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Feature Film

China’s Original Force Announces New LA Studio and Feature ‘Duck Duck Goose’

Chinese studio Original Force Animation is moving into the world of animated features with the announcement of a new Los Angeles-based motion picture division and its first original animated feature.

The studio is currently in production on Duck Duck Goose, about a bachelor goose named Peng who becomes a surrogate father to two young ducklings, Chi and Chao. The film will be directed by Chris Jenkins, who produced DreamWorks Animation’s recent feature Home and prior to that had worked as an effects animator at Disney in the 1980s and ’90s. Jenkins wrote the script with Rob Muir (Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue).

The studio’s new feature animation division in Los Angeles will be run by two experienced Hollywood animation veterans, who will also serve as co-presidents of the new division: Sandra Rabins and Penney Finkelman Cox. Rabins and Cox were executives in the early days of DreamWorks Animation, helping to set up the studio’s operations while producing films such as Antz, Shrek, and The Prince of Egypt. The longtime producing partners left DreamWorks to set up Sony’s feature animation unit in 2002, where they brought to screen the studio’s first two films: Open Season and Surf’s Up.

“There is no one more talented, skilled or experienced in leading animated films than Sandy and Penney,” said Original Force founder and president Harley Zhao. “Each has had an extraordinary career and their track record co-running DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Animation has given them a completely unique perspective on building a contemporary animation studio from the ground up. They have a love and respect for great stories and relatable characters that is incredibly infectious and which drives our production philosophy.”

Key Original Force Animation staff (l. to r.): Sandra Rabins, Bob Bendetson, Harley Zhao, Chris Jenkins, John Eng and Penney Finkelman Cox
Key Original Force Animation staff (l. to r.): Sandra Rabins, Bob Bendetson, Harley Zhao, Chris Jenkins, John Eng and Penney Finkelman Cox

Original Force has also announced development and pre-production on two other features, with the goal of releasing one feature approximately every 18 months. OldZilla, to be directed by Bob Bendetson (a producer on ALF, Home Improvement, and The Simpsons) and co-written with veteran TV sitcom writer Art Everett, is about an aging monster who attempts to rally other monsters at a retirement home to terrorize Atlantic City one final time. (The film includes a real estate developer named Ronald Rump…get it?) QQ Speed, a co-production with Tencent Holding Limited, makers of a popular Chinese online racing game of the same name, will be directed by John Eng (co-director of Rugrats Go Wild).

While this is Original Force’s first foray into producing their own features, the studio is hardly a newcomer to the animation world. Founded in 1999 by Harley Zhao, Original Force currently employs over 1,000 people at its offices in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. It was the lead animation studio for the DreamWorks TV series Dragons: Riders of Berk and is also animating on the upcoming Ratchet & Clank feature. The studio also does a lot of videogame work, and has created in-game animation and effects for titles including Grand Theft Auto V, Need for Speed: The Run, League of Legends, and The Sims 3.

There is a growing trend for Chinese studios to bring aboard Americans as producers and directors. Mandoo Pictures’ upcoming Rock Dog also boasts an American director, Toy Story 2 and Surf’s Up co-director Ash Brannon.

The Chinese feature animation industry is booming and the country now produces more animated features than the United States. Last month, China released Monkey King: Hero is Back, which went on to become the highest-grossing animated feature in Chinese box office history.

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  • William Bradford

    WOW that one fellah called it: China is providing work for US animation studios, NOT taking jobs away!

  • @SpitAndSpite

    I would see OldZilla

  • Matt

    So in other words, no US based artist jobs will be coming out of this announcement. This industry is an absolute mess and only continues to get worse. In time there will be fewer and fewer artist job in the US. Animation is racing to the bottom on costs and runaway production.

    • AmidAmidi

      So in other words, you have no idea what you’re talking about. There are, in fact, US-based artists jobs at Original Force on the story and pre-production side. Another Chinese film, “Rock Dog,” which we wrote about recently, created dozens of production jobs, including animation work, in the United States.

      The growth of China’s animation industry lifts the entire global industry, including that of the United States. Yes, some jobs will be lost, others gained, but in the long term, it’s more money and work flowing into the industry and that’s a great thing. Only in your imagination is the industry an “absolute mess;” in the real world, it’s blossoming as never before.

      • William Bradford

        As a Canadian, I find we’re getting LOTS of great stuff here: including a really good Netflix cartoon for DreamWorks (I THINK it’s announced now), that we’re actually getting to do lots of animation on: usually we just get to do the key-poses. I don’t think we’ll get anywhere by lamenting China getting a big animation industry, PROVIDED it’s starting to create quality stuff. THIS is why they’re sending stuff to the US, because enough US animated films DO get into CHINA, and the audience prefer the degree of quality. If anything, it means Chinese studios now feel they’d rather pay more and have it done in the states. Good for them and I think it’ll be good for the US

        • DQ

          Canada does get a lot of work now, but it’s only because of tax credit subsidies and a lower currency compared to the US.

          I’m envious of Canadians who are coming into the animation industry these days. They definitely have a leg up on their American counterparts.

          However if the tax credits ever go away and they have to compete with Americans in the feature animation arena, they’re screwed.

      • Matt

        No Amid, I do know what I am talking about. I am an artist that has worked in feature animation for over 20 years and while people are celebrating this as some accomplishment that China is giving the US work. As stated in your own article “Original Force currently employs over 1,000 people at its offices in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. It was the lead animation studio for the DreamWorks TV series Dragons: Riders of Berk and is also animating on the upcoming Ratchet & Clank feature. The studio also does a lot of videogame work, and has created in-game animation and effects for titles including Grand Theft Auto V, Need for Speed: The Run, League of Legends, and The Sims 3.” These jobs are not US based and never will be. Sure they may hire a few storyboard artists etc but they are taking jobs from the states in droves. The same crew that was used to make “Riders of Berk” is the same crew that is now working on “Kung Fu Panda 3” and DreamWorks has sent some of their best talent over to China to train these people. Why do you think DreamWorks is doing that Amid? Why is DreamWorks building a state of the art studio in China as we speak, they plan on outsourcing. They will keep a smaller crew in the states for script, storyboarding and art direction but the bulk of it will leave over the next 5 years. The only reason Original Force is here in LA is to tap into the director talent pool and the bulk of the animation, modeling, rigging, effects, compositing and lighting and the hundreds of other jobs will be sent back to China. Dont tell me I have no idea when I do. Are you an artist? Do you work in the studio system? Have you ever as an artist? Dont tell me I am wrong when you dont work as an artist in this field. Animation jobs are going the same route as most every other industry from the US has gone and that is to China. I hope you dont delete this post as I have said nothing inflammatory. This forum should be here for artists to speak their minds and not be attacked as if we do not know what we are talking about especially from a site that is suppose to support the animation community.

        • AmidAmidi

          You’re not seeing the big picture. Last year, 30 animated features were released in China, more than have ever been released by American studios in a single year. Those 30 features were made almost entirely by Chinese artists for the Chinese market, and employed thousands of Chinese artists. None of those features took away a single American job because they weren’t made by American companies.

          That’s why cherrypicking a random example like DreamWorks Animation and trying to apply that to the entire Chinese animation industry is so inaccurate. DreamWorks is the outlier in China’s animation market — not the main attraction — and China’s animation industry is developing far faster than the business plans of a single American studio.

          Will some jobs shift over time? Yes. That’s the nature of the subsidy-driven global animation market. Canada has taken away far more animation jobs from the US than China ever will. But on the whole, American employment in animation and VFX is currently at an all-time high. And America’s animation industry, like China’s is in growth mode and will continue to be as long as global animation booms.

          • Matt

            I get your point but at the same time I find it disheartening that DreamWorks and other studios outsource and continue to outsource American jobs and that is my point. I feel I have a valid point, this was not meant to be a war of words. I know that is how the way of things are going and that jobs will shift from one place to another but It is hard to be happy over a couple dozen or so jobs being created here while hundreds are being created elsewhere. My main point is that animation is going the way of VFX work is that is the lowest bidder and in time the artists are on the losing end of the deal.

          • shulett

            Matt, you’re not wrong. American animation employees do get displaced, but displacement was happening fifteen years ago, when thousands of artists lost their jobs as CG animation work became dominant and hand-drawn features faded away.

            The business has always been a roller coaster, but I can tell you that there are more artists and technicians working in the unionized part of the Los Angeles-based animation industry now than at any time in history.

            The Animation Guild currently has 3400 people working at Disney, Nick, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. Animation and other studios. This is leagues higher than the last boom in the mid 1990s, when Guild membership topped out at 2900 artists, writers, and technicians.

  • Hello

    Looks like the goose from Alpha and Omega.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_and_Omega_(film)

  • S

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  • Tim Tran

    It looks lovely, except for the name. Come on guys, the kids’ names are epitomes of Chinese stereotypes in America…

  • Monsieur U

    That goose looks awfully similar to the goose character Boris from “Balto”.

    Just sayin’