16 Jan 2013
Leslie Chin of Asia Animation says the company’s animation are created with an international audience in mind
Hong Kong toy entrepreneur YT Chin set up the M&C Toy Centre in 1979, with ambitions to create his own toy brands.
“In Hong Kong, there are a lot of toy manufacturers who are in the OEM business,” said his son Leslie. “But we don’t think that’s really the toy business. We would call it the manufacturing business because it’s not their original ideas.”
That business philosophy continued 30 years later when the company expanded into the animation business, setting up Asia Animation after acquiring Shenzhen-based studio Puzzle Animation in 2005.
“My father saw Ninja Turtles about 20 years ago and thought, ‘why couldn’t a Chinese studio create some characters and create toys as well?’” That ambition came to fruition in 2010, when Asia Animation launched AI Football GGO, its first animated series.
“We had pretty good reception" Mr Chin said. "The quality of the animation was something that Chinese kids had never seen before, because they’re always look at animal characters. So this was something that was new to them.”
Different Ball Game
|Ori-Princess, launched in late 2011, has proven to be a big hit on the Chinese mainland|
Familiarising themselves with the business of animation was a steep learning curve for Leslie and his brother, who run the studio. “It’s a totally different ball game from the toy business,” he said. “For the first two to three years, my brother and I stayed in the studio tirelessly, getting to know how the animation business and the production process worked. There was a lot of hard work.”
To build the studio’s reputation, they began by acquiring established Hong Kong licenses, including Master Q and Storm Rider. “After doing several feature films and TV series from famous licensors in Hong Kong, the studio built a reputation for quality animation. That’s when we started thinking that it was time to make our own brands.”
A year after launching its first character series, it launched the second one in 2011, Ori-Princess, targeting young girls. The latest offering has taken the mainland by storm, with 154 million views on the Internet since launching 13 months ago.
“We can see that Ori Princess is going to be big in China in 2014, based on its Internet hit rate and feedback from kids in China,” Mr Chin said. “In some areas, like Wuhan, we broke the all-time TV rating for that time period.” Such was the positive feedback that a feature film of Ori Princess now in the works is set to debut in 2014.
|AI Football GGO was the first animated TV series launched in South Africa during the 2010 |
Mr Chin said that all of the company’s characters are created with a global audience in mind. “When we choose our topics, we always aim for an international audience, unlike the Chinese studios, which always first focus on the Chinese domestic market. But that’s not our aim.”
He said the family’s toy business, with its long history of dealing with international buyers, helped shape that philosophy, as well as the type of characters they create.
While the studio is based in Shenzhen, the creative process is handled out of Hong Kong – from story and script development to character design. “Chinese studios make good quality animation by executing the product well. But at the end of the day, Hong Kong is more international,” he said.
Its characters’ wide appeal has allowed Asia Animation to branch into licensing, with such product offerings as plush toys, biscuits and school bags. Exhibiting for the first time at the HKTDC Hong Kong International Licensing Show earlier this month, the company believes that there are still many sectors to enter, including apparel and toiletries.
|Paula & Friends, an educational TV series, will launch on the mainland this year|
Before branching into licensing, though, Mr Chin advises companies to focus on building a strong brand. “The hardest part is establishing your brand in a new market,” he said. “Even if you get in, it’s not 100 per cent guaranteed to be popular. Even if you do a lot of licensing but your brand is not well-established, no one’s going to know the character.”
This year will see the company introduce two new animation series: the educational programme Paula and Friends, which will launch on the mainland early this year, and World Peacekeepers in October.
Mr Chin said the company continues to build on the success they’ve had so far. “We believe a well-established brand will take at least five years. So we’ll keep creating our new series every two years, and make new films.”