In Taiwan, Barkley the Cat is a major animation property. It hails from Studio2 Animation Lab, and includes a television series, a feature film, comics, and games. It’s also now been turned into a vr series called Barkley and Friends.
Barkley has proved popular in Taiwan and mainland China – the film brought in RMB 9.32 million ($1.35 million USD) in box office within its first the three days in China, while the television series is licensed to 33 countries.
Cartoon Brew talked to Studio2 founder Li-Wei Chiu to find out more about Barkley, the move into vr, and the Taiwan animation scene.
Studio2 Animation Lab was started by Li-Wei Chiu in Taiwan in 2006. They have offices in Tainan City, from where the studio has produced animated content such as the Barkley cartoons, The Little Sun, and Weather Boy. “We’re trying to establish an Chinese animation aesthetic,” Li-Wei told Cartoon Brew, “and bring the entertainment, inspiration, and growth to our audiences.”
The Barkley character – a cat that exists in a world controlled by a con artist who has convinced all the animals that he has infinite supernatural powers – began as an illustrated story first, before becoming a television series in 2011. The feature film version, released in 2017, was a co-production with mainland China. The film received several awards, including best animation at the Amsterdam Film Festival and best animated feature at the San Diego International Kids’ Film Festival.
Having established the Barkley IP in several different mediums, Li-Wei looked to extend this to virtual reality. “We like to try any possibilities with animation and wanted to extend the value of our content,” he said. “We kept on thinking, ‘How can we create inspiration and surprise for our audiences and the fans who like Barkley?’”
The vr series ultimately features Barkley and his friends having adventures in the city, and though they occasionally having arguments, they learn how to overcome difficult situations. Studio2 produced Barkley and Friends as a six-minute 25 episode series targeted at 5-to-10 year olds, available on the HTC Viveport and Youtube (where it is presented as 360 degree video). Unity was the main tool used for production.
Some of the challenges in crafting a vr – or immersive 360 degree world – include how to storyboard such sequences, as well as simply marrying up traditional animation methods with the game engine techniques in Unity, says Li-Wei.
For Li-Wei, making the series in vr was something very different from what they had done before, in both artistic and technical terms. “We couldn’t let the audience just watch it normally through [our] lens. So we needed to design and set up many events to attract the audiences’ attention. Besides that, the reason that we made this into vr is that the audience can interact with the plot we designed. For example, there are detective-related parts that require searching for clues.”
Right now, Barkley and Friends is available on the HTC Viveport store in Taiwan only. But Studio2 is looking to release it soon in mainland China, as well as looking for buyers and distributors worldwide.
Li-Wei believes that as the Chinese movie industry continues to rise, so too will the demand for Chinese-language animation. “Taiwan has more and more development of original animation content,” he says. “We hope there’s more co-operation with foreign countries to build and develop the market for Chinese animation.”