The Next Big Thing

China’s Original Force hires DreamWorks veterans, heads to Hollywood to make 'major' CGI film every 18 months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 August, 2015, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 August, 2015, 12:52pm

Top Chinese digital animation studio Original Force has set up a film unit in Los Angeles, and is now working on its first original feature to feed demand in the world’s second-biggest movie market and globally. 

Backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent, the company aims to churn out one high-quality CGI movie every year and a half. It already produces animations for Disney, DreamWorks Television, Sony and Electronic Arts and has specialized in animation for video games like Grand Theft Auto V.

The success of DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda in 2008 threw light on the potential lucre that animations with Chinese motifs or themes could yield from a sometimes creatively starved Chinese audience.

And as the country shifts from a manufacturing to consumption-led society, the move to produce more of its own filmic content seems well-timed.

Directed by Chris Jenkins, producer of the recent DreamWorks’ hit Home, Original Force’s Duck Duck Goose revolves around a free-spirited protagonist named Peng who rescues two ducklings, Chi and Chao, and becomes a surrogate father to them.

If the plot sounds tame and the name lacking in imagination, don’t underestimate the creative powers behind the project. A second feature is also rumoured to be in pre-production, although no details have yet been made available.

READ MORE: Chinese internet giants like Alibaba, Tencent may devour domestic movie industry as ecosystem shifts, pundits predict

Jenkins, a former Disney effects animator, co-wrote the script for Duck Duck Goose. Moreover, the company has hired two industry veterans to run its new motion picture division in Hollywood.

Tag team Penney Finkelman Cox and Sandra Rabins produced hits like Antz and Shrek while at DreamWorks before moving on to set up Sony’s animation unit in 2002, where they soon started spewing out more success stories like Open Season

Open Force joins the ranks of Chinese companies like Huayi Bros and Fosun International that are investing in Hollywood in the hope of ultimately exporting its sophisticated filmmaking technology and expertise back to China.

E-commerce powerhouse Alibaba also has its own motion picture unit, Alibaba Pictures Group, which announced a partnership in June with Paramount Pictures to promote the studio’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation starring Tom Cruise in China. 

Original Force’s move into Hollywood comes as China’s animation industry is enjoying a boom at home. 

Chinese live-action/CGI hybrid Monster Hunt has already raked in US$331 million domestically, making it the most successful Chinese movie to date, and the No. 2 film ever at the Chinese box-office after Furious 7

It was directed by Hong Kong’s Raman Hui, a former director at DreamWorks Animation, and leapfrogged Transformers: Age of Extinction to claim second place.

With China stretching its annual blackout on foreign movies at domestic theatres to a seventh week, debate is stirring as to whether Monster Hunt will be able to catch up with Furious 7 in terms of box-office takings and give China another accolade to feel proud of. 

READ MORE: How drugs scandal almost derailed Monster Hunt, Chinese hit movie

The sometimes preachy but never dull Hollywood hit about family values, fast cars and a game-changing piece of surveillance technology pulled in US$395 million in China, meaning that Hui’s 3D fantasy adventure film may still have enough gas left in the tank to overtake it.

More good news came last month when the Chinese animated film Monkey King: Hero is Back grossed more in two weeks (620 million yuan, or US$97 million) than Kung Fu Panda 2 did in its entire run at Chinese theatres in 2011, making Monkey King the highest-grossing animated film in China to date.