Red 视频 – Animation from China

Known as Red (real name Tao Zhi Qiang). The film exhibits extraordinary craftsmanship and storytelling. For the past two years he made every single person, place and thing, in this heart-wrenching tale of wartorn Nagasaki before the atomic bomb blasted the life out of the Japanese city.

You can watch it here.

The animation starts off innocent enough and because its an animation you don’t expect what you see as it goes on. Really nice short, worth a watch.

A Chinese Distinction

It all began with an illusion.  A cylindrical device with narrow slits cut along the sides provided the first glimpse of a moving motion picture, the humble beginnings of modern day animation.  The invention was given the title “Zoetrope”.  The life turner.  A contraption in which a series of little characters could be viewed, as it’s spinning motion tricked the eyes from behind the slits into believing the characters themselves were moving, leaping, running, living.  It was a moving story, alive and birthed through the hands of Chinese inventor Ting Huan in the long ago days around 180 A. D.

Despite this birth however, it was not until hundreds of years later in the early 1920s that a group of four men, known as The Wan Brothers produced the first filmed animations.  In 1922 an advertisement for the Shuzhendong Chinese Typwriter saw Wan Laiming reveal the first documented animation piece.  This film clip was closely chased by subsequent cartoon shorts produced by The Wan Brothers, who had successfully grabbed the position of China’s animation pioneers.

 

From the beginning The Wan Brothers sought to ensure that their animations were not just entertaining.  They wanted their films to instruct and provide lessons for the young minds of China and they also wanted to produce an animation quality that was specifically Chinese.  China’s animations were not yet to be a thing of the future but were merely a new medium to promote ancient tales and traditional Chinese style.  The old culture and art was simply being showcased in a new way and for many years China drew much of its inspiration from ancient folklores.

Whilst the western world’s kids gobbled up the images of “Popeye” the sailor man and “Betty Boop” the children of China were feasting their eyes on animations such as “Princess Iron Fan” and “Uproar in Heaven”, both of which were adapted from the Chinese folklore “Journey to the West”.    China’s aim to make sure it’s culture and traditions were translated into film is overwhelmingly obvious to anyone who would wish to compare say “Popeye” with “Uproar in Heaven” and it is here that some clear distinctions can be seen.

 

Whilst “Popeye the Sailor Man” is an arguably simple character both in terms of stylisation and personality,  “Sun Wukong “or the “Monkey King”, the main character seen in “Uproar in Heaven”, reeks of Chinese culture.  “Uproar in Heaven” contains not only a much more complex storyline but also the colourful and flamboyant character style and traditional Chinese musical accompaniments, inspired by the Beijing Opera traditions, set it apart from any other countries animations.

 

China’s animation industry steadily grew throughout the mid 1900’s with the first Chinese coloured animation “Why is the Crow Black Coated” appearing, courtesy of The Wan Brothers, in 1956.   At this point in the animation story China was still pretty much on a par with other countries film pieces, at least technologically speaking, however, China’s desire to keep animations so close to home in terms of style and message was still blatantly transparent.

“Why is the Crow Black Coated”, although the first Chinese animation to be noted internationally, was again driving home an instructional message to its audiences.   This was not just for entertainments sake.  Take heed, it said.  All life is not a “happily ever after” story, especially if you are a pompous and somewhat arrogant bird (the main character seen in “Why is the Crow Black Coated”) who is lazy and neglects to prepare for the winter.  “There are consequences” China’s animation said.  The bird, though beautiful, did not prepare for the winter like the other animals and thus, found himself cold and without a home.  A forest fire seems like an unlikely friend to our poor freezing bird, however, life teaches a quick lesson and the bird burns his tail feathers black.  No longer a beautiful bird but a black crow.  The western world sold “happily ever after” and China continued to instruct.

 

Distinctions in Chinese animation further grew as China’s style took on new techniques, mainly folk art cut-paper animation and origami animation, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Again these animations were based in Chinese Folk tales and there style was China all the way.  Clear examples of these types of animations can be seen in films such as “Pigsy Eats Watermelon” and “A Clever Duckling”.

 

Although in times closer to ours China has tried to adapt it’s animation industry to compete with the likes of America and its neighbour Japan, they seem to be struggling to keep up the currant pace, and one might argue that there would still be some clear distinctions undermining China’s present animation status when films like “Kung Fu Panda” were created by the Americans and not the Chinese.

 

Jewellery and traditional beliefs

Today, China is known for being one of the largest producers of pearls. It is a very ancient artistic tradition, but China began to use precious metals relatively late. Rare references for ornaments date from the Tang period (618-906). At the beginning of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), the Chinese showed great interest in jewellery influenced by Persia and India. Only toward of the end of the 11th century, we can see local characteristics. The most important type of jewel was worn on the head like tiaras and diadems. We can see many influences in Chinese jewels from the Himalaya region (Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan), where the traditional skills were trekked from village to village, tribe to tribe. The jewellery traditions of the Far East reflect this immense environmental, cultural and economic diversity. However, many jewellery traditions were stopped during the time of communism, where personal adornment was severely criticised by the government. Only official badges and medals were authorized, in order to show one’s pride and loyalty to the party. Since the end of Mao Tse Tung reign, the Chinese have recovered the skills and knowledge to make ancient and traditional jewellery work.

Punched work, pierced work, and filigree are characteristics of Chinese jewellery. Their jewellery is seen to provide power and strength to the wearer. Animals were representative and symbolic. For example,  the dragon symbolized power and good luck, the goldfish for abundance of gold, the phoenix for good fortune, opportunity and luck, and many others like bird, tiger, monkey, bat, peacock. Clouds, flowers and twigs were also symbols of good luck. Colours and semi precious stones were worn in order to give power, but also to cure some diseases, give longevity, and to be healthy.  The most famous stones used for many centuries are coral, turquoise and jade.

Hair ornament, gilded silver, turquoise, coral and seed pearls.

Hair ornament, gilded silver, turquoise, coral and seed pearls.

Turquoise is seen as a “living stone” that shares the ultimate fate of the mortal that wear it. Its colour symbolizes water, air and sky. This stone can counteract devil forces and make the wearer brave and invulnerable. In addition, seeing it in a dream may bring you good luck.

Coral is supposed to bring good luck, strength to women, and favourable effects on menstruation. The most desired variety is the Italian coral. It was brought by the Silk Road and was only worn by the wealthiest class. Marco Polo noted that Tibetans ranked coral among the precious stones and used it to adorn the necks of their women and idols.

Turquoise and coral were used to make amulet boxes in silver, gold or copper. Hidden spells or prayers in the boxes were used to appease evil spirits, while the decoration was symbolic to strengthen power content.

amulet box made with turquoise and coral stones

The blue turquoise colour was also given by enamel or by the very traditional Chinese process: using Kingfisher feathers. The technique, called tian-tsui, means “dotting with kingfishers” that involves using glue to adhere the feathers onto vermeil, or silver. The Kingfisher bird is highly esteemed by the Chinese for its colour and celebrated in poetry and song by Chinese from ancient times. Over the centuries, the Kingfisher’s blue colour feather became highly prized and extremely sought after as an inlay in decorative arts. Kingfisher feather were used by the Chinese to denote status, wealth and royalty. Today that tradition has disappeared; many birds were killed during the Qing dynasty just in order to collect their feathers and the skill of tian tsui has disappeared as well. But we can still see very wonderful pieces in museums.

hair ornament made with kingfisher feathers

chinese necklace and earings made with coral beads and kingfisher feathers

This portrait of the wife of a high dignitary is painted on silk. It was made during the 1st Ming dynasty (early 15th century). She’s wearing a traditional headdress, which constituted with phoenix, clouds and flowers. The red beads were probably coral and the clouds in blue are made with kingfisher feathers to symbolize air and sky. We can also see turquoise beads on the pendants and pearls.

Turquoise, coral and pearls are very famous in Chinese jewellery. But the most famous stone is obviously the Jade. Not only for jewellery making, also for decorative objects, dishes, vases, hair comb… We found utilization of jade as jewel since Palaeolithic (hunter-gatherers) period with perforated beads at Zhoukoudian. But it’s during the Neolithic period the “art of jade” have started, caring in the Zhejiang province (5000 BC). The massive production of finely polished pendants and beads were being produced in South-East China during the 3rd millennium before Christ.  In ancient time, Jade was most expensive than gold. For example during the Imperial China, the first prize for an athlete was jade, after gold for the second place and at the third place ivory.

Jade often has a green colour, but the most rare and luxurious one is the white jade.  Many colours can be found: pink, orange or light brown, blue, black. The different colours are created by different types of chemical components: the green jade contains chromium salts, the blue-green jade contains cobalt salts, the black jade contains titanium salts, and the pink jade contains salts of iron and manganese.

traditional jade bangle made in various colours

In ancient China, jade was used in rituals and sacrifices. According to ancient Chinese beliefs, the sky was round and the earth was square. A jade ornament with a round hole in the middle, called “bi”, symbolized the sky. A jewel of long hollow jade with rectangular sides, called “cong”, symbolized the earth. The bi was often placed with the corpse before burial as jade cicada was used to symbolize rebirth.

China, late Eastern Zhou dynasty or early Western Han dynasty 3rd – 2nd century BC Diameter: 5 1/8 inches, 13 cm Thickness: 1/8 inch, 0.4 cm

In the Han Dynasty, some leaders were buried in suits made entirely of jade. It was made of many pieces with various shapes, usually square, that were held together by thin threads of precious metal or silk, like the shroud of King of Chu. These extremely expensive structures were reserved only for elites. It is estimated that it took several years to achieve this kind of ritual costume that consists of 2000 to 5000 pieces! The Chinese believed that jade had magical properties and protected the corpse from decomposition.

jade shroud made with white jade and gold thread, Han dynasty.

Jade is still being used today, although the techniques have changed with technology the jade objects as talismans, “bi” or decorative objects are still used in Chinese culture, and popular with tourists as souvenirs.

The Future of Chinese Animation

The future. What does it hold in store for China and it’sanimation industry? What studios are making changes and being noticed for adapting to a more world wide audience?

 When we speak of animation from Asia, we tend to think of Japanese works similar to the ‘Death Note’ animations or releases from Studio Ghibli, such as ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ or ‘Pom Poko’. The gap is evident, and is backed by Zhang Hongjian who is head of Hangzhou’s Department of Publicity and Information. He states that:

 ‘There is a remarkable gap between China’s animation and cartoon industry and that of Japan. In fact, China lags behind at least 10 years in terms of technique and originality.’

Little do we know, as westerners, of Chinese animation and their industry. A lot of this is to do with the political power that Mao had over the country in the 60’s and 70’s. Not allowing China to produce animations, unless having a political stance similar to his own, he basically shut down the industry and forced studios to close if they did not co-operate.

Roughly forty years on however, things have changed. There is a steady growth in the animation industry in China and the figures for industry production value, which includes TV series’, films and internet animation, topped CNY20.8 billion in 2010. This is expected to increase to CNY50 billion in 2015, if economic growth and government-led protective policies are still steady and on an upward trend.

And the trend does seem to be constantly improving, with Xing Xing Studio’s having landed animation work on Madagascar, Fireman Sam and work with Lego. They have also started to be recognised by western companies for their visual effects work and have recently worked on films such as Changeling, Twilight and Tropic Thunder.

By not limiting themselves to just animation, they have expanded into the world of visual effects, gaming and the use of flash animation. The person to thank for this? Lifeng Wang. At 14 he entered the University of Science and Technology of China and also studied in British Columbia, completing his Masters. Starting off with just 5 artists, he now employs over 250 artists at Xing Xing. Lifeng’s understanding of both western and Asian business cultures, has developed the company into a leading company in China at this time.

It is because of people like Linfeng, who have studied in China and abroad, who can really change what the industry is in China. He has brought in a multi-cultural feel to Xing Xing and has many specialist in different areas of the company.

The film Kung Fu Panda might ring a bell to many readers, but did you know that this film and it’s sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2 (funnily enough) are some of the biggest grossing animated films in the region of all time? Kung Fu Panda actually grossed over $100 million!

And the creators of Kung Fu Panda…DreamWorks Animation. Now recently, ie 17-02-2012, DreamWorks Animation announced they are to team up with China Media Capital, with the idea to include Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd. The idea they have? To create Oriental DreamWorks. Their aim is simple, to create high quality Chinese animation and live action, and have it distributed across the globe for all to see. Not only will they distribute Chinese animation and film throughout the world, they intend to build theme parks, live entertainment, mobile and consumer products, within each brand. The enterprise, which is due to kick start later this year in Shanghai, is estimated to be worth $330 million.

With this being announced, I can personally see the Chinese animation and film industry continually growing until it is at the top of the tree. With massive companies such as DreamWorks investing in Chinese companies to produce high quality goods is a great boost to, not only the Chinese economy, but also to the film industry. With Xing Xing also having had visits from Cartoon Network and Pixar, the only way is up for Chinese animation.


Chinese Animation

Chinese animation began in 1918 when a piece from the United States names “Out of the Inkwell” came to Shanghai. The cartoon clips were used in advertisements for domestic products, however, the animation industry did not begin until the introduction of the WanSi Brothers in 1926. Until the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Chinese animation was relatively on pace with the rest of the world, a sort of golden age of Chinese animation. I was during this time that films such as “The Camel’s Dance”,the first Chinese film with sound, and the first film of notable length, “Princess Iron Fan” were created. During the Cultural Revolution, many animators were forced to quit either because of the harsh economic conditions or because of the general mistreatment given by the Red Guards. Any surviving animators started to lean closer to propaganda and by the 1980’s, China had been left behind and Japan had emerged as the dominating force in animation in the far east. However, two major changes took place in the 1990’s that brought about some of the biggest changes since the exploration period. The first of these was a political change, the application of a socialist market. This pushed out the traditional planned economy systems meaning that it would no longer be a single entity that was in control of the industries output and income. The second change was a technological change brought about by the arrival of the internet, this bringing new opportunities in the form of Flash animations. Today China is drastically reinventing itself within the animation industry with its influences coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Still from "Princess Iron Fan"

In the 1920’s, the WanSi brothers believed that their animations should focus on a style that was distinctly Chinese. This feeling stayed with the company for decades, as such the animations were an extension on other aspects of Chinese art and culture and as such drew most of its content from ancient folklore and manhua. A good example of traditional Chinese animation would be the character Monkey King who was derived from classic Chinese literature “Journey to the West.”.

The first Flash animation community in China was FlashEmpire. It made it’s first appearance in September of 1999. Although it’s content was generally quite amateurish, it was one of the first to offer any form of user created content in mainland China. By 2000 it averaged around 10,000 views daily and with more that 5000 individual pieces of work published, today it has over one million members. Sometime in 2001 Xiao Xiao was created. This is a series of animations about kung fu stick figures. These animations became popular gaining more that fifty million hits, most of these gained in mainland China.

The concept of Chinese animation has begun to loosen up in more recent years, however, it does not lock onto any particular style. The largest change was in 1995 with the release of “Cyber Weapon Z.” Whilst the style is barely indistinguishable from any other anime it has still be categorized as Chinese animation.

In 2001, Time Magazine Asian Edition rated Taiwanese webtoon character A-Kuei as one of the top 100 new figures in Asia. The characters appearance with it’s large head seems to lean more towards a children’s cartoon. These changes signify a welcoming change in Chinese character design as the traditional characters of the folklore like characters have had a hard time gaining international appeal.

A-Kuei

It was published in the first weekly Chinese animation magazine, GoGo Top Magazine, that only one out of twenty favourite characters among children was actually created in China. The Chinese Mainland Marketing Research Company asked 540 kids in four of the mainland cities what their favourite cartoons were, six were Japanese, two were Us made and two were produced in China. It is reported that only around eleven percent of Chinese young people claim to prefer Chinese made cartoons.