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Chinese Filmmakers Want To Make Films Like ‘Frozen’ And ‘Zootopia’ – And Disney Is Teaching Them

You won’t hear any mention of it in the Western press, but the Chinese media has offered plenty of coverage of the Disney-China Animation Exchange Program, a five-day gathering of Chinese animation executives and producers at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.

The most recent edition of the event, which ended last Wednesday, allowed a small group of Chinese animation creators to visit Disney and learn more about the company’s creative approach and production pipelines, as well as best practices for marketing and distribution. Some of the participants can be heard from in this news story:

The Exchange Program is the brainchild of Disney and Pixar Animation chief creative officer John Lasseter, who came up with the idea after the Chinese publicity tour for Big Hero 6, during which he was repeatedly asked if Disney would open a Chinese facility.

While Disney hasn’t opened a studio, Lasseter created the program – with cooperation from the Chinese government-run China Film Bureau – to create a platform for exchanges between Disney and Chinese animation makers.

Over the five days, Chinese attendees heard from high-level Disney execs, including Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull, Lasseter (who gave a talk on risk-taking and innovation), Walt Disney Animation Studios president Andrew Millstein (who spoke on studio leadership), senior v-p of production Ann Le Cam, and Big Hero 6 and Tangled producer Roy Conli, in addition to other directors, producers, and writers at Disney.

The Chinese attendees appeared to be both thankful for the opportunity and intimidated by Disney’s operations. “It’s exciting to closely observe Disney studios,” Zhigang Yang of Shanghai Pic-moment Film Corporation told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. “It makes us ponder the gap between Chinese animation studios and Disney, the world’s leading animation studio. Not only in facilities and hardware, but also in ideas and creativity.”

Added Linlin Shang, general manager of Fantawild Animation Inc., “We should learn from Disney how to tell a story. It’s essential for Chinese filmmakers to learn how to tell the China story well, so we can share it with the world.”

(Photo at top: Xinhua/Gao Shan)

  • Ben

    What does Disney get out of this? I’m genuinely curious.

    • Doconnor

      I don’t know. Maybe continued permission to distribute its movies in China.

      • Marc Hendry

        do they still limit the number of American movies that are released there? Maybe Disney are shmoozing to get more of those spots

      • KW

        So far as they’re censored to appease the Chinese government and not somehow spark “revolutionary ideas”

        • I’d say it’s less revolutionary ideas and more keeping to the status quo.

    • Charles Norwood

      Whatever Disney gets out of this quid-pro-quo is probably under the table. They didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts.

  • Mr. Deltoid

    Alternate headline: “Immensely Rich media moguls urge outsource nation to create content cheaper than Americans.”
    The whole thing is shortsighted at best and sickening at worst. Why doesn’t CocaCola hand them their recipe as well!

    • secretgoldfish

      You forgot, “Immensely Rich media moguls urge outsource nation to create content cheaper than Americans………….AND TRY TO MAKE THEMSELVES LOOK GOOD IN THE PROCESS”

      Faux liberalism has NO shame!

    • Coolius Jeezer

      Disney Animation: “Uuuuugh, so we can no longer fix our animators’ wages… Welp, there’s always China!”

  • Cameron Ward

    I see this only as a good thing. Let’s be real here. The Chinese animation industry while prolific, has a notorious case of quantity over quality. You know all those hugely mediocre and ugly looking animated films Lionsgate grabs up? A lot of those are from China. Heck, even their highest grossing animated film Monkey King: Hero is Back, is still very mediocre.

    If they can learn about more quality over quantity, then that could mean better and higher quality animation. It means there are more Big Fish & Begonias and less Panda Warrior.

    • That is true, China is at least starting to sort out those details when it comes to domestic productions when there had been an over-excessive amount of animated content that isn’t very well executed given the need for quantity versus quality. It’s really a case of slowing down and figuing out what details need to be focused on.

      • Cameron Ward

        that’s why Big Fish & Begonia is such a big deal. it’s beautiful, but it also took 10 years to make. Think of if China was producing films of that calibur every 2-3 years? Or maybe have a couple made between every 2-3 years, and have a yearly release thing going on like Disney does.