In China, should I launch the Animated TV Series or Feature Film first?

These are some of my recent analysis of the China Market. They are just my early findings. (So I am not saying that one should do this or that.) But I hope these findings are useful to you. Something you can think about.

The topic for today’s discussion is …..
” In China, should I launch the Animated TV Series or Feature Film first?”

Based on what I have observed so far, the approach in the North America seems to be launching the animated feature film first. If the animated film does well at the box office, it creates a lot of publicity for the IP. In order to prolong the life span of the IP, an animated TV series will be made to prolong the popularity. In this way, more merchandise can be sold for a longer period. (A typical screening period for an animated feature film is around 4 weeks. Normally merchandise are only sold during this period. Which could be up to around 12 weeks. Including the period before and after the film is screening. Where as for an animated TV series, it could be 6 to 12 months or beyond. Depending on the number of seasons made)

Examples: Kung Fu Panda (franchise) and How to train your dragon (franchise)

Example 01: Kung Fu Panda (franchise)

Example 02: How to train your dragon (franchise)

In China, the approach seems to be working the other way round. That is to launch an animated TV series first followed by the animated film later. The animated series serves as a pre launch marketing and promotion for the animated film.

For a while at the markets, I heard from many Korean and Chinese executives that Chinese Government has strong interest to finance animated feature films now. Many people are jumping straight to the animated film productions without having an animated series being launch first.

A US animation executive highlighted to me recently that some China made animated films have difficulty finding distributors. The China distributors do not seems to have confident with the China made animated films. Some completed animated films either cannot locate good distributors. Or distributor is reluctant to put in too much marketing effort for the film.

One of my case study is 神笔马良 – The Magical Brush. Even though the animated film is backed by Disney China, (And Jacky Cheung sang the theme song to create publicity) the box office for the animated film still went below 10M. In today’s China box office (Potential Box Office beyond USD$300M), I was told that it is considered below average. And not many people know about the animated film. There was no animated TV series to promote the animated film before it is launched. This could be the reason.

Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf – 喜洋洋与灰太狼

Boonie Bears – 熊出没

<Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf – 喜洋洋与灰太狼> and <Boonie Bears – 熊出没> on the other hand did very well at the China box office. Its success factor seems to be launching the animated series first. Both IP did really well on TV first. This helps a lot on the marketing part and also gives confident to the distributors. Which helps a lot before the animated film is launched.

In China, the mindset of the parents in general also seems different from the North America. Due to the one child policy, parents are more willing to please their kids. And the kids seems to be the deciding factor on which movie to watch by the family. (I supposed this might change over time) As compared to the North America, the parents are the ones who decide which film to watch. Hence it is very important for the film to be for family entertainment. (Not just for the kids or adults. And it also cannot be too childish or too violent.) If the animated series is already on TV, chances are parents would just let their kids watch it on TV. This is especially true for preschool content that becomes an animated film eventually. It seems that those content that started from an animated TV series and later becomes an animated film, most of them do badly or average at the box office only. (I am not referring to animated TV series that has become a live action movie)


So if we were to apply the North America principle to <Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf – 喜洋洋与灰太狼> and <Boonie Bears – 熊出没> . Where the IP did very well on TV first. I doubt it will do well at the North America box office (Parents will just let their kids watch on TV) unless the quality and script were to be changed significantly.


You don’t see a FUTURE if you do not have a PLAN

I was encouraging a good friend from overseas who has lost his job recently. He felt lost and do not see a future.

I shared these with him. Which I hope it helps you too if you face challenges in your journey.

” You do not see a FUTURE because you do not have a PLAN. If you do not have a PLAN, you will STAY STATIONARY FOREVER and you will never have ANY FUTURE to move on to.

Some people asked me how can I be so sure that I will be successful one day. My answer is I CANNOT GUARANTEE that I will be successful one day. But I CAN GUARANTEE that I will NEVER have a chance to succeed at all if I don’t start planning NOW and keep trying again and again.”

The China Box Office is slowly taking over the world.

In the past, Japan used to be the top box office in Asia. Most Hollywood Films can never miss the Japanese Market.

Within the last few years, China has taken over. And Japan market has fall behind due to its economical downturn.

2009 – The highest box office in
China is USD$68M / Japan is USD$171M

2013 – The highest box office in
China is USD$196M / Japan is USD$119M

2014 onwards China went above USD$300M
China is USD$320M   / Japan is USD$249M

2015 – Fast and Furious has reached China box office at USD$389,260,000

This number is already very close to the US domestic market. Soon it will probably go beyond it. I won’t be surprised that one day, the table will turn around. China will take over the US position and the world will be creating content for China.

(Some latest articles on China’s Growing Box Office)

China Box Office Grows Astonishing 48.7 Percent in 2015, Hits $6.78 Billion


Chinese fantasy-action movie ‘Monster Hunt’ grossed a record $390 million in 2015


How China’s Censors Influence Hollywood

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall. Chinese censors cut a scene from the movie that they thought made China look weak. Because China is such a huge market, some U.S. moviemakers may choose to avoid portraying China in negative terms. Danjaq/Eon Productions/The Kobal Collection

Producing an animated film based on a localised concept

Since I came back from our last IP seminar in Jakarta, many artists have been writing to me. Asking me business questions about producing animated content based on their localised concept. Some expressed disappointment. Even though their content is of high value, their investors don’t seems to be interested at all.

In general, if your animated content is too localised, you need to make sure that you have a strong domestic market to sustain the animated film. Overseas audience may not understand or appreciate immediately as it takes time for the culture to propagate across the globe. The same idea applies to how the Japanese Anime or Korean Drama grows internationally.

Lets use a Spicy Chilli Crab Analogy to illustrate the idea. If your Chilli Crab is targeted only at Singaporeans. And if you refuse to customise the taste for overseas market. Then you need to make sure you have a strong domestic market to sustain your business. It takes a very long time to establish it locally and accumulate enough foreigners to appreciate the acquired taste before a new worldwide fan base is established. If your domestic market is not strong enough to sustain your business. It will collapse locally even before it starts to grow overseas.
However, there is another way to do this if your local market is too small like Singapore. You can modify the taste so that you can expand your market share by tapping on both domestic and international market at the same time. It’s like making Spicy Chilli Crab for the locals and Sweet Chilli Crab for the Western market at the same time. What Lakon Animasi did for “Pada Suatu Ketika” is interesting. This is what I call Chilli Crab for the Global Market with a strong potential for merchandise.

If you want to make an animated feature film strictly for your own market. First, you need to find out what is the potential box office for both the foreign films and local films in your country.

Lets use Indonesia as a case study:
Indonesia Box Office in 2012

Based on the above link. The estimated potential of the Indonesian box office in 2012 for Live Action Films seems to be USD$1.4M The estimated potential of the Indonesian box office in 2012 for Animated Films seems to be USD$700k. Now lets say you are producing a localised animated film. Without the super marketing budget like the foreign films, do you still think you can hit the above local box office?  Is your local audience supportive towards local content? Does your country has a problem with people downloading pirated films or buying pirated merchandise? All these consideration will affect your bottom line.

In cinema business, 50% goes to cinema rental. 25% to 30% goes to distributor. The remaining goes to advertising and publicity. You are left with very little money. Is this enough to cover your production cost based on the estimated box office returns above? If the answer is YES. Then you have a strong domestic market to support your localised film. If not, then it is a Red Flag to investors. This is a reality check and it is what runs through the investors’ mind. If the money left in the box office is not enough to cover your cost. Then the next question is whether there is any merchandising opportunity based on your current designs. Are your designs merchandise friendly? If you want to produce an animated film to maximise the opportunity, you need to target G Ratings for Children. (Family Entertainment) Not just for Geeks (Otaku) like you and me. ha ha. 😛 This widens the market. Hence you need to understand the kids’ parents. They are the ones who bring their kids to the cinema. Not the kids themselves. You need to ensure the parents feel safe to take their children to watch your animated film. Which in turn drive the merchandise. Can the local merchandise market cover your cost? Do you have a huge population to support sales of merchandise? Is that enough for your investors to consider your project? Your investor might ask whether your animated film can travel overseas to make even more money?

In the past, Japan has a strong domestic market to sustain their localise content. They do not need the global market. Unfortunately that is history now. Their economy is doing down and their market can no longer even sustain the production cost. That is why they need to go global. That is why the new generation of the leadership is to look at creating content for the world.

China on the other hand has a super strong domestic market now. They do not need the world. Hence all content created in China must have some sort of Chinese history or cultural relations if they want their government to support them.

Some Latest Animated Films from China
神笔马良 – The Magical Brush

Little Door Gods – Light Chaser Animation

End of the day, we are still talking about business. If you demonstrate that your animated film has a global potential, investor might feel safer to invest in you. You might not agree with what has been written so far. If your film focus only on art festival and prepared not to make any money, then it is ok. Else you will need to convince the distributors and investors to support your vision where most of their concerns is about making money. You also need to convince cinema chains to exhibit your film in many cinema halls and at the prime time slot. If they have no confident in your animated film, they will rather keep these slots for blockbusters. And exhibit your film in a few cinema halls at bad time slots. This will then hurt your box office sales.

Safeguard your future. Start creating an IP and brand of your own.

In our industry, its common that most artists have to deal with uncertainty. Hence you will never know when you will be laid off.

Is this the end of our dreams? Is there a future for the artists? Could you let your art build a future for you? The principle behind is actually the same as how a company creates and markets its own IP (Intellectual Property). And slowly establishing a brand. The only difference is that now you are doing it at a smaller scale. But the same principle applies.

These are the basic steps:
1)Build an IP and a Brand.
2)Find ways to promote and expand your fans through social media and ways to interact with your fans in person.
3)Learn how to protect your IP and Brand.
4)Learn how to monetize it through licensing and merchandising.

Creating an IP and brand does not mean that you have to create an animated feature film or animated TV series. It all starts from a concept and a brand. An IP can be illustrations, comics etc to start with. Besides creating an IP, you also need to build a fan base around it. Once you have a fan base, it can then spin-off to an animated feature film, animated TV series, merchandise, games, apps and many other commercial stuff to meet your fans needs.

In today’s world, your fans is your greatest asset. With the growth of the new social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blog, YouTube, Instagram and many more, you no longer need to depend on traditional media (TV, Newspapers and Magazines etc) alone to build your fans. However building your fans via social media platform is not enough. You need to engage them in person. So participating in arts conventions (Comic Con, CTN Expo etc), seminars, exhibitions, workshops etc will allow you to meet and interact with your fans. I know several great artists have been doing that. Once they have enough fans, they can start looking at licensing and merchandising (toys, posters, books etc) opportunities.

Both Pascal and Dominic are good friends of mine. Hope what they do gives you an idea of the basic principle above I am trying to illustrate.


Day Job: Visual Story / Concept Development for major studios like Illumination Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, Dreamworks Animation Etc.

During his free time: He dedicates 30 mins a day to paint a beautiful picture that tells a story. The theme of each picture connects to his audience. He then shares them on his Facebook daily. Currently Pascal has more than 200k likes on his Facebook. Overtime, he accumulates enough paintings to launch his books.

Above is a Kickstarter campaign he launched to raise funds to print his book. Crowdfunding platform like Kickstarters not only helps you to raise funds but also serves as a good way to grow your fans further. When he is free, he will travel overseas to run master classes for his fans and participate at CTN Expo. With a strong fans support, he is able to look at licensing and merchandising later.


Day Job: Creature & Character Artist, Senior Cinematic Artist at Blizzard Entertainment.

During his free time: He dedicates his free time to work on some awesome creature designs and sculpt them in Z Brush.

Once it is done, he sent them for 3d print and then sell them online. A fan base is built over his Facebook Page to support this. In order to further grow his fans, he also shares his work and experience through books and tutorials. From time to time, he also gives professional talks overseas. All these activities continue the effort in growing his pool of fans which supports his IP and brand.

From the above 2 examples, you can see that as an individual artist, you can also create your own IP or brand during your free time. For this case, Pascal Campion and Dominic Qwek becomes a brand. Their work can be a series of IP.

While you are still working and have a stable income, you should start doing it. Once you lose your job, your priority is to find money to keep yourself alive. Hence you cannot concentrate in building an IP and a brand. Especially building your fans to support the brand takes time.

In the past, all these are not possible. With the new social media platforms and with the increasing number of smart phones/tablets users, all these are made possible now.

I hope this article serves as a wake up call for artists. Don’t take your current employment for granted. Start building your own future now. Start building your brand and IP. The beauty of licensing and merchandising is that the art will continue to work for you even if you stop working. Especially in Asia, once you have lost your job when you are above 40, it is going to be hard to find a job again. Who knows, this could just be your retirement plan. 🙂 Give a thought about it. Hope it helps you in a long run.

Raising serious money through crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter.

In the past, we are very dependent on government funds to produce animation. Times has changed. Do look at the kind of projects and some serious money being raised through crowdfunding.

I am not saying it is easy. (Getting government funds is not easy too.) You need to have a strong campaign and fans to support you. But this helps you to build your IP and brand for a long-term. Its worth thinking.

For art related projects, I suggest Kickstarter as it has the largest community and capital so far to support artist related projects as compared to other crowdfunding platform.

Here are some interesting animation projects

Money Raised $878,028 (pledged of $580,000 goal)

Money Raised $625,518 (pledged of $150,000 goal)

Money Raised $441,900 (pledged of $400,000 goal)

Money Raised $483,524 (pledged of $80,000 goal)

You can find more successful projects here as well as to have a better understanding on their campaign behind.

Its the journey that matters. Not the destination.

Building this company has brought me to places I never dared to dream of. One thing that I have learnt is that you need to keep trying no matter how impossible it may seem. The dream keeps you alive and keeps you going. Someday you may get there. Even if you don’t, it’s the journey that matters. Not just the destination.DW02
Stepping into Dreamworks Animation was one of those “impossible” dreams of mine. This is probably not a big deal to those who works in the US industry, but for someone like me from this “tiny island”, it was something beyond my wildest imagination.

Many years ago, I had the honour of meeting an US executive who was running one of the largest US Animation Studio in Singapore. Years later, she became one of the key executive at Dreamworks. Having only met her just once, I thought that she would have probably forgotten about me. Still, I tried my luck at contacting her anyway. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a reply; which is very normal when you write to someone so high up there. I tried again after 6 months. And this time, astonishingly, I got a reply. She told me she had forwarded my mail to another important executive who was handling all of Dreamworks’ major overseas operations. This is a miracle and I am really thankful to every one who gave me such a rare opportunity.
At that time, I was hungry to find opportunities for our crew. Without second thought, I immediately bought an air ticket and flew to Glendale. (Though I was left with only $67.50 in my personal bank and was surviving with just 2 credit cards at that time. This was during one of those struggling times when we first started.)
I have to admit, I was nervous. This is a rare honour. I kept checking the time, waiting for every moment to go by. At last, I finally met the Dreamworks executive face to face. He was really nice to me, asking me about my humble beginnings, my passions, and what I did. It felt like I was meeting another artist rather than an unapproachable business executive. I felt very comfortable talking to him, as he made me feel confident about myself.

I am glad that he gave me his time. However it all had to come to an end eventually with “Thank you. Lets continue this conversation and see what happens.” At that point, I said to myself. “That is it. This is probably the furthest I will go. I am very happy. At least I got to meet the man and walk into this beautiful studio.”

A few months later, I was in Cannes MIPCOM for business when I received a message. It was from the Dreamworks executive: “I am coming to Singapore to see you if that is ok. I would like to visit your studio and get to know more about what you do.” I was stunned. It was a dream come true! Unfortunately I wasn’t in Singapore at that time, but my staff received him and showed him around. Though nothing really concrete came out of it at that time, it was definitely a memorable experience.
However I didn’t let the chapter end here. Every year, I make it a point to visit Dreamworks to try my luck. I am still doing it to this day. And earlier this year, I have been blessed with securing a meeting with another top executive who gave me a chance to talk to him. And that is why I will continue to go back every year, to continue making contacts and to keep the conversation going.

Not just US, I am also heading to China for more opportunities.

Dreamworks is distributing our IP Dream Defenders.
DW05 DreamworksClassic01 DW01
Today,  Dream Defenders our IP is distributed by Dreamworks Classic. With blessing, it has reached out to 80 countries with Dreamworks’ help. It has been acquired by Dreamworks TV Asia the new channel. ( The series is now across 19 countries in Asia in additional to the existing 60 countries we have reached so far.


I will keep trying, and hope that someday, I can finally get the chance to met the CEO and pitch Dream Defenders to him. I know its sounds like a long shot. I guess it’s the passion that keeps me going. Someday I may be there. Even if I don’t, it’s the journey that matters. Not just the destination.

Hope the story motivates and inspires you.

Challenges faced when Creating Animated Films with more mature materials

Many artists asked me about the question of creating Animated Feature Films with more mature materials. Besides Japan, the acceptance level for mature material (violence, sexual etc) in animated film is much lower in most countries. Japan used to have a very strong domestic market in the past to sustain their localise animated content for adults. They do not need the global market. It’s a Otaku (Geek) market. For DVD, Toys etc. Unfortunately that is history now. Their economy is badly affected and sustaining the production cost with their own market is a challenge. That is why some producers have decided to go global and started to look at creating content for the world but not only for their own market. The question you need to ask yourself is whether your content is strong enough to enter and compete in the Japanese market. You need to be sure that you have a strong domestic market that can support and sustain your animated film. So you need to find out what is the potential box office in your country. In cinema business, 50% goes to cinema rental. 25% to 30% goes to distributor. The remaining goes to advertising and publicity. Hence you are left with little money coming to you if your box office is not good. If you look at the global market for animated films. The top 50 animated films that have the highest box office is mainly animated films for children.

Another example: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (With Mature Material) (Japan)

Nutz Job (For Kids) (Korea)

The result is as follows:
Space Pirate Captain Harlock Global Box Office is USD$17,137,302 (17 Million)
Nutz Job Global Box Office is USD$113,307,962 (113 Million)

Unless you are creating an animated film for Arts Festival and prepare not to make money. Then it is ok. Else the bottle line boils down to whether you can convince distributors and investors to take a risk to invest or distribute such adult animated content. As most of their interest is to ensure it makes money at the box office. Even convincing the cinema to exhibit your film is a challenge at times. If your film ended up exhibited at limited cinemas or at bad time slot, it is going to be a challenge to cover your cost.

Another case study: War of the Worlds Goliath 2012 (Made in Malaysia)
Base on Wikipedia, the box office is about RM $280,000 (About USD$78,607)

Base on Box Office Mojo, US Box office is about USD$13,385. About 18 cinemas showing it. In the US, you probably need about 3000 or more cinemas to exhibit your films to stand a better chance to hit the box office. But convincing a good distributor or cinemas to exhibit your film is a challenge.

Especially for independent films.

Other things to consider is this. Say a family of 4. What is the probability that the parents will take the children to watch the animated film with mature content. As compared to an animated film for kids. Lets say if you are targeted at teenagers. The question is what are the probability for the teenager to watch your animated film as compared to a live action film. What is the probability that the teenager will go to the cinema to watch your film and not download from somewhere. 🙂 Compare 1 teenager watching your film as compared to a family of 4 watching your film. DVD market is also affected as Video on Demand market is slowly taking over. Hence you can no longer depend on DVD market too. Other questions are whether your film has an merchandising opportunity. Will the teenagers buy your expensive collectibles? What is the probability? As compared to parents buying merchandise for their kids. These are the questions running through the head of money people. The global perspective is that animated films are for children. It is not going to be easy to change this mindset. Adults may or may not watch an animated film with mature materials as they have other choices in live action movies. Parents might not feel comfortable to bring their kids to watch it. Thanks to new free digital distribution platform, there is some good news. Nowadays online channel like Youtube can allow you to self distribute your animated film with less obstacles as compared to cinema distribution. For such a strategy, you need to have a strong social media and viral marketing campaign. But the objective is still the merchandising opportunity because money from online platform might not be strong enough to cover your cost. Make sure your designs is merchandise friendly. Your fans are your greatest assets. If you have a few millions fans for your online animated film, you have the power to negotiate with investors and they will be very interested. So that is your ultimate goal. In conclusion, I am not saying that animated film with matured content will definitely fail and children animated film will definitely succeed. A lot still depends on your story, marketing budget and campaign, your strategy, your release date, your fans support and other factors.

How do you manage your risk during the process of developing an animated TV series?

“Do we pitch the concept first or make the series first?”

Animated Series is an expensive business. For new beginners, my advise is to be careful. Do it step by step to minimise risk.

So here is the summary of steps.

1) First, make sure you have a strong pitch bible and strong 2d concept design. When I said strong concept design, I mean design that is merchandise friendly.
Some examples: Link

2) Go to major market like Kidscreen, MIPTV or MIPCOM to get distributors or broadcasters’ feedback. After you have gotten the feedback, go back to refine your bible and designs.

3) If you have some cash, work on some scenes mockup in 3d if it is a 3d series. The mockup will just be 3d renders touched up in photoshop. If it is a 2d show, do some 2d renders. This is just to give buyer a feel of how the series will look like. Again get feedback at the market.

Example: This is what we did.

4) Next create a teaser. Not a trailer. A trailer is too expensive to make. Young Asian Studios always like to make trailer. Too risky in my opinion. Do it only after the whole series is completed. Bring your teaser to the market to get feedback.

Example of a teaser

Example of a trailer

5) If you do no have the money to produce a pilot episode. Try to get interested broadcasters or distributors to give you a “Letter of Intent.” With this prove of interest, talk to your government (if they have some form of support) or investors to seek investment for 1 episode. Again get feedback at the market after the episode is done.

6) Sometimes with 1 episode and 2 good scripts, you can secure pre sales. Sometimes, broadcasters needs 3 episodes. From here, it will get you started step by step ensuring you are on the right track before moving to the next step.

However if you go ahead and complete the entire series without getting any feedback only to realise you cannot sell it globally later, it will lose money and time altogether.

My Korean Journey

Cartoon Connection 2015

Cartoon Connection 2015

I was reflecting on my recent trip to Cartoon Connection in Korea.

2007 was the year I went to MIPCOM for the first time. A Japanese American Consultant was very kind to share his frank opinion about our work. He said “David, your work is good. But nothing extraordinary. Walk down to the KOCCA booth (Korean booth). See how fast they have progressed. It’s amazing. Every year, there is something different. Something new. So I went there to take a look. I was totally blown away. I really admire what they have done. I told myself that we must work very hard to improve ourselves.



Since then, I started going to their booth yearly to arrange meetings in hope to build a relation with them. And hopefully we can work together someday. Initially some of them were skeptical about me. Several executives were wondering who is this foreign guy who kept coming to our booth.

Invited as a Speaker at Cartoon Connection Busan in 2012

Invited as a Speaker at Cartoon Connection Busan in 2012

First Singapore Korea Co Production with Electric Circus on G Fighters.

First Singapore Korea Co Production with Electric Circus on G Fighters.

Over time, I have proven myself and has earned their trust. Today we have built such good relationship and friendship with some of their major players in their industry. Dream Defenders is what it is today was a motivation from the first time I went to the KOCCA booth. Working with them has been a valuable learning opportunity for me.

Dream Defenders on Dae Kyo TV Korea

Dream Defenders on Dae Kyo TV Korea

In business and work, friendship matters to me a lot. I believe in treating others with all your heart and sincerity. Though the focus of business is to make money. But integrity and relationships comes above money. Today, I have established such strong relations base on the above principles.

My best friend and like a brother to me. Ralph Son. Founder of Grimm Studios.

My best friend and like a brother to me. Ralph Son. Founder of Grimm Studio.

Over the years, I have learnt so much from them and I am forever grateful. Now I hope that I can give them back from what I have learnt from my own experience in Dream Defenders. By sharing with them what I have learnt in globalisation and my relationships in North America.

VP of SAMG. Harry Yoon. (My Mentor) The man who taught me "In Korea, we shoot then we aim"

VP of SAMG. Harry Yoon. (My Mentor) The man who taught me “In Korea, we shoot then we aim”

This is something I will never forget. “In Korea, we shoot then we aim” That is how fast they move. Thank you my friends in Korea. I will always value and treasure this friendship. 감사합니다