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Jeffrey Katzenberg Pumps Up ‘Panda 3,’ Dismisses Deal Talk

Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, sang the praises of digital technology and Chinese filmmaking from a platform in the Beijing Film Festival. But he dampened speculation that his company would be taken over by a Chinese firm.

He said he didn’t think DWA would benefit from being majority Chinese-owned. “We are a minority owner in a joint venture here, and I think that is the most successful structure to do business here in China today. We’re very comfortable with that arrangement,” he told Variety, on the margins of a conference at the Beijing International Film Festival.

Katzenberg denied that a long-term Chinese owner is necessary to alleviate pressure from Wall Street of the kind that followed DWA’s recent announcement of a cut in film production. Late last year there was stock market speculation that the company might be in talks with Chinese giants Wanda or Alibaba.

“Our stock is fine, the company has tremendous liquidity. We have a lot of cash on hand. We’ve had a few movies that didn’t work, we have a great success with ‘Home.’ That’s the movie business. You have your ups and downs. We’ve been fortunate we’ve had many more ups than downs.”

DWA is a co-founder of Shanghai-based animation producer Oriental DreamWorks, and an investor alongside China Media Capital (CMC), Shanghai Media Group (SMG), and Shanghai Alliance Investment Limited (SAIL). Oriental DreamWorks, DWA and China Film Corporation are investors in “Kung Fu Panda 3,” the first of the “Panda” films to be produced in China.

Representatives from the three companies held a signing ceremony in front of media. But it was not clear that what was being signed had any meaning. The document was described as a co-production agreement, albeit for a film that has already been in production for over a year.

Earlier in the week, the film’s director Jennifer Yuh Nelson said that production in China enabled a greater level of authenticity. “The weight of accuracy had been difficult for us. Previously we had to do things through research and extrapolate. Now we have Chinese people as creators,” she said. “We have some 200 artists working with us currently. They are not just executing, they are designers.”

The film is designed to have a high level of success with Chinese audiences. “There will be only two versions that are fully animated, the English and Chinese versions. ‘Kung Fu Panda 3 will be lip-synched in Chinese from the beginning; it will not be released in China as a subtitled English-language movie.”

Katzenberg said that the film is being made with a new degree of detail made possible by “methodical and predictable” technological progress. He said that it will take over 60 million hours of rendering, a figure that compares with 20 million for the first film and 50 million for the second.

“The digital revolution is fundamentally changing the way films are made, and animation seems to be leading the way. This is because in order to create our film every single moment on the screen must be computer animated,” said Katzenberg.

“The first ‘Shrek’ was the most sophisticated computer animated film in history when it came out in 2001. It featured a single dragon, which was one of the most complex digital characters ever created. Fast forward to 2014. ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’ included hundreds of dragons each much more complex than that single dragon in ‘Shrek’ 1. These technological advances have been applied to live action filmmaking, allowing live action to increasingly portray anything that can be imagined.”

“Take the examples of ‘The Taking of Tiger Mountain’ or ‘Gone With the Bullets.’ These outstanding Chinese films also represent great examples of the integration of live action and digital effects,” Katzenberg said.

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