Tom, our 16-year-old Eton College work experience student, is a multilingual maester. Here he tells how to create localised animation for the Chinese market.
Here at Salamandra.uk, when making animated videos for our clients, their international needs and outreach must be factored into our creations. Localisation is essential to ensure the videos can relate and be relevant to the regions of the world and their varying cultures.
Animation is a vast industry that spreads to all corners of the earth. By 2020, it is projected to amount to $270 billion. This colossal industry dominated by few countries owes its success to diligent localisation strategy. It makes it possible for content created anywhere to be available and desirable for all stages.
Chinese market overview
China, despite its growth rate recently slowing, has emerged as a global powerhouse for business opportunity. Its economy now the second largest (behind America) proves to be an irresistible business venture. However, due to China’s specific business restriction policies and cultural differences, ensuring business is successful in China is harder than just replicating business strategy used in other markets. In order to tailor business successfully to the Chinese audience as well as satisfying the rules, localisation is key.
Japanese animation companies are becoming more interested in involving themselves in the Chinese market, but localisation, in turn, is becoming harder as new policy changes are frequent. Censorship of foreign content creates a dynamic between China and the rest of the world, whereby a market so profitable and abundant in economic opportunity is distancing itself from foreign input. This is evident by the fact that so many businesses have failed to achieve the same success in China as they had elsewhere. Japanese animation has had to adapt its strategy of expansion and even go so far to look for alternative markets. Animation companies look toward these other markets with fewer localisation requirements such as India which do have similar audience numbers. It seems that localisation in China is most difficult and animators must effectively create a new product. Whether or not the ROI is worth the trouble completely depends on how successful localisation by foreign companies is; undoubtedly if localisation is successful then due to the mass population the product will be available to then the opportunity should be promoted. The fact remains that the Chinese market is unpredictable and therefore localisation strategy is constantly having to be adapted.
Yet this doesn’t mean that foreign animation material has been unsuccessful when it is received by the Chinese audience well. Surprisingly foreign animation dominates the Chinese animation market. In 2016 the Beijing Huajing Viewpoint Information Consulting Co’s annual report of 2016 on the Development of China’s Animation Industry found that domestic animated films rose just over 2 billion yuan, whereas foreign animated films rose over 4.5 billion yuan. Chinese animators are anxious over their products lack of success, but more importantly, Chinese animators are not developing the reputation they hoped or expected. Ironically the creators are keen to maintain values in the animation which are authentically Chinese although this doesn’t guarantee a good reception. A medium where localisation is done by foreign and indeed domestic animators simultaneously is ideal. Out of the top ten animated films with the highest box office, 7 were from American and Japanese creators and 3 were Chinese.
How would an animation company localise its content to China?
- Understand the Chinese culture – Animated content to be successful must factor in values and traditions that make up Chinese culture. This, with China especially, is crucial considering how patriotic a nation it is. Storylines must be adapted to fit accordingly with the culture – merely just translating into Chinese would result in the message being interpreted differently. It is vital for humour to be rewritten almost completely, not only because the audience may not understand but also because a joke may be misinterpreted resulting in offence.
- Avoid censorship restrictions – It has become not uncommon custom for the Chinese government to censor animated content for trivial reasons. Even seemingly harmless content such as children’s animations has been banned from being aired. The highly popular show Peppa Pig was banned recently. The government argues that this content too heavily promotes foreign, Western values. For the content to be successful and pass the government’s strict censors, it must play into the fact that China remains a state closed to political discussion. This means that even if the content (something harmless as a child’s cartoon) appears politically neutral and free from propaganda the government may not see it in the same light. Other extremely popular animations have been banned for similar reasons but also because the time when these shows would have been aired, has been replaced with domestic shows promoting Chinese values. Therefore, foreign animators must be extreme when localising.
- Involve China with production – Foreign animated content that has been well received by the Chinese people has done this by involving China significantly in its production. Large animation production companies have collaborated with Chinese producers, to ensure that the content upholds Chinese values. Although this type of localisation takes the most effort, recent endeavours show just how popular the results have been. DreamWorks Animation and other companies have been setting up studios in China in the hope of creating and maintaining partnerships in China. These partnerships mean that foreign companies can receive funding from Chinese investors as well as gaining access to the government-controlled market. DreamWorks partnered up with China to create Pearl Studios (originally Oriental DreamWorks). Recent projects such as Kung Fu Panda 3 were made in China to furthermore cultivate the growing relationship between China and Hollywood. Kung Fu Panda 3 was extremely successful, raising $41m in the first week taking the #1 spot in the worldwide box office.
Although foreign animators are faced with the problem of the unpredictable nature of the Chinese markets and its other restrictions, when the content is successfully localised, the results prove lucrative. The Chinese market is unlike any other mainly due to its government policies and thus animators are having to go the extra step to bypass the problems faced. Undeniably there is no shortage of financial opportunity for animators in the Chinese markets, therefore localised content made available to the Chinese market is favourable.
The market mentioned shows that localisation must be done to make content accepted and profitable and thus ensure that companies gain a reputation across the global market. Localisation can be difficult and expensive but without it, animation companies big or small shut themselves out of colossal financial opportunity.