This year’s Asian Animation Summit in Phuket, Thailand, just wrapped. Based on feedback from regional and international broadcasters in attendance, Asian countries have made big strides in animation, and several projects got their attention. Let’s take a look at what reps from Disney, KiKA, Sprout, and more, are keeping an eye on.
KiKA head of fiction and co-productions Sebastian Debertin surprised himself by finding more than three projects of co-production interest by the half-way point of AAS (his first), and was equally impressed by the professionalism of the event. “Cartoon Forum took 20 or more years to get to its level. That Kidscreen and its partners and sponsors were able to create such a professional summit bringing producers, broadcasters and investors together in such a short time is definitely a good thing.”
Specific pitches that got Debertin’s attention were Flying Bark Productions’ 39 x seven-minute interactive food-themed series Lulu (Australia), Anya Animation’s 26 x 22-minute underwater adventure series Blue Yonder (Thailand), and Neon Pumpkin’s 52 x 11-minute CG-animated series ChiChi (South Korea).
Of course the longstanding issue in the region of finding projects with brilliant character design and weaker storytelling has not disappeared overnight. Debertin contends it’s crucial to get story and character right because kids don’t care about technique. “Some series in development from this year’s selections really need writers from North America or Australia, otherwise their projects will not take off,” he adds.
US preschool net Sprout, was on-hand scouting for exclusive content that hasn’t been seen in the United States before as it continues its transition from a library-driven channel to one led by original productions. While Sprout SVP of programming Andrew Beecham expressed concerns similar to Debertin’s, he says it was well worth the trip.
“I’ve seen a lot of really interesting project designs, but the challenge, at least for an American audience, is always how to have fantastic design, but to also have phenomenal storytelling. That is still definitely a challenge for this region,” says Beecham. “This is the first real time I’ve come to the Asian market and it’s a fabulous opportunity. It would be silly for us to ignore this side of the world,” he adds.
“Universal storytelling is always the hardest,” admits Disney Channels US director of international series and co-productions, Daniel Wineman. “But we also don’t want countries to lose what makes them unique. Producers need to keep this, but also marry it to universal themes,” he says.
And one of the original stories that stood out to both Wineman, Debertin, and several other producers and broadcasters, was Australia-based Ludo Studio’s tween-targeted The Strange Chores, which has a development deal with ABC3. “I loved the environments and background designs Ludo Studio created for its supernatural series,” says Debertin.
“There were a lot of wonderful projects and we are kind of specific with our tastes, but The Strange Chores was very interesting,” says Wineman. “And we’ve been tracking Elwood Pie from Australia’s Kapow Pictures for a while, so it’s nice to see the designs fleshed out a little bit more. These are the biggest ones on the radar,” he notes. “But it’s great seeing what some of the other countries are doing, too. Alien Monkeys from South Korea’s CrazyBird Studio has great directing and art direction, which surprised me. We don’t use shorts as much as they are used internationally, but Alien Monkeys is a series I’d be interested to get involved with somehow.”
The non-verbal slapstick series for kids ages six to 12, which has financial support from Korea’s SK Broadband and Synergy Media, also drew interest from Disney Channels Korea and ABC Australia.
“Alien Monkeys was a great South Korean pitch,” says ABC’s commissioning editor of animation Chris Rose, noting how the viewing landscape has changed, given that the majority of funding for the show (60%) was raised by IPTV company SK Broadband. “It’s more of a screen world than a TV world now, but if our producers can secure funding from whatever screen platform they can, then that’s fantastic as long as they have the same editorial values.”
Speaking of second screens, Rovio Entertainment’s supervising producer of animation Tianyi Pan, based in Shanghai, attended AAS for the first time with the goal of wanting to connect with potential partners.
“We don’t necessarily know about everything that is happening here in Asia, so this is a great forum to get a feel for this. We’re starting to open our digital Toons channel to third-party content so we are in scouting mode,” says Pan.
Also in scouting mode for production and distribution opportunities is Henrietta Hurford-Jones, BBC Worldwide’s director of children’s investment, who attended AAS for the first time.
“We have our Asia channels out of Singapore and as we get more mature we’re increasingly looking for projects we might be able to do locally,” says Hurford-Jones. “It would be more short-form, not long-form, but I’m always looking for things that would work for all our channels internationally and being able to keep up with what’s going on in Asia is really important.”
According to ABC’s Rose, the standard of projects was very high at this year’s event.
“People are excited about the opportunities the AAS affords to them as producers, but I also think broadcasters from overseas are really seeing the kind of creative work that is being undertaken in the different regions,” he says. “I think the AAS will continue to grow as more Asian regions become more interested in the Summit. Hopefully it will become a very good regional event.”