Though China’s animation biz is growing strongly, it still trails the U.S. and Japan in terms of top-notch product – — if not necessarily volume.

At the recent China Intl. Cartoon & Animation Festival (CICAF) in Hangzhou, Jin Delong, an official at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), said the value of China’s animation industry hit an estimated 60 billion yuan ($9.5 billion) in 2011, up nearly 28% from the previous year; the country exported some 200,000 minutes of animation. According to Jin, China created 435 animated projects with a total length of 261,244 minutes last year.

“At the government level, animation is generally regarded as a growth industry, initially approached like any other domestic manufacturing endeavor, but now viewed as a means of extending China’s soft power internationally,” says Kevin Geiger, a former Disney CG supervisor and co-founder of Beijing-based Magic Dumpling and who has advised the Chinese government on its toon policy. “At the investor level, there is a ‘gold rush’ mentality towards animation.”

Magic Dumpling is working on “Dr. Sun,” an animated feature about historical icon Sun Yat-sen, that’s a Taiwan-China co-production. The company is also developing the “Tofu Boy” transmedia franchise, centered on a feature-length toon that is part Pinocchio and part SpongeBob — and not to be confused with the Japanese toon of the same name. Pic is helmed by Sun Lijun, dean of the animation school at the Beijing Film Academy, who recently directed the $12 million 3D chopsocky toon “Legend of a Rabbit.”

Looking ahead, local shingles are gearing up for the arrival of DreamWorks Animation’s China unit. DWA is building a studio in Shanghai with two state-owned Chinese media companies, China Media Capital and Shanghai Media Group.

Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival 2012
Crossing over into toon town | Del Toro bullish on several projects
Canada | Latin America | Japan | China