China’s Wink Animation, a division of Huayi Brothers, is a Chinese animation company that creates both Chinese-language films and globally-skewing features for the young adult market. It produces both fully animated and hybrid content that combines live action with animated characters.
The company is led by CEO Joe Aguilar, former CFO of Oriental DreamWorks, who led the flagship Sino-Hollywood co-venture while it produced “Kung Fu Panda 3,” the highest-grossing animated co-production of its time. Aguilar will be at FilMart on Tuesday to deliver a keynote address on co-productions in the animation space.
According to Aguilar, it will still be quite some time before globally successful animated co-productions explode onto the scene. “It’s not going to go as fast as everyone wants it to happen. There’s a lot to learn in terms of the risk factors, and culturally about how to work together,” he told Variety.
Since a lot of animated work in China is geared solely for younger children, budgets skew lower, leading to local productions that aren’t visually as strong as other international fare.
“I’m very interested in the domestic Chinese market — it’s rapidly changing, there’s a lot of growing talent here,” he said. “But I’m not attempting to make movies that are going to hit equally on both sides.”
Currently, his studio has four animated titles in its lineup, each with a budget of around $10 million to $20 million. The furthest along is “Extinct,” a feature announced last March that is currently in production with Cinesite in Montreal. It tells the tale of brother and sister “flummels” — a fluffy made-up species — who stumble into a time portal that sends them into the future, where they discover that their kind has become extinct. The duo must find a way to save their species.
It is directed by David Silverman, co-director of Pixar’s “Monsters Inc.” and veteran of “The Simpsons,” and written by Joel H. Cohen, John Frink and Rob LaZebnik, all from “The Simpsons.” Creative work such as storyboarding and art was completed in L.A.
Wink is a producer and investor, while distributor China Lion is on board as the main financier. Production will likely finish by the end of the year, with a spring or summer 2020 release date expected.
Wink has two other features in development for the Chinese-language market and one for the global market. “We’ve sort of put our head down for the last couple of years trying to self-develop and work with partners that brought us projects, trying to get them to a mature level instead of rushing into production,” Aguilar said. Those projects are now reaching the point where the company is on the lookout for opportunities in both investment and distribution.
Meanwhile, he is “constantly talking to everyone” in Huayi’s theme park division in preparation for exploiting new properties. “They’re very interested in what we’re developing and seeing how, as movies get closer to production, we can work together on a ride or an event using our IP.”
Wink was founded in 2016 by Aguilar after he decided it was time to part ways with Oriental DreamWorks, now a fully Chinese-owned entity that was re-branded as Pearl Studios, at the end of 2015. Wink is based in Shanghai with a staff of about 10 and has an office in Burbank with a core team of about five employees. Profits for Huayi Brothers have slowed in recent years, but Aguilar maintains that “it hasn’t affected our work.”
“Have we had to tighten our belts? Yes, of course. But it’s just made us be smarter about how we do things and maybe spread work across different people’s abilities. We’re trying to keep our overhead at a lower level,” he said.