Chinese animated film: Nezha’s rebirth with the return of the great sage

On July 10, 2015, a domestic animated film called “Journey to the West: The Return of the Great Sage” (hereafter referred to as “The Return of the Great Sage”) landed on the national theater chain. After only three days of release, it was released with about 13% of the film. The rate broke through the 100 million yuan box office mark. Previously, the film had held two screenings at the Cannes Film Festival, and sold copyright pre-sale in 60 countries and regions, setting a record for the highest overseas sales of Chinese animated films.

A still from “Journey to the West: The Return of the Great Sage”.

When it was released, Wu Hanqing, CEO of Qingqingshu Animation, also bought a movie ticket to express his support and to observe it. When she walked out of the theater, she was very excited, took out her mobile phone and sent a circle of friends: “”The Return of the Great Sage” has set a new benchmark for Chinese 3D animation films, it is a watershed for domestic animation, and it has successfully broken the ice in the market.” At this moment, she must think of it. Four years ago, I personally experienced the “Battle of Waterloo”.

In 2011, Wu Hanqing and director Wang Chuan launched the animated film “Kuiba’s Hundred Thousand Fires” with a production cost of 13.5 million and a distribution budget of 20 million. In this project, which has been conceived for six years and screenwriter for two years, they have devoted great ambitions, hoping to create a fantasy world spanning more than a thousand years and multi-racial symbiosis with an extremely grand structure. In their plan, the entire story will be made up of five films, released in succession at a rate of one per year. However, the reality is like a basin of cold water, which has extinguished the sparks of their ambitions to start a prairie fire: on the first day of the release of “Kuiba’s Hundred Thousand Fires”, only 387 theaters across the country gave the film, and the accumulated box office for a week was only 2.65 million. The whole company of Qingqingshu went to the entrance of the theater to distribute leaflets, and persuaded everyone who passed by like a straw for life. It’s just that the general trend is over, and the box office is finally fixed at 3.05 million.

“Kuiba’s Hundred Thousand Fires”

In the following three years, the second and third films of “Kuiba” were released one after another, all of which were sunk in the box office wave that was constantly surging in the film market, and the originally planned fourth and fifth films were also stranded. In May 2017, Wu Hanqing passed away due to cancer, and in the end he failed to see the complete “Yuanyang Realm” in that dream.

“”Kuiba” is a milestone, but unfortunately it came too early, the consumer market of Chinese animation films is not so mature.” Lu Wei, the producer of “The Return of the Great Sage”, still sighs when he talks about “Kuiba”. But in the eyes of more peers, it is “The Return of the Great Sage” that really opened a new chapter in domestic animation. Dumpling, the director of “The Devil Child of Nezha Comes to the World” once expressed: “If there is no ‘Great Sage’, there will be no ‘Nezha’.” Cheng Teng, the director of “Jiang Ziya”, also told “China News Weekly” : “”The Return of the Great Sage” made a box office score of nearly 1 billion, making more people aware of Chinese animation and more funds willing to flow into Chinese animation, (so) many projects were approved, and many creators had the opportunity to express Own.”

In the face of all kinds of accolades and ratifications of significance, Lu Wei just smiled and felt that everything was just a matter of time. “You don’t need to sing about anything, and you don’t have to sing about anyone. The ‘Great Sage’ is no better than others in terms of technology, and the story is also moderate. It’s just that it came out at that time. It’s really better fate and luck.” He told China News Weekly.

Based on “The Return of the Great Sage”

When Lu Wei took over “The Return of the Great Sage”, it was already the first half of 2014. Previously, director Tian Xiaopeng struggled to support this project for seven years, burned out the money invested by angels, and spent the millions he had saved from doing OEMs and training courses. Father-in-law and mother-in-law borrowed money to keep the studio running.

“It wasn’t just “The Return of the Great Sage” back then, it was difficult for any animation team to find money.” Lu Wei said. At that time, the domestic animation has not yet come out of the trough since 1995. Except for the “Pleasant Goat Series” and “Bear Infested Series”, even the threshold of 100 million yuan box office is still out of reach. In the eyes of capital, animation is still just a “happy meal” for children, the income is still the icing on the cake, and the investment does not need to be too large.

but it is not the truth. “The cost reduction space for animated films is relatively limited, and without a certain amount of investment, the project can only be aborted,” Wang Shuang, a senior animation producer, told China News Weekly that animation is an asset-heavy film type. The manpower and equipment behind any work are equivalent to the blockbuster level of live-action movies: “Strictly speaking, the heavy industry of animation is comparable to the sci-fi movies with the pyramid tips in live-action movies.”

Lovells is one of the earliest investors in China’s animation film and 3D special effects industry. As early as 2002, he invested in the first pure CG animation film “Mobis Ring” in China. The story of “The Return of the Great Sage” aroused his animation feelings, but at the commercial level, he had no idea. In order to share the risk, Lovells brought in 10 more companies to jointly produce products, and also mobilized his friends to launch crowdfunding—in the end, 89 investors raised a total of 7.8 million.

This isn’t the first time an animation project has tried crowdfunding. A year ago, “One Hundred Thousand Bad Jokes” and “Big Fish and Begonia” raised 1.37 million and 1.58 million respectively through this method. In fact, compared to the high budget cost, this amount of crowdfunding is a drop in the bucket. But as Wang Chuan said: “Crowdfunding for domestic animation films is not a business model to create a return on film investment, but more of a marketing method to expand influence and promote publicity.” There are no people involved in crowdfunding either. Take this as an investment. At the end of “The Return of the Great Sage”, the names of the 89 investors appear in the names of their children, and most of these investors became the first batch of investors after the movie was released. “Tap water” has led to the fermentation of word-of-mouth in cyberspace.

“Big Fish and Begonia”

Even so, Lu Wei still did not make any optimistic expectations: “We have worked hard many times, we have done these things well and perfected, but the market does not give us a chance and it is very troublesome.” He calculated the account, more than 6,000 Wan’s investment, as long as the box office can sell 100 million to recover the cost, he will be satisfied. Fortunately, the market did not disappoint Lovells this time.

“I think our success comes from the rapid development of the entire Chinese film market to the greatest extent.” Looking back at the glorious back of “The Return of the Great Sage”, Lu Wei feels that everything is the dividend of the times. Wang Shuang also believes that “The Return of the Great Sage” is nothing less than an accident, but it is also just in time: “The explosions that appeared that year, not only “The Return of the Great Sage”, but also “Wolf Warrior”. The film industry is undergoing some changes.” Indeed, the miracle created by “The Return of the Great Sage” can be understood to a certain extent as a kind of “rising tide”. The movie has long been aiming for a billion-dollar box office surge. In the process, the post-90s generation has quietly become a new generation of consumers. They have grown up with cartoons. They obviously have more expectations and wait for the domestic second-generation element.

The dark clouds that shrouded the head of Chinese animation were finally torn apart, and the sun began to shine into this long-abandoned land. After “The Return of the Great Sage”, many animation works such as “Big Fish and Begonia”, “The Great Protector”, “The Spell of the Wind”, and “White Snake: Origin” were released one after another. In 2019, a “Reincarnation of the Devil Child of Nezha” broke the box office record again with a score of 5.035 billion. For the first time, the market share of domestic animation surpassed that of imported animation, reaching 65.9%. Even some companies and practitioners who were looking for another way to survive have returned, such as Chongzhuo Animation in Hangzhou, which has returned to animation from the game industry.

Under a favorable situation, the indefinitely postponed “Kuiba” also announced the decision to restart in November 2017. At this time, just half a year has passed since Wu Hanqing’s departure.

two modes

It was Caitiaowu, a subsidiary of Guangguang Media, that injected a booster for the restart of “Kuiba”. There was some hesitation in the step of Guangguang’s step into the field of Chinese animation. They had already entered “The Return of the Great Sage”, but they chose to withdraw their funds in the middle. However, as a domestic “big five” film company, the business sense of the light will not always be dull. Seeing that “The Return of the Great Sage” is a blockbuster, they quickly turned around and invested 20 million in Tian Xiaopeng’s studio October Culture. Three months later, Caitiaowu was established. It only took about two years to invest in the Bi’antian culture that created “Big Fish and Begonia”, the Haochuan culture of “Da Hufa”, and Cocoa Bean Animation, Zhongchuanhe Thirteen companies including Dao.

“The Great Law”

According to Wang Shuang, these companies belong to the early stage of IP incubation. Under the existing development conditions of the industry, there are usually special production capacity companies to undertake mid- and post-production production. “(Because) most companies cannot support so many people.” . In this regard, Caitiaowu also has a huge layout, and many animation production companies such as Hongli Culture, Daqian Sunshine, Xuanji Technology, and Tongyao Technology are all under their command.

From cultural creativity to technology implementation, Caitiaowu has occupied half of China’s animation industry through continuous “buy, buy, buy”, and then built a complete ecological chain through Guangguang’s original film promotion system. It is with such an ecological chain that they created another hit “The Devil Child of Nezha” after “The Return of the Great Sage”, and continued to develop “Jiang Ziya”, which opened another “Chinese mythology series”. .

“Nezha’s Devil Child Comes to the World”

Wang Shuang told “China News Weekly” that in the past two years, Sunac Animation has also adopted a similar form, gathering a group of emerging young animation talents including “Luo Xiaoheiji” director Mu Duo. “It is not ruled out that there will be several companies like Color Bar House in the future, and then the business format will be very different.”

The color bar house is not the only model. The Light Chasing Animation established in 2013 has gone out of another path of Chinese animation. Yu Zhou, the co-founder and CEO of Chasing Light, called it the “difficult but correct path”: “If you just aim to make a movie, it is (actually) very contingent. It doesn’t mean that it is impossible to make a good film. , but for animated films, one of its advantages is that it can continue to accumulate. So you need to establish a system to keep a group of like-minded people together and keep trying. For example, Pixar and Disney in the United States are this mode of operation. This is also the development path that Chasing Light has established from the very beginning.”

The chasing mode has its advantages. Since the launch of their first work “Little Door God” in 2016, they have always maintained a stable productivity at the frequency of one per year (among them, only “New God List: Nezha Rebirth”, which was originally scheduled for the summer of 2020, was postponed due to the impact of the epidemic. to the Spring Festival in 2021). “Only we can release one movie a year in the market, other companies release one movie every few years.” Speaking of this, Yu Zhou’s tone revealed obvious pride.

“From the very beginning, we have three projects rolling forward at different stages at the same time, and it is difficult for only one project to maintain a long-term team.” On the other side of the advantage, there must be disadvantages, that is, the initial investment in cultivating the team is relatively higher. big. So starting from “New God List: The Rebirth of Nezha” and “White Snake 2: The Rising of the Green Snake”, with the continuous increase in the production volume, Chasing Light also began to outsource a small amount of cooperation. “An animation film takes about three years and requires four or five hundred people. There are currently more than 280 people in the pursuit of light. Some jobs may only take one or two months. It is impossible to recruit people in this part.” However, Yu Zhouhui Carefully control the outsourced content to about 10% of the total production volume: “The outsourcing management and control communication (possibly) is less efficient, the production quality is not well controlled, and there is great uncertainty. Once the project is delayed, Costs will go up.”

“White Snake: Origin” stills

Wang Shuang also felt that if there were ten companies in China that pursued the light, the industry would immediately be different. “Projects piled up by a large number of outsourcing are still too unindustrialized to put it bluntly, and there will be many surprises.”

However, regardless of the “color bar house mode” or the “chasing light mode”, the current Chinese animation industry is still more focused on simple works. For the content that is linked or derived from comics, figures, games, etc., awareness and Action is still lagging behind. It was not until the year before last that Caitiaowu launched an app called “One Comic”, which was regarded as a first step in the trial. Yu Zhou also admitted that although Chasing Light has cooperated with the trendy play brand Bubble Mart since “New God List: Nezha Rebirth” and launched some image figures, it is only an auxiliary means of movie marketing: “Chasing Light There really wasn’t a lot of effort put into it, and I didn’t have high expectations.[And]there’s not really a plan to invest in these things anytime soon.”

In Wang Shuang’s view, only Aofei and Tencent are relatively mature in this regard in China: “Aofei started out as a toy, and Tencent is an Internet gene, so it is easy for them to think more than movies.” As an IP Derivative content not only has a commercial value-added role, but also an effective means of cultural output, especially the first-class animation industry represented by the United States and Japan. In the long run, if Chinese animation really wants to grow and expand to the world, this is undoubtedly a gap that must be faced and needs to be filled.

Crowded Tracks and Separate Frontiers

After experiencing the second crisis caused by the epidemic since March this year, Chinese movies may be about to recover slowly this summer. Among the finalized works currently displayed, two animations with the theme of Erlang Shen Yang Jian will be released in the same schedule. According to rumors, in addition to these two films, there will be three more “Yang Jian” films ready to appear on the screen during the year.

This is yet another reality. Whether stemming from a collective unconscious or an opportunistic follower, traditional mythology is becoming a crowded track for Chinese animation. In the film filing from 2015 to 2020, there are as many as 119 such animations, including 24 themes of Sun Wukong and 11 of Nezha. From the “Princess Iron Fan” by the Wan brothers during the Republic of China, to the classics “Havoc in Heaven” and “Nezha Havoc in the Sea” by Shanghai Fine Arts Film Studio, Chinese animation that has gone through a hundred years still seems to be unable to get out of the circle of the ancestors. Story Siege.

Cheng Teng, director of “Jiang Ziya”, believes that the current industry and market maturity determine that most Chinese animation films must be commercial projects, and the essential rule of commercial projects is that there must be something that the public is familiar with. “100% original, the public perception is not necessarily good. Disney has been a Andersen fairy tale for so long, but when its animation industry is more mature, it will start to develop some games like “Inside Out” and “Soul” A highly original work like “Wonderful Journey”. I don’t think this is a lack of creativity. In fact, every creator wants to be pure originality. When the industry and market are more mature and everyone can survive, there will be more and more The more people are willing to do it.” From this, he felt that the various series being combined by various labels are actually just a group of animators for warmth, and there is still a long distance from the real “animation universe”: “The universe Generally, they come from different creations, and they have rules that run through them. These rules often come from producers. Only one producer can coordinate countless top creators to build a goal together. Only in China can really build a producer center Only by controlling the system will there be a mature and successful universe.”

“Jiang Ziya” poster

This coincides with Wang Shuang’s point of view: “The origin of the problem is commercial reasons. Our current film industry is still too commercial-based. From this perspective, if there is a way to attract people quickly, it must be Myth. It is a safer way and a way to do more with less. The original is too difficult to succeed, and even if it succeeds, its sequel or serialization will be even more difficult.”

Yu Zhou has a deep understanding of this. The first three films of Chasing Light were purely original works, but the market response was unsatisfactory. It was not until “White Snake: Origin” that the loss was finally reversed. Many times he thinks that after waiting for one or two works, the brand of chasing the light can build up its appeal, and then their original space can become larger.

Things may be changing. In the next step, Chasing Light is preparing to launch a “New Culture Series”. The opening “Chang’an 30,000 Miles” will use epic brush and ink to show the picture of the Tang Dynasty from its prosperity and decline. Wang Shuang is also creating an animation based on Chinese science fiction IP. work. On a larger scale, “Deep Sea”, which Tian Xiaopeng has been working on for several years, will show a mysterious underwater world, Sunac Animation will adapt “Wolf Totem”, and Beijing’s wonderful “China Youth Universe” will still exist after “Lion Boy” The “Dart Man”, born out of the well-known Chinese comics, will interpret a martial arts story of the Sui Dynasty…

More expectations may also be found in a circle that has received little attention – independent animation. Around the millennium, the first batch of “Flashers” were born in China. These folk amateurs, through the simple and easy-to-operate Flash software, turned the wild ideas in their heads and the looming feelings in their hearts into one after another. A slightly rough but energetic animation. Tian Xiaopeng, Jiaozi, Liang Xuan, and Bu Sifan, who are now standing on the forefront of commercial animation, were once unknown members of thousands of “Shanke” Chinese nationals. And their former companion, Pi San, still sticks to the free frontier of independent animation. In 2011, he launched China’s first non-profit, non-governmental animation film art project “China Independent Animation Film Forum”, which continued to explore and encourage those vigorous and fresh potential forces for Chinese animation.

“Independent animation is accomplishing some things that commercial films have not done. It allows animators to have more space for expression outside the mainstream environment, allowing everyone to see some different Chinese animations.” Wang Shuang told China News Weekly “Say.

Published in the 1051st issue of “China News Weekly” magazine on July 11, 2022

Magazine Title: Chinese Animated Film: Nezha’s Rebirth with the Return of the Great Sage

Reporter: Xu Pengyuan

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