Among the venture’s first projects is a short focusing on the coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on humans and other animals. Production will begin immediately.
The agreement is presented as a partnership with a multi-year, multi-property span, and an agreement to co-finance and co-produce a slate of animated films.
Content will be drawn from Lion Forge’s existing stock of intellectual property, which includes comics, graphic novels, and celebrity affiliations, as well as broader cultural IP, notably from China. The first feature disclosed under the pact is a reworking of “Journey to the West,” a traditional Chinese tale that has been repeatedly adapted for the small and large screen.
For each project generated by the joint venture, Starlight will retain distribution, licensing and merchandising rights throughout Greater China. Lion Forge will hold distribution and licensing rights in the rest of the world.
The pact is unlike the original ambition of a previous cross-Pacific animation joint venture, Oriental Dreamworks, which first sought to deliver animation produced both in China and the U.S. It ultimately became a Chinese design firm that sub-contracted its animation work to overseas production facilities. The Lion Forge-Starlight agreement clearly sets the animation pipeline at Lion Forge’s facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, though the partners say that they will collaborate on development, story and character design.
“This strategic partnership allows for greater economies of scale with a premier partner in Starlight that is among the most dynamic and visionary companies in the industry,” Steward said in a statement.
“This partnership will allow us to bring the highest quality Hollywood content to the Chinese audience, as well as local language adaptations, and merchandising opportunities,” added Peter Luo, Starlight CEO.
Starlight, which is operated from Beverly Hills and listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, was a backer of “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Greta” and “Midway” and has stakes in “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” “Malignant,” and “Marshall.” Its development slate includes film projects by James Wan, Roland Emmerich, Jon M. Chu, Robert Zemeckis, Alan Taylor, Jonathan Liebesman, F. Gary Gray, Sylvester Stallone, Nattawut Poonpiriya and Sam Raimi. For 2019 it has indicated unaudited profits of $14.8 million (HK$115 million), compared with an audited loss of $7.15 million (HK$55.5 million) for 2018.
Lion Forge Animation, which describes itself as one of the few African-American owned animation studios, is part of Steward’s Polarity group of companies. Other media businesses in Polarity’s orbit include Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Company, Illustrated Syndicate, and Magnetic Press.