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Helping Hand in the Animation Boom — Asian Governments

Hock Wong traveled various Asian countries, such as Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Indonesia, to find out more about how Asian governments are lending helping hands in the animation boom across the continent.

The animation scene in Asia is quickly changing as artistic skills and technology improve. Various Asian governments are investing effort and money into facilitating the growth of this animation empire.

In a trip back home to Singapore, my wife, Yu-Tzu Lin, and I visited a few Asian countries, including Malaysia and Taiwan (where my wife is from) and had the honor to speak at many different animation industry seminars. After meeting and interviewing many of the local industry professionals and students, we had a better understanding regarding the animation industry in Asia.

Asian countries today are known for their low cost labor workforce that produces most of the animated TV shows for North American and European television networks. These include countries such as South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and India. In terms of original animated content, one would naturally thinks of anime and manga from Japan. The scene today however, is quickly changing.

As Asian regions grow, improving living standards, as well as the rise in artistic skill standards and better technology in the animation industry, many are starting to create their own intellectual properties (IP), ranging from animated TV series and animated feature films, to todays advanced videogame developments.

Outsourcing in Asia however, is still very profitable. At the recent Outsourcing Submit, Jonathan Hales (president of the Outsource Report) wrote, Labor cost in Asia will save companies an estimated 15-60%. Hales also mentioned that outsourcing initiatives would double in the next few years. For many production houses, outsourcing is a fact of life. Recently, with the push for higher quality next-generation game graphics, realtime game art is in high demand as well. Outsourcing in Asia pretty much has become a standard part of the production process and constitutes a significant portion of the art budget for many production houses.

While many Asian countries are aware of the potential of the animation industry, some state governments have also played an important role in supporting this growing industry to reap economic benefits. Government from various Asian countries, such as Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, China and Indonesia are investing a lot of effort and money in facilitating the growth of this animation empire.

When George Lucas decided to set up an office on the small island country of Singapore in southeast Asia, it baffled many. However, one would not be so surprised after a visit. Though less than 60 miles across, Singapore has an extremely efficient and complex infrastructure and advanced telecommunications system. Likewise, its neighbor Malaysia has also been actively attracting studios. The last addition was the U.K.-based Code Masters. The list goes on: Ubisoft in China, Rhythm and Hues in India, etc.

The opening of Lucasfilm Animation Singapore (above) baffled some, but the island offers an efficient and complex infrastructure and advanced telecommunications system © Lucasfilm Ltd. & . All rights reserved.

Singapore Building Media Giants in the Tiny Island

Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) was formed in 2003. The Authority is more than just a regulatory agency for Singapores media industry; MDA also helps to establish policies and programs that facilitate growth of Singapores media industry. Its goal for the animation industry is to build a robust industry that is capable of creating original IP, as well as to produce quality content that could generate international sales. Lok-Yin Seto, director of MDAs Industry Development, and his team are working to make that goal come true.

According to Seto, MDA actively promotes and facilitates the growth of the animation industry by providing assistance to Singapore animation companies. Examples of such assistance programs are as follows:

  • Digital Content Development Scheme

  • International Co-production a program to match & support local animation companies to international players

  • Capability Development Program

  • Synthesis-Online Content Initiative

  • Digital Technology Development Scheme

  • Digital Content Development Scheme

  • Market Development Scheme

  • Grants

  • SCREEN a co-investment scheme in which MDA participates as a co-investor in animation projects, etc.

MDAs website has more details on its programs.

Over the last three years, Singapores animation industry has made strides in the international arena. Numerous local animation companies have benefited from the schemes and initiatives. For example, IV Lab signed a deal to co-produce a slate of animated TV series with Nelvana of Canada; Infinite Frameworks signed a deal to co-produce an animated feature with Mainframe (of Canada); Peach Blossom Media has entered into co-productions with U.S. and South Korean companies. With the assistance of these initiatives, many more animation companies are emerging in the country.

Chi Sim Tang, md of Omens Studios, has offices in Singapore and Malaysia, in addition to the one in Los Angeles. His company enjoys support from the respective Asian governments, as these countries are investing aggressively in the growth of the local media and animation industry, having recognized its importance in the knowledge-based economy.

CG Overdrive, organized by 3dsense, was one of the events recently sponsored by Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA). All CG Overdrive images courtesy of 3dsense Media School.

We have benefited from the presence of grants that cover many parts of the production process, such as scriptwriting, screenplay development, pilots for original titles and, even, training and marketing, said Tang. MDA has also put together a panel of different companies who have experience on the international stage producing world-class content, and has made these relationships available to young, upcoming companies such as us. The Malaysian government, also, is making good progress in this area through the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Creative Multimedia Content Initiative (CMCI).

Tang added that Omens Studios is developing, with support from the local governments, an original animated series called XenoHunters which features cutting-edge animation in collaboration with various scriptwriting, directing and voice-acting talents from Los Angeles and other parts of the world. The series has already interested some major distributors at the recently concluded MIPCOM in Cannes, France.

He noted that both governments are also giving a lot of support to local studios who aspire to develop their own feature films, with many long-form animation projects in the pipeline, particularly in assisting the realization of co-production agreements by local studios with those in other countries with more mature animation and film industries, like Canada, New Zealand and the U.K.

Formed in 2003, MDA, a regulatory agency for Singapore's media industry, also helps to establish policies and programs that facilitate growth of that countrys media industry. Participants at CG Overdrive celebrate.

We feel that these governments are doing a fabulous jobs stepping into and filling the vacuums in the infrastructure necessary to spur the local animation industries. We continue to be impressed with the level of support made available, Tang added.

According to Aldric Chang, founder/md of both Mediafreaks and Character Farm, MDA has also been arranging a lot of meetings with overseas production houses and relevant parties.

MDA have co-funded us for the production of 480 minutes worth of animation, as well as entered us for the Synthesis scheme and the Licensing Program. Through the Licensing Program, we gained a lot of knowledge learning how to manage, protect and exploit our licensing through the mentorship of licensing expert Global Brands theyve also subsidized us for visiting shows like the Asia TV Forum, the Hong Kong Licensing Show and MIPCOM.

Vincent Lim, md of Big Communications, also commented on MDAs active involvement in elevating animation in the region. MDA has taken on a huge portion of our marketing and business development responsibilities all carried out by very dedicated and hardworking officer. For Master Raindrop, it began with the MDA leading a Singapore delegation of several independent production companies for a mission trip to New Zealand in 2003 to establish working relationships with our counterparts in New Zealand. We met Flux Animation Studio during the trip, and the rest is history.

David Kwok, chairman of the Singapore Animators Connection added, As part of the larger national framework to build the digital media industry in Singapore, the number of government funded training options relevant to our industry has been increased in the key tertiary institutions. Scholarships are provided for Singaporeans seeking training in this industry at other world-class institutions overseas.

XenoHunters is an original animated series in development by Omens Studios, with support from local Asian governments. © Omen Studios.

Malaysia The Multimedia Super Corridor

My wife and I had the pleasure to give a presentation at the Multimedia Development Corporation (MdeC), the company that governs and manages Malaysias famous Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). Founded in 1996, MSC is Malaysias initiative for the global information and communication technology (ICT) industry. It is now home to over 900 foreign and homegrown companies. It will continue continues to attract companies all over the world to locate their industries in MSC Malaysia.

In the animation realm, MdeC is taking on a more active role by producing the first 13 parts of the 3D animated TV series Saladin, hailed as a national project. Saladin, a historic figure who lived during the Crusades, is a legendary warrior that unites and leads the different Muslim factions.

The project represents the collective talent in the animation field in the country, said Kamil Othman, vp for MDeCs creative department. MdeC could potentially spend up to RM10 million to produce the full series, which would make Saladin as the most expensive, locally funded animation series. We are definitely targeting for a worldwide release, as the content is being created in a way that will be appealing to the global market. We are already generating interest from several countries but all will depend on the final quality of the series.

At the MSC Innovation Center, where Hock Wong and his wife, Yu-Tzu Lin (right), gave a presentation of their works to the local artists. Courtesy of Multimedia Development Corp.

Taiwan Building a Strong Industry Through Nurturing the Next Generations

Our first impression when we visited Taiwan was that it seemed like every one is doing animation!! Well, thats exaggerated of course, but the fact is, there are more than 100 institutions teaching animation in the country!

We were originally scheduled to do a seminar at Yuan-Ze University and Long-Hwa University. However, a few days before we arrived, we were asked if we could also speak at couple other institutions. Apparently, they have gotten news that some, Hollywood animation gurus are visiting. My wife and I never thought of us as animation gurus, but it goes to show how enthusiastic they are.

Taiwan was our last stop in our trip. Besides visiting my in-laws, we were also invited to share our experiences at the universities. They have keen interest, especially after finding out that my wife, also a Taiwanese, is a look development painter at Disney Feature Animation.

Like many countries in Asia, the Taiwanese government is implementing various initiatives to promote the animation industry. In 2000, the government announced the, 200 billion (Taiwan New Dollars [TWD]) and double starts project to promote the IT industry, biotechnology, as well as digital contents. The goal of digital contents is to reach up to TWD$370 billions in production value and 30,000 employees, according to Shihming Chang, lecturer at Yuan-Ze University.

At Yuan-Ze University, we spoke on our learning and working experiences in the U.S. to a packed lecture theater. It was a full day event with half of it being a Q&A session.

The author and his wife (right), speak to a packed lecture theater at Taiwans Yuan-Ze University.

China The Next (Animation) Super Power?

Nowadays, the words made in China have become a popular buzzword of the global business world. With a blooming economy and cheap labor force, this trend is spreading to the realm of animated characters.

According to a recent report, Mainland Chinas animation industry has an annual production value of RMB$2.5 billion, modest compare to Chinas economy. But, in the coming years, the industry will become a major initiative in Chinas economy, especially for the eastern costal cities of Shanghai, Hang Zhou and Shen Zhen. These cities are not only prospering with the development of high-tech and manufacturing industries, its vicinity to major transport routes and the coast, developed infrastructure and an abundance of low-wage skilled labor, is the major driving force. It is no co-incidence that they have been short listed by the Chinese Central government as the three focal cities for dong man (comic and animation) development called, Cultural City Developing Strategy.

Under the instruction of Cultural City Developing Strategy in the coming 25 years, the animation industry will probably become the mainstay industry in Shenzhen. By then, Shenzhen will become the Animation Valley in China, said Sunny Kuo of World Peace Media, based in Shen Zhen.

According to statistics from the Shenzhen Film & TV Animation Assoc., there are about 500 enterprises in Shenzhen that create and produce animation, with a working force of nearly 10,000 annually making several hundred million (RMB) worth of productions. In the future, the animation industry will be an important part of cultural industry and will eventually become the major industry of Shenzhens economy.

Being one of the Special Economic Zones with Hong Kong, Shenzhen has had the earliest animation production bases in the Chinese Republic, since the 80s. At its peak, nearly 70% of creative staff gathered here, making a large volume of animation products for both overseas and domestic markets, Kuo added.

The Hong Kong-based, Hua Yu International Dong Man (comic and animation) company (CCEC), started a production facility at Shen Zhen in 2004, It aims to cater to the needs of its growing international clientele.

Dong, Guo Hua, owner of CCEC, having worked closely with the city of Shen Zhen authority, has provided us with some of the initiatives undertaken by the city.

  • Implement priority development strategy. This is achieved by building animation into the citys main cultural industry, with priority support and incentives in terms of funding, technology, resources, taxes, etc.

  • Building a complete and comprehensive industry. For example, production, distribution, research, development, publishing, retail, servicing, original IP, merchandizing, display technologies, etc. will be important measures to make this a successful industry. Expedite that with building an animation research park. By 2010, Shen Zhen will be an international epicenter for top quality animation, through creating successful original IP. And, thus, Shen Zhen becomes a major part of Chinas economic growth.

  • Promote creation of original IP. Focus and promote creating of original content in order to bring the industry to the next level. Through annual animation and gaming development competitions, the government will look into purchasing original content. The goal is to produce 50-100 original creations, to build a library of copyrighted content and to build a spin-off merchandizing industry.

  • Better management of licensing, trading and tax system. Being a pioneer city for animation, the city government is giving more breaks in terms of taxation, investments, licensing, import/exports, etc.

  • Improving on various related services, such as building a world-class filming sound stage, animation production centers, certification systems for instructors, training centers, copyright protection, distribution centers and centers for international collaborations.

  • The city will also lend its support to the following areas:
    • The city will fund up to RMB3 million or 10% of building facilities that benefit the community, such as training, equipment rental, etc.
    • Rental subsidies for new companies (up to three years).
    • Funding and rewards.Loan interest rate subsidies of RMB 300,000 to RMB1 million.Up to 1:1 co-investments of selected projects that are beneficial to the city and the country.Rewards of up to RMB one million for local animation productions; up RMB two million for nationalized productions.
  • Bridging the gap between animation and high-tech industry, through collaborations, financial support, etc.

  • Increase airwave for animated content. Animation has to make up at least 30% of TV content.

  • Extending channels for publishing, including collaborations among major publishers, online publishing, etc. Organize trade shows, conventions, forums, etc, to promote products, personnel exchange, collaboration with international companies, etc.

  • Better copyright protection.

While the future of animation in Asia is promising, many challenges still lie ahead, such as training and development, privacy, skill levels, communications, infrastructure and talent. However, many of these issues are being resolved. With the efforts from the government bodies, as well as the unprecedented collaboration among the different countries, there is a huge amount of information exchange, skills and knowledge transfer. Production standards will rise and we will undoubtedly see more and better quality productions emerging from these countries.

At the same time, many of us hope that with the rapid growth, animation companies in Asia will help to promote, protect and incorporate their unique cultural background and heritage into their productions, much like how manga and anime have evolved out of the unique Japanese culture. Government bodies have the responsibility to ensure that they do not lose this with the influx of mainstream popular culture. It would be a great loss than cannot be justified by any monetary gains.

Hock Hian Wong is a native of the tiny island country Singapore. After completing two and half years of mandatory military service, he studied animation in the U.S. and has been working in the animation industry ever since. He is the lead animator at Sony Computer Ent. of Americas cinematics department.