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.

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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.

Assignment 2: China and Animation

China is believed to be one of the biggest animation markets on the planet. It has a population of 1.3 Billion, with 370 million of them being children. A survey carried out by the ‘Quatech Market Research Company’ concluded that citizens from the age of 14 to that of around 30 in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing spent over RMB 1.3 billion Yuan on cartoons every year. However, 80% of this was spent on animation from other countries. It has been said that only 11% of China’s youth prefer animation made locally. The other 89% prefer works predominantly from Japan and also a good deal from America. It is in the opinion of many that Chinese cartoons focus too much on education and not enough of on entertainment. 60% of China’s youngsters prefer Japanese animation which is probably due to the fact that Japanese plots introduce more true to life problems that children have to face, making their characters more relatable to the viewers than compared to characters found in Chinese animations. According to Japanese cartoonist Chiba Tetsuya, “Chinese cartoonists are as good as Japanese ones, if not better…But a good cartoon requires not only good drawings, but also an interesting plot. Chinese cartoonists need to spend more time on creating adventure story lines and on upgrading their story skills.”

Chinese animation has been said to be influenced by other forms of art and historical and cultural events and also obtaining a lot of influence from ancient folklore and Chinese manhua. Manhua are Chinese comic books sharing similarities to Japanese Manga and Korean manhwa. However, unlike manga, modern day manhua usually comes in full colour with some panels created completely in paint for single issue format. Chinese manhua originated in the late 19th century to the early 20th century. It is said that manhua was developed in some way from small picture books called Lianhuanhua and these became popular in Shanghai in the 1920s.

It is undeniable that China, as it presently stands, isn’t exactly renowned for its outstanding animation. However, one cannot say that they didn’t play role in the innovation of the art form at all. Around 180 AD Ting Huan, an inventor created the earliest version of the Zoetrope. This device, made of semi-transparent paper of mica panels, was hung over a lamp. The Zoetrope would spin with the rising air creating the impression that the images that were painted on the zoetrope were moving. Although, China may have lagged behind in the progression of the animation industry over time, it can still be seen that the country was already ahead of its time in regards to the very concept behind animation itself.

The earliest examples of animation to hit China, was the series ‘Out of the Inkwell’ which was released in 1918. That and many other examples from Europe and America influenced the trend in China greatly. The first Chinese animation was created by Wan Laiming in 1922 for the shuzendong Chinese Typewriter. Shortly after, Wan Laiming and his brothers Wan Dihuan, Wan Guchan and Wan Chaochen formed together and worked for the Great Wall Film Company. There, they made many advances in animation. The Wan Brothers, as they became known, wanted to create a style that was distinctly Chinese. It was common place during this period to use the combination of live action footage and traditional 2D animation. The first animation they made was a 10-12 minute long piece called ‘Uproar in the Studio’. In 1935, they went on to create China’s first animation with sound ‘The Camel’s Dance’ and in 1941, created one of the most well renowned Chinese animated feature films, ‘Princess Iron Fan’. The story of this animation was apparently influenced in some way from the Chinese folk tale ‘Journey to the West’. It was the first animated feature film to be presented in Asia. The film was produced by a team of 237 artists under the supervision of the Wan Brothers and it was done using rotoscoping during the Second World War. It cost over 350, 000 Yuan and was over 20,000 frames in total.

The movie was said to have had a great impact on animation in Asia, and in particular, inspired Japan to also develop a feature-length animation ‘Momataro’s Divine Sea Warrior’. In 1956 the Wan Brothers went on to develop ‘Why is the Crow Black-Coated’ which was one of the first coloured Chinese animations and is recognised world-wide. A mere two years later, the brothers went on to create animations using cut paper based on folk art. Examples of this style can be seen in ‘Pigsy Eats Watermelon’. In addition to this, the animator Yu Zheguang established another new method of animating using origami in the film ‘A Clever Duckling’. However, the progress of Chinese animation didn’t stop there. The Wan Brothers were yet to create their most recognised film ‘Havoc in Heaven’. The film broke boundaries in technique, colour and skill and was 2 hours long. The Film took almost 4 years to complete.

After the Cultural Revolution however, it is said that animation took an almost stand-still. Over the 20 years from 1960 to 1989, predominantly American shows were imported to Hong Kong. In regards to Asian animation, Japan had taken the forefront with popular anime shows that were exported to Hong Kong, Europe and the U.S. China had, and still to this day, has strong competition for interest,  not only word-wide, but also at home. Nevertheless, The Shanghai Animation Studio, which the Wang Brothers and many other popular artists became part of in the1940s launched a further 219 animated movies in the 1980s. Some of these animations such as ‘Three Monks’ and ‘Feeling from Mountain and Water’ went on to become award winners.

Despite this from the 1990s onwards, Chinese animation was ousted from the public eye with the global commercialisation of American and Japanese works. It can be seen today that China are still improving their skills, however it’s almost as though they are losing the feeling of an animation that was distinctly Chinese. It has been claimed that China is adopting western and Japanese styles, even in modern works of manhua, and in turn losing the sense of culture and individuality that they had endeavoured to preserve all those years. Yet, in spite of all this negative opinion, near the end of the millennium, China was introduced to the internet. This has provided China with a new means of getting their animation out to the world, and allowed for more freedom instead of everything being, in the words of Jin Guoping (shanghai Studio Director) ‘ decided by …the government’. China appears to have had its ups and downs in this area, and although it’s never quite held a place at the forefront in the progression of the animation industry globally, after all this time, the country’s still improving to this day. In this time, amidst the remarkable growth of China, one can only wonder if it will ever become a recognised figure in the industry as it has been threatening to do for all these years.

Why China has failed to make a big influential impact on western animation

Affirmation of creative interest in rendering the figure in motion date way back to the still drawings of palaeolithic cave paintings. More examples can be found in such art of the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Because they had not yet acquired the means to bring these artistic depictions to real movement, they represented them in still images.

However, the first invention to bring these figurative drawings to life with motion was the zoetrope. the earliest zoetrope was created in China by inventor Ting Huan. the zoetrope is a spinning cylinder with still images on the inner wall and open slits around the circumference, that when looked through, show the images inside which appear to be moving if spun at the right speed. The zoetrope was one of the first significant developments in animation history.

However, since the invention of the zoetrope which spun off the fascination with animated film, China’s influence in the industry has rapidly dropped. Textiles, jewellery and other areas of chinese design have become very successful worldwide due to the synthetic traditional cultural style. However, animation seems to be the one subject where the chinese style has failed to innovate foreign tastes.

In the year 2000, the government brought into play a policy to further establish the animation industry. By 2010, the minutes of animation produced in China had increased from 4000 in 2003, to 220,000. Although China is showing a clear development in the animation industry, it does not match up to the animation boom occurring world wide. China has a long way to go before it becomes an influential role model in animation.

 

Another reason for China’s seemingly unpopular animation industry is due to lack of support from the Chinese government. restraint on animation content for example could be due to strict government censorship. in order to promote the chinese animation industry, the state administration of radio, film and television banned any foreign cartoons from being broadcast between 5 and 8 p.m in 2006. The government spends lots of money on animation festivals which attract a great deal of attention but fail to successfully promote the animation film industry. This seems rather pointless therefore, when you consider the fact that the money put into these extravagant events, could be spent on centres and materials to improve animation quality.

images taken from the China Internation Cartoon and Animation festival

 

Another reason for the lack of recognition in the Chinese animation industry is perhaps the fact that their neighbouring country Japan is one of the most successful creators of animation in the world. according to John Lent, author of Animation in Asia and the Pacific, one of China’s weak attributes in animation is the story telling. any good story’s they have are summarily turned into big blockbuster motion pictures.

Li Wuwei, elected vice chairman of the 11th national committee of Chinese people’s political consultative conference explains the lack of interest in Chinese animation. ”we are a big country with a rich culture, but not yet a strong cultural influence. one important reason for this is the lack of innovation on culture. Therefore, our cultural industry is weak in its radiation power and attraction.”

One of the cardinal problems with Chinese animation is the industries ambiguous direction of development. Many animation producers have a very distinct lack of knowledge on chinese culture and in order to attract a foreign audience, they unthinkingly abide by rules and models of other animations about the globe. In doing so, they lose that certain sentimental aspect and become less valuable in the animation world. Their productions hold no special influential quality for foreign viewers and alienate any cultural value to those from China.

On the other hand there are certain animators in china who trap themselves within tradition cliche’s, ignoring the integration of other cultures. mainly the story lines are too embedded in Chinese culture to make them playable to audiences abroad. There is a balance to be made before Chinese animation will become popular worldwide.

Princess Iron Fan (1941) China’s first animated feature film