Animation luminary Fred Seibert’s FredFilms will team up with Chinese content production firm DeZerlin Entertainment for an incubator projected called “Hot Pot! Cartoons,” which hopes to bring emerging Chinese talent and content out to the global market.
In the project, FredFilms’ U.S.-based development and production team and Qingdao-headquartered DeZerlin will supervise up-and-coming Chinese creators to develop animated shorts for global distribution.
“Often what’s happening with Western animation producers is we’re looking to get a toehold into the China market because it’s so large. And that’s fine, but it always makes me go, ‘OK, well, what’s going on there that we can bring here, rather than vice versa,’” Seibert told Variety.
The serial entrepreneur has been taking an incubator approach to animation for almost 30 years, focusing on cultivating seven-or-so-minute shorts that can then go on to spin off into major series. As president of Hanna-Barbera in the 1990s, Seibert discovered talent and shows for the fledgling Cartoon Network through the approach, including Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Dexter’s Laboratory” and Craig McCracken’s “Powerpuff Girls.”
“Hot Pot!” follows his later collaborations with Nickelodeon on “Oh Yeah! Cartoons” and “Random! Cartoons,” with Youtube on “Too Cool! Cartoons” and with Sony Pictures Animation on “GO! Cartoons. Shows that emerged from those series of shorts include Butch Hartman’s “The Fairly Oddparents,” Rob Renzetti’s “My Life as a Teenage Robot,” and Pendleton Ward’s “Adventure Time.”
Seibert said his interest in Asia was first piqued after years of working with studios there to execute projects designed in North America for the U.S. market. That fascination grew around six years ago when he began working with animator Natasha Allegri on the show “Bee and Puppycat,” which draws on design and story elements popularized by anime and manga, and was storyboarding and animated in Korea and Japan. It will soon hit Netflix.
“Hot Pot!” Cartoons” was the results of a few years of back and forth between Seibert and DeZerlin chief executive Lin Zhang and co-executive producer Mark Byers, who all first met at a conference in Los Angeles.
“Fred is a legend in animation worldwide and renowned for his ability to discover nascent talent,” said Zhang. “It is an honor to work with him and to learn from his experience.”
Founded in 2010 with the backing of Houtu Venture Capital, HG Capital and DH Capital, DeZerlin works in IP creation, story development and content production and has worked closely in the past with international partners.
In 2018, the firm signed a co-finance and co-production deal with the U.K.’s Zycon Media to create 10 feature films and 10 TV series over eight years. The aggregate production value was estimated at $160 million (RMB1 billion) at the time.
In China, some ambitious animation firms have at times struggled to find more seasoned animation talent, since many in the still-nascent industry are fresh out of school or have been stuck working on short-cycle or service projects without as many opportunities to grow.
Assessing the existing China market, Seibert notes that a lot of material gravitates towards “really super-cute stuff” or sprawling multi-character universes.
But he is optimistic that a bit of digging will indubitably turn up unique diamonds in the rough.
“It’s always like that, especially in countries that have set-up service industries in the business, like China, Canada, Japan, Korea, the Philippines. But one thing I know is that among the workers who work on all of these service projects, there are creators who are just itching to get out,” he said.
With the added challenges of identifying talent and working across the language barrier to sift through pitches, Seibert estimates that it’ll take around two years before any “Hot Pot!” content is ready to be unveiled. Given the uncertainties, no distribution partner has been brought on board yet, though he envisions leveraging his existing networks to help the shorts someday find a home at somewhere like Viacom, Nickelodeon, MTV, Netflix, HBO Max or Cartoon Network.
“This is such an unusual project that I figured we’d start it up on our own, and little by little share them with the various people that we know at all these various places — and somebody will be most interested,” he said.