“Chinese animation is making great progress,” declared Raman Hui, director of “Monster Hunt 2,” the smash-hit hybrid of live action and animation that played in a Special Gala screening Sunday at the Berlinale.
Hui’s is no empty boast: His family-oriented adventure film has just taken in $190 million in three days at the Chinese box office over the lunar new year holiday.
“Monster Hunt 2” is the latest and highest-profile example of China’s leap forward in the animation business. Also over the holiday weekend, the fifth Boonie Bears movie, “Boonie Bears: The Big Shrink,” earned $40 million; Netflix has just picked up rights to the franchise’s third installment. And China’s Light Chaser Animation is making a series of increasingly high-quality 3D animations.
Hui spent his early career in Hollywood and was co-creator of “Shrek.” Speaking to Variety at the Berlin Film Festival, he said the improving Chinese animation industry allowed an increase in quantity and quality of CGI in “Monster Hunt 2.”
“When I first came back [to Asia], animators were mostly operators. I needed to tell them what to do and show them the steps. I’ve forced them to think, and they are doing so. That means I can ask the animators’ opinions more and ask for suggestions, where previously they’d be surprised that I was even asking,” said Hui. “I hope to see more of this. It is good for the industry.”
Doing a sequel did not necessarily make the production much easier. “That’s because we had a lot of new characters, such as BenBen the big monster,” Hui said, “and the CGI environment was a new task for me.”
But along with improved technical and imaginative flair, “Monster Hunt 2” features an increase in human star power, in the form of Tony Leung Chiu-wai (“In the Mood for Love,” “Grandmaster”), who plays a feckless but charming rogue.
“Our thoughts were mostly about that character. Above all, we wanted a really good actor,” said Hui. “Tony is such a good performer that he pushed the animators, too. I encouraged them to raise their level and to match him.
“It was still hard for him,” Hui added. “He had to interact with monsters he could not see. Sometimes we’d use a ping pong ball to match his eye line. But other shots we’d have to take it away, and he’d simply have to remember.”
Producer Bill Kong encouraged Hui “to do more.” That push turned “Monster Hunt 2” into a multinational effort, with VFX provided by half a dozen companies on both sides of the Pacific, including Industrial Light & Magic and Whiskytree from the U.S., and China’s BaseFX in Beijing, Original Force in Nanjing, Trouper Visual Effects in Shanghai and CGCG in Taiwan.
A story outline for “Monster Hunt 3” already exists, Hui said. It has yet to receive a green light from Kong, but if it does, Hui’s thesis of “great progress” in Chinese animation may face a new test.