Booming creativity in China – Jeffrey Towson

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Jeffrey Towson

More than a million Chinese graduated over the past years in art and design. Beida business professor Jeffrey Towson visited earlier Oriental DreamWorks and explains at his weblog why creativity is a booming business in China. The best of two world’s approach.

Jeffrey Towson:

At ODW’s offices, I interviewed their creative head Peilin Chou and got a tour. Walking around their offices, you could see their animators (they call them artists) working in teams on everything from story ideas to designing the hair and surfacing of various characters. Overall, it’s impressive – but as a finance creature I do find the whole creative process a bit of a mystery.

My discussion with Chou mostly focused on their creative professionals. I wanted to know where they come from and how they work together to create the animated films. ODW does appear to be producing a level of quality mostly unmatched in China for animation. And the key to this appears to be how they combine young Chinese artists with Hollywood expertise and experience.

ODW had about 250 staff total, with the creative team having about 150 artists and animators. Their artists were over 90% native Chinese, and mostly trained at China’s art and design schools. The staff overseeing project development were about 50% native Chinese and 50% Chinese-Americans with Hollywood experience. So it’s a hybrid “best of both worlds” approach.

The first major work by ODW was the January 2016 release of Kung Fu Panda 3. It was the top grossing animated movie in China at that time. And it is a compelling example of what world-class movies, made mostly by Chinese talent, can look like. The characters spoke fluent Mandarin and story was full of cultural subtleties that foreign audiences probably missed. The movie stood out as both high quality but also uniquely Chinese.

Two other people to keep in mind when thinking about ODW are its famous founders. There is Li Ruigang, head of China Media Capital. Li is arguably at the forefront of creative China and has long been a “partner of choice” for Hollywood in China.

And there is DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has been consistently ahead of the curve when it comes to China. His launch of Oriental Dreamworks in 2012 was an important first in terms of joint venture studios in China. However, prior to this he was also the person who created Disney’s film Mulan, the first animated movie based on a Chinese character. And prior to that he was the studio executive who approved The Joy Luck Club, the first major Hollywood movie about Chinese-American families. Around the same time, he was also responsible for creating a Disney internship program that brought some of the first Asian-Americans into the Hollywood studio system.

According to Peilin Chou, “Jeffrey[Katzenberg] has always been a visionary who understood that a great story is a great story. And regardless of the culture, audiences worldwide will tune in for a great story. In addition, he has always had a genuine passion and love for China.” Chou, a Hollywood veteran and now rising star in China, was one of the first four interns selected for Katzenberg’s internship program back in 1994.

The Chinese education is a big part of this story. I am a professor at Peking University so I do have a reasonable view of the education system. And it is impossible not to notice the huge improvements in students over the past five years. They have become much smarter and more sophisticated. And they are shockingly ambitious. So the idea that there are similar advances in arts and culture is not surprising to me.

More at Jeffrey Towson’s weblog.

Jeffrey Towson is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

Are you looking for more experts on cultural change at the China Speakers Bureau? Do check out this list.