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There is huge potential market for animation films in China. But Chinese companies are struggling to make the content to fulfill that demand, said Lightchaser Animation Studios’ co-founder Yuan Ye in Shanghai. 

“Although animation education in China has improved, when it comes to character effects or other technical skills, they don’t teach any of it in universities — you can only learn it on the job in a company environment,” he said at a panel on talent development Friday at the Shanghai International Film Festival.  While there are many fresh graduates in the field, even those with stronger technical abilities don’t always have the artistic chops to create animated features.

His firm set up structures to fill this gap from the get-go, establishing an internal talent-development system that attempts to turn fresh-faced graduates and inexperienced individuals into professionals with the skills needed to work on Lightchaser’s feature films, which the studio has delivered consistently at the rate of one a year since 2016.

Its office campus has libraries, mentor programs, lectures from high-level practitioners and other kinds of exchange. “We’ve made our company like an extension of college,” said Yuan. “For an animation company hoping to put out a consistent pipeline of films, this sort of in-house talent pool is a necessity.”

Though it’s a costly, long-term investment, Lightchaser’s model has allowed it to put out animated features with a third of the manpower and less than a tenth of the budget of Hollywood titles. Its first feature, 2016’s “Little Door Gods,” cost just $11 million, and its January 2019 feature, “White Snake,” cost $12 million — a drop in the bucket compared with “Kung Fu Panda 3’s” reported $142 million budget, or the $146 million cost of “Zootopia” and $152 million cost of “Toy Story 3.” Quality, though, is not yet on a par.

In the U.S., animated titles make up a stable 15% of the country’s total box office, but in China the score is far lower. “The market is huge, but the need for talent is also extremely large. We hope to have people who truly love cinema join us and switch over to the CG and animated film track,” said Yuan.