Venture aims to produce toons for Chinese market

DreamWorks Animation is drawing up plans to open a facility in Shanghai to produce toons developed for the Chinese market.

The company is considering candidates to fill various posts at the venture, including that of president, tapping Los Angeles-based recruitment firm RSR Partners to handle the headhunting duties. Word leaked of DWA’s plans when prospective hires received the letter from RSR revealing the studio’s plans to “establish a production and development presence in China.”

“As it is an important market for us and one in which the DreamWorks Animation brand and products have tremendous value, we continue to explore opportunities in China,” said a DWA spokeswoman. “Any further speculation is premature.”

Last month, DreamWorks inked a deal with Youku.com, a Chinese YouTube of online videos to distrib its films, starting with the “Kung Fu Panda” pics.

Making a bigger move in China would make sense for DWA, considering that the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise was developed to appeal to that market.

The first “Panda” was the first animated pic to earn more than 100 million yuan ($15 million) at the local box office there. This summer’s sequel also performed strongly, breaking B.O. records.

“Kung Fu Panda 2,” which Par distribbed for DWA domestic and internationally, established a new opening-day mark for a foreign release in China just a week after Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” set the record. “Panda” pic took in $18.5 million over its two-day weekend in May.

The film has earned $92 million in China since then. Altogether, it’s collected $492 million from foreign territories and $657 million overall.

A presence in China would enable DWA to tap into the growing B.O., which rose a 64% last year, earning $1.5 billion.

But given the way the Chinese government restricts how many foreign films can unspool in China, DWA will still have to work with a local business to launch the studio and bypass the restrictions the way Legendary recently bowed Legendary East to produce a slate of live-action pics in the region.

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