Rocky Shi says that over the decades, Chinese animation has made massive strides. With origins in the early 1900s, the “golden age” of Chinese animation eventually fell to the sway of Western influence, leading to a change in style. As the invention of the Internet and new animation tools impacted the Chinese market, animators were once again able to start developing their own unique styles and perspectives.
Now, with one of the largest markets for animation in the world, China is seeing huge growth in its animated film industry — and original IP, drawn from centuries-old myths as well as beloved modern series, is aiding this resurgence. Read on for a deeper look at how Chinese animated IP has evolved over the years and how modern entertainment companies are poised to reap the rewards of these fresh stories.
China’s “Golden Age” of Animation
To many, China’s animation industry is considered extremely young compared to its Western counterparts. But the country’s history with animation begins in the early 20th century, with a focus on distinctly Chinese stories and design styles that developed naturally from artists living in the country at the time. By the 1950s, China was experiencing its “golden age” of animation, as domestic IP developed mainly by the Shanghai Animation Film Studio went on to become both international successes.
A Rough Patch
Unfortunately, much of this came to a slowdown in the late 1970s, and Chinese animation houses soon began to pivot from producing their own work to aiding in the work of others. Numerous countries began to outsource their animated series and films to Chinese studios, resulting in a distinct lack of style or original IP for several decades by Chinese artists. And while the invention of the Internet made producing low-lift webtoons and comics much easier, these cheap animated series were a far cry from the billion-dollar animated industries abroad.
Entering a New Era
In recent decades, however, China has emerged as a major player in the animation industry. The tides began to turn in the early 2000s, as homegrown animation studios finally started to make strides with their own IP. By relying on both traditional Chinese myth and folklore, as well as adaptations of modern animated television series, animation houses have a deep pool of IP to select from.
Take, for instance, the success of “Monkey King: Hero is Back,” a 2015 Chinese computer-animated film that broke box office records in the country. Drawing from Chinese heritage and culture, the film’s IP was later repurposed into a video game released on PlayStation4. Many breakout Chinese animated film franchises are modern, stemming from television animated series. “Boonie Bears,” a years-long, tentpole animated television series across China, has served as the launching point for six feature films. It’s a similar case for the film franchise “New Happy Dad and Son,” which also began as a television series.
The Future of Chinese Animation IP
As the Chinese animated market continues to grow, and see international success, how will IP evolve? Considering that there is a plethora of traditional myth and folklore to share with new audiences, as well as modern IP-like television series and comics, from which to draw, it’s never been a better time to connect producers and creators.
Entertainment companies like TAOST are at the forefront of this exciting evolution, building IP pipelines so that Eastern stories can reach Western audiences (and vice versa). With global workflows put into place to connect animators, filmmakers, and producers, the future of Chinese animation is looking bright.