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Editor's Notebook

Old countries are learning new tricks...

Heather Kenyon

The dog days of August are bringing another exciting issue of Animation World Magazine. This month we are taking a look at Animation in Asia and Computer Animation. We are spotlighting three up-and-coming Asian animation-producing countries: China, India and Vietnam. Plus, in honor of SIGGRAPH, we are also issuing our first magazine supplement in conjunction with Visual Magic Magazine. The SIGGRAPH `98 Special Report will be on-line on August 11, 1998.

Asia continues to become more and more sophisticated in its production capabilities. Japan, a world leader in producing animated footage, has brought the art to a new level, plus has manga and animation so integrated into its culture that, as Jackie Leger reports, Osamu Tezuka is regarded as a national hero. Korean and Philippine studios are continually innovating with new technology and expanding facilities. Many large Asian studios now have offices in Los Angeles in order to facilitate the animation process between North America and Asia. Indeed, Korean studio Rough Draft performed quite a coup by setting up a sister studio in Los Angeles and snatching the high-profile, new Matt Groening series, Futurama, away from U.S. mainstay Film Roman. Could this be the dawning of a new trend?

In the past, in terms of large commercial productions, Asian studios have done the labor-intensive work, primarily layout through camera, while all design work, voice recording, color keying, scripting, storyboarding and post production were done in either the North American or European home studio. Perhaps this tide is turning. Will we see Asia nibbling at the production steps that were customarily seen as processes that needed to be completed on home turf? Asian producers have certainly made it clear that they are ready for the next step and are developing their own shows and shopping them at the markets. On such series they will naturally be doing all of the production. Yes, the tide is turning and Asia is trying to change from strictly a production house to a creative player on the global market scene.

In Asia, however, there are levels of preparedness for this new role. Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan are the current leaders, having had an active animation industry fostered by importing work. In fact, one hears stories of work being so plentiful, that studios in these countries farm it out through the back door to places like Bali, Malaysia and other growing Asian animation countries. While this might get domestic production managers hopping mad, it is expanding the animation industry throughout Asia. Three countries currently preparing to make bids at the big time are India, Vietnam and China.

I am hoping Asian, American and European studios can work more closely on intelligent co-productions, bringing fresh, new Asian properties to our marketplace. These ancient cultures have spawned fascinating tales that I am sure would have global appeal. How many more times can European and North American audiences see re-hashes of the same old standard fairy tales and legends? Why, if children all over the world can understand U.S. programming, can U.S. children not understand programming from other regions? Kampung Boy is such an example. This bright, lively cartoon not only features universal story lines, like children being afraid to pass a certain locale, but might even be more interesting as it shows how Malyasian children dress, eat and sleep. This is a "fresh, new approach," we just need someone to be brave enough to take it.

In this issue, beyond the SIGGRAPH `98 Special Report, we are also touching on computer animation. Michelle Klein-Häss has put her mass of acquired knowledge to the test by putting together "Small Studio/Home Studio: An Overview of Low-End Computer Aided Animation Choices." This incredible how-to article should be enough to start you on your computer animating way, whether you prefer 2-D or 3-D. We are also highlighting a film by a true trailblazer Staceyjoy Elkin. Her film Azimuth is the first anaglyph, computer-generated animation to make it to tape. So dig through your junk drawer, pull out a pair of those funky 3-D glasses and enjoy!

A certain bright spot for us all this summer has been Disney's Mulan. Mulan has proven that yes, audiences will still watch an animated film if the story, music and design are good. This summer has been marked by films that are supposed to be huge, but turn out to be little. No film, not even films like The Truman Show, which did well with critics and audiences alike, are showing any legs or staying power. Could the leggiest picture of the summer be Mulan, a traditional animated feature? Hollywood, big effects blockbusters take a step back! The success of Mulan has not only brightened the faces of our jaded children, but has also made a lot of folks in feature animation breath a sigh of relief. Maybe this market can support all of these films, maybe the production houses will all keep going--provided the films they produce have good stories, taste and break the mold, even if just a little.

I'd also like to send a special thanks to David Kilmer, who has helped me meet a long term debt to one of my brother's best friends. It is amazing how easy it is to find a rare animated short or two, if you just know where to look and who to call to order it. Within five minutes, I had located the titles, the supplier and was on the phone to make my purchase. Thank you David for your Animated Film Collector's Guide ! It is a life saver...or at least a useful tool in resolving bets.

Until Next Time... Heather