Peter Luo and David Steward II Peter Luo and David Steward II

Starlight Media, a China-backed film investor based in Beverly Hills, has signed a “multi-year, multi-project joint venture partnership” with the U.S.’s Lion Forge Animation.

Here’s more about the partnership:

  • The deal will see the two partners co-finance and co-produce original animated films, as well as projects based on “Lion Forge IP and broader cultural IP.” There will be a focus on developing content for the Chinese market, and works based on traditional Chinese stories for global audiences.
  • The first two projects to be announced as part of the deal are a short film about coronavirus, which is being fast-tracked to start production this month, and a feature based on the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West. The latter has already inspired many animated works, including the first Chinese animated feature, Princess Iron Fan, released in 1941.
  • The companies are collaborating on the projects’ visual and narrative development, with animation “conducted” by Lion Forge’s studio in St. Louis, Missouri. (Note that the word “conducted” in the news release suggests that the animaiton may not be entirely produced in-house at Lion Forge.) Starlight holds distribution and merchandising rights in China, and Lion Forge for the rest of the world.
  • Peter Luo and David Steward II
    Starlight Media CEO CEO Peter Luo (left) and Lion Forge founder David Steward II.

    Lion Forge was launched last year by David Steward II, the son of a billionaire tech entrepreneur. The studio is notable for being based in Missouri, away from the animation hubs of L.A. and New York, and for having an African-American owner in Steward.

  • The studio’s first venture was the co-production of Matthew Cherry’s short film Hair Love, which won an Oscar in February. Steward has signalled that he wants to develop projects based on comics from publisher Oni-Lion Forge, which also sits within his holding company Polarity. Last week, another subsidiary, marketing and advertising company Lion Forge Labs, closed down “due to rapidly changing economic conditions” (this Newsarama report has more).
  • Starlight Media is a subsidiary of Starlight Culture Entertainment Group Limited. It has previously backed such live-action titles as hit comedy Crazy Rich Asians and World War II action film Midway. The company says that its deal with Lion Forge was struck as part of a “$100+ million development fund.”
  • The deal evokes another U.S.-Chinese animation partnership, Oriental Dreamworks, which was launched in 2012 as a joint venture between Dreamworks Animation and a consortium of Chinese financiers. The company released the first official U.S.-China animated co-production, Kung Fu Panda 3, but it was later relaunched as the fully Chinese-owned Pearl Studio.


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