Shenzhen may seem an unlikely place for Hollywood's top computer graphics experts to be hanging out, but thanks to the efforts of brothers Anthony and Raymond Neoh, this fast-growing city is at the cutting edge of the entertainment industry's digital revolution. The brothers head up Global Digital Creations (GDC), which is close to completing a feature-length 3D animated film, Thru The Moebius Strip, based on designs by French graphic artist Jean 'Moebius' Giraud. Described as a sci-fi family adventure, the film tells the story of a 14-year-old boy who goes in search of his missing scientist father only to find himself transported to an alien world populated by giants. A team of about 200 animators has worked on the film, supervised by some of Hollywood's leading talents in the field of digital animation, including co-director Frank Foster, who supervised the computer graphic (CG) work in Johnny Mnemonic, and art director Fred Cline, who worked on The Little Mermaid and Jimmy Neutron. The animators are all Chinese - fine arts graduates from every mainland province apart from Tibet - and almost all have learnt their craft at GDC's training facility at Shenzhen University. 'At present, we don't really have a computer graphics industry in Asia. It's all in the US,' says Raymond Neoh, who is from Hong Kong but worked in the CG industry in California until 1996. 'Japan and Korea produce games but no-one is making CG features. Our vision is to drive the development of the digital content industry in China so we can compete at an international level.' China has a large supply of animators, but like the South Korean artists who helped animate The Simpsons, most are working on overseas projects rather than local productions. The Neoh brothers hope to change this by turning out a large workforce equipped with the latest CG skills and the confidence to pursue their own ideas. GDC has trained 450 students since opening its school in 2000, more than half of whom have been hired by the company to work on its films and TV series. The nine-month course costs US$2,000 - a huge sum in a country with an annual per capita income of less than US$900 - but the students are taught the latest CG techniques and guest lecturers are regularly flown in from the US. 'The real heroes of this venture are the people,' says Anthony Neoh, a Hong Kong lawyer and GDC chairman. 'You can't measure the benefits to culture or the economy of a talent pool like this. It's not something you can write down on a balance sheet.' Even the most highly trained Chinese animators are paid much less than their US counterparts, so GDC has been able to produce a full-length CG feature for US$20m, compared with about US$100m for films such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Students are paid about 3,000-5,000 yuan a month once they come on staff. Although this is far above China's average monthly income, it's a fraction of the salary earned by animators in the US. The low costs have enabled GDC to fully finance the film rather than turn to foreign investors. As a result, it's retained rights to distribute it around the world, as well as create potentially lucrative merchandising. The film is due for completion in mid-April and the Neoh brothers have started arranging international distribution. 'We're planning to get the film released in the US first to give it maximum publicity,' Anthony says. While the film doesn't feature any real-life stars to draw the crowds, the brothers hope that the involvement of Jean Giraud will raise audience interest. The French animator has achieved cult status, thanks to his comic strips in magazines such as Hari-Kiri and Heavy Metal, and has also contributed designs to films such as Alien, The Abyss and The Fifth Element. He created all the reference materials used by the animators at GDC, and has visited the Shenzhen facility several times to see how the film is progressing. Meanwhile, GDC's studio has started work on a 52-episode animated TV series, Panshel's World, about a flying panda, and there are plans for a second CG feature, The Eyes Of The Dragon. The company is expanding its training programme: a second centre recently opened in Shanghai, and there are plans for a facility in Chengdu that will have room for 1,000 animators and students. As well, GDC is involved in digital content distribution - it provides digital technology to hundreds of cinemas in China and India - and is moving into the British market after signing a contract for 250 digital screens with the UK Film Council. 'Governments everywhere are pouring money into the digital content industry because it has such high value,' Raymond says. 'It doesn't create pollution, and you can transport the product everywhere at a low cost. But it's a very labour-intensive industry, and you also need technology and creativity. That's what we aim to provide.'