SuperBOOMi 2018-09-07 15:08:37
近日，国外知名动画平台Animation World Network特约记者ChrisColman专程采访了上游动漫CEO赖嘉晟，两人最初于2015年认识，Mr Colman可谓是上游动漫快速发展的见证者之一。
作为AWN知名的作者，Chris Colman同时也是China Animation & Game Network的创办人，致力于促进动画行业内的探讨交流。报道中Colman提到，2年前赖嘉晟向他描绘了宏伟的梦想远景，即创造极富生命力的原创IP王国。
By Chris Colman
The latest Chinese-produced animatedhit, Super BOOMi, has surpassed 300 million views since launchingJuly 20th on Tencent Video, making it the top-ranked new kidsprogram on the platform. The 52-episode x 11" 3D CG show, about animaginative little bear and his dog Bibop, who invent a virtualreality world where toys come to life, also launched on national television onBeijing TV's kids channel KAKU during China's peak Golden Week holiday thispast September 30th. Across two weekends in November, the show topped thenational television ratings chart, making it the number one cartoon on duringprime time across all networks in China.
Super BOOMi is the first animated series fromSuzhou-based original content boutique, Up Studios. The show’s popularity is no smallachievement considering it is competing in a crowded marketplace againstestablished international franchises and domestic output from wealthygovernment-backed conglomerates.
Up Studios’ founder and leader is Canadian writer,illustrator and entrepreneur Trevor Lai. I first met Lai in 2015, atwhich time he outlined his outlandishly ambitious plans to construct anentertainment empire built around original IP. Almost two years later, withthe ink still drying on the 8-figure Renminbi (7-figure USD) Tencentdeal, and the company’s five-year anniversaryapproaching, I joined him in Shanghai to discuss the latest milestones on aremarkable journey so far.
License to Build
Trevor Lai was born and raised inVancouver by parents of Hangzhou, Hong Kong and Taiwanese descent. He spent thefirst decade of his career with a branding and design company, a role that ledhim to Shanghai in 2006 and exposed him to China’s exploding commercial andentertainment markets. New businesses were emerging at a furious rate, bringingunprecedented opportunities for creators of character IP that could be licensedto brands and products.
In 2010, at the height of the vinyl toycraze, Lai decided to test the market with a limited edition figurine of hisnew character BOOMi, positioned as a fashion accessory. Though there werealready innumerable 2D icons adorning packaging, products and shop frontsacross China, he saw a gap for characters with a cute Asian aesthetic, butfleshed out with a backstory.
According to Lai, “When I created BOOMi, itwas purposeful. Nobody had done a well-designed character that issophisticated-cute, rather than juvenile-cute, and done it systematically.” Strong sales confirmed there was a demand for his plan to launch “the next Hello Kitty, but created in China.” Emboldened,he founded UP Studios in 2012, with the ultimate goal of creating charactersthat would “inspire multiple generations of families inChina and around the world.”
He made the decision early on to be alicensing rather than manufacturing company, fuelling the company’s early growth bycreating bespoke characters for car brands, malls and schools. Those deal weresupplemented by products like the BOOMi Camera app, which Lai showcased in atour of Apple’s China and Hong Kong flagship stores.Things accelerated in January 2016, when he signed a major licensing deal withIHG Intercontinental Hotel Group to apply BOOMi’s imageto a family package for over 80 of the group’s HolidayInn hotels and resorts across China.
The relationship with Tencent began inearnest last year, when a customizable BOOMi storybook product became the firstbranded property to make it on to Tencent Kids’ DIY digital platform. The Internetcolossus’ newly formed in-house film content arm,Tencent Pictures, would later invest in the production of the Super BOOMi series, while its ubiquitous WeChatsmartphone app would provide a promotional platform unrivalled by any other inChina.
Journey to the West
Up Studios may be based in China, but Laistresses that neither location nor nationality defines his company. He looksfor universal stories rather than those based on Chinese culture or heritage. “We definitely considerthe Chinese market for all [our properties] but they don’t necessarily have to launch here first,” heexplains. “I’m really proud ofthe fact that we make shows as a Chinese company, and the success we have inthe local market is wonderful. But, I think the international validation of theconcept has to be, ‘Now its on the BBC, now it’s on CBC in Canada, and oh, by the way, it was created in China.’”
Indeed, some of his main achievements todate are with international publishers. In 2015, Bloomsbury Children’s Books signed anotherof his characters, Piggy, on a six-figure picture book series contract, thelargest ever US debut deal for a children’s author inChina. That was followed by a deal with Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group for a book series based on his explorer, Tomo.
Lai’s unique cross-cultural skillset has been central to hisprogress so far. Living and doing business in China for almost twelve years,and speaking fluent Mandarin, has enabled him to create content that resonateslocally and, crucially, do the deals that get it seen. Unlike otherbusiness-savvy local studios, he feels he benefits from an innate understandingof international storytelling gained growing up watching animation in Canada.He notes, “Even if you show [a Chinese-born writer] 50episodes of a Western cartoon, I don’t think they’ll necessarily get it as quickly as if they’vegrown up with it.”
Cultural sensibilities aside, I ask whatLai feels separates him from other young animation studios in China chasingsuccess at home and abroad. “It’s discipline and vision,” he replies. “Sticking to the vision I’ve had since I started the company until now has not always beeneasy. But, persevering has begun to yield real rewards from a businessperspective.”
Commitment to that vision has seen UpStudios resolutely refuse outsource production work and turn down charactercreation projects that Lai didn't believe in. Driving everything is his pursuitof exceptional storytelling, a core value inspired by the likes of Pixar andDisney, studios that made major changes to films like Toy Story 2 and Zootopia well into the production run.
Although Lai expresses gratitude for thefew production companies he works with who share his high-quality values andcommitment to training, he feels many Chinese studios are still falling shortin this regard. “Veryfew companies realise the intense amount of work it takes to train their teamsproperly, as great companies do,” he explains. “If companies in China want to have Disney’ssuccess, they need to do the things that Disney does. It’s very easy to emulate the skin of a champion, but you can’t build the muscles unless you actually go to the gym.”
He acknowledges that many local creatorsand studio CEOs haven’tenjoyed the benefits of the creative feedback he relishes from world-classpublishers, but still believes they would benefit from seeking advice from moreexperienced professionals and wishes more production companies would invest intraining. He feels their failure to do so is a symptom of a creepingindifference spreading among many domestic animation companies. He hasfelt the problem most keenly when trying to source production partners, noting,“I bet if you analyse production companies inChina, the vast majority, even if they pay lip service to [reachinginternational quality], don’t execute based onthat. They make the same mistakes over and over and over again and itdrives me nuts.”
Worse still, he sees that attitudefiltering down to young and impressionable artists for whom he says the grassis always greener and small short-term gains from a job change trump commitmentto a greater goal.
The Road Ahead
It would be easy to get despondent, butLai wouldn’thave survived this long in China without optimism. He likes to givemotivational talks to galvanise his peers and to seek out like-minded talent,figuring that out of the thousands of professionals out there, “Three to five percent of them probably hold similar ideals as UpStudios.” Lai adds, “Rightnow they’re buried in companies and slowly getting thelife squeezed out of them. It’s sad. If I can just findthem, we would give them a positive environment and an opportunity where theycould learn how to improve their skills.”
With his own core staff of 30, apart fromthe odd town-hall type meetings, he tries to talk as little as possible. Oncehe has laid out the company roadmap, he requires each individual to takeownership of the project, explaining to them, “I can tell you about my vision day inand day out. But the only thing that matters is our execution. Some get it andsome don’t.”
For those along for the ride, there ismuch to look forward to. Production of series two of Super BOOMi will immediately follow the firstand he anticipates animated series for Piggy and Tomo won't be far behind. Laiis in the early stages of penning a BOOMi feature film treatment and within twoyears hopes to have his characters appearing in many of the theme parkssprouting up around China.
But he’s not getting carried away. “It’s not like we won an Oscar,” he notes. “We’ve survived so let’s keep going.”
He turns and gestures to the people in thecafé, “Until the day that I can ask these people, ‘Whois BOOMi?’ and they all say ‘He’s this really cute bear that has a great show on Tencent Video andmy cousin went with her kids to his theme park the other day.’ THAT is doing something. I’m just excitedthat, with the show on now, tens of millions of people are getting access to itand with that we can really start to become part of the cultural fabric.”