written for Chinese audiences,but using technology and skills comparable to the likes of Pixar.
“Companies live and die,but I want to create something that can last longer,”Wang says.
Onine video-sharing website Tudou,his previous startup,was absorbed by rival firm Youku in a 2012 merger.
If Light Chaser delivers on its promises,it could spearhead a new era of Chinese-made animated films.While China is the world’s second-largest movie market after the U.S. with numerous domestic production studios for live-action films.its animation industry is still in its infancy with skills far behind established U.S. studios.
Recruiting talent hasn’t been easy.In early 2013,Wang says flew to California twice and met more than 100 people in the U.S. film industry.Most of them didn’t want to move their families to China,and Beijing’s bad air pollution didn’t help,Wang recalls.From his first trips,Wang managed to hire three U.S. industry veterans – two Chinese-born animators and an American who had worked at Pixar and Industrial Light & Magic.
The potential market for Light Chaser is expanding.China’s overall movie market,including box office and other revenue,grew 32% last year and is projected to grow another 33% this year,according to a report released this month by research firm Entgroup.Still,Light Chaser will likely face tough competition from Western animation studios that are trying to reach Chinese audiences. Some U.S. films,like DreamWorks’”Kung Fu Panda”franchise,have already proven popular with Chinese audiences in recent years.
Foreign-made animated films with Chinese themes aren’t the same as homegrown films that the Chinese can call their own,says Foo Jixun,Shanghai-based managing partner of GGV Capital,which invests in Light Chaser.”The face of it may be Chinese,but deep down,it’s not necessarily Chinese.” Foo says.
In March,Light Chaser released its first short film,called “Little Yeyos,”on its YouTube channel.The three-minute film,directed by Wang,features chubby-faced fairies in traditional Chinese baby clothes playing at night in a spiritual world that looks like a forest.The film doesn’t have much of a plot,but it does demonstrate what the studio can do in terms of character design,movements and effects.