Chris Sonnenburg (L), executive producer and supervising director of Disney's "Tangled" series, introduces story background of "Tangled" during the 3rd training session for Chinese animation professionals in Los Angeles, the United States, Sept. 4, 2018. (Xinhua/Li Ying)
by Julia Pierrepont III, Gao Shan
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- The Walt Disney Company, known for productions whose life lessons tickle our funny bones and tug at people's heartstrings, has also stepped up to become a bridge between China and the United States.
Starting on Aug. 26, Disney has brought 20 of China's leading animators, animation company executives, and government officials to California for a three-week training to learn Disney's secrets of success.
Disney has been implementing a multi-year training program since 2015 to help China's homegrown animators to succeed in the global animation market.
"Everybody understands China is a big market ... but Disney has always understood that for us to function in China we need to tune into Chinese culture and we need to become part of the entertainment industry and the animation industry in China," said Marc Handler, Disney's creative director during an exclusive interview with Xinhua this week in Los Angeles.
Stationed in Shanghai, Handler and his China team are taking their mission seriously. Moving beyond the limited scope of just flogging studio products into the burgeoning China market, Disney has committed itself to a far more ambitious agenda: to gain a deeper understanding of the Chinese people and their history and culture.
"Chinese culture is so rich, so deep. I've been living in China for the last five years and am able to be really diving into it and see the different parts of China," Handler said.
That has enabled Disney to do co-productions with their local Chinese colleagues, such as "Stoney & Rocky," a show Disney did with Chinese animation studio Toonmax, and "Stitch & Ai," a popular series set in the province of Anhui.
To support local fare, Disney also aired "P. King Duckling" -- the first time a Chinese TV series was imported to the United States and broadcast on a Disney channel. Also, one of Disney's own hit series, "Sofia the First," was the first American TV series permitted to air in China in years.
Handler told Xinhua: "I'd love to see more partnerships with our Chinese colleagues ... it would be great to see Chinese stories that inspire both countries."
"We shared our project plan about Chinese mythology, hoping to improve it in discussion with Disney," said Fang Ling, chief operating officer of CCTV Animation. "We hope to learn more from Disney how to tell Chinese stories to the world."
"We want to help China tell its own stories," said Handler. "They have amazing, ancient tales that need to be heard. We can help Chinese animators tell them in a way that could appeal outside of China too."
To help, Disney is bringing out their big cheeses.
Chinese visitors are learning the inside skinny from the very best: Disney's top studio executives, finest animators, directors and producers.
As part of the training program, Disney also allows them access to an active production to get a real life understanding of the complex production process that can take months for animated TV shows and years for animated films.
This year's program is a deep dive into all things "Tangled: the Series," Disney's hit new animated TV series, developed by Chris Sonnenburg.
It is based on Disney's hit 2010 film "Tangled," which grossed 592 million U.S. dollars worldwide. The series follow the adventures of the Brothers Grimm's magical-haired, fairytale heroine, Rapunzel, and her wacky friends.
Chris Sonnenburg, executive producer and supervising director of Disney's "Tangled" series, speaks in an interview during the 3rd training session for Chinese animation professionals in Los Angeles, the United States, Sept. 4, 2018. (Xinhua/Li Ying)
Chris Sonnenburg, executive producer and supervising director of the "Tangled" series, told Xinhua: "It's been super fun to have the (Chinese) group come through and explain to them how the show is created ... I love sharing the entire process of production and what it takes to do it."
While attending in-depth classes, participants get a rare chance to peek behind the curtain at Disney's incomparable hit-making machine. "It is an excellent person-to-person exchange that builds relationships," said Liu Xiaodong from the Publicity Department of China's State Administration of Press and Publication, Radio, Film and TV.
Sonnenburg leads the 20 Chinese participants through the complicated process of nurturing an animated TV series from story and character concept, through script development, character design, musical composition, storyboarding, final art, production, post production and scoring, to the finished product.
Disney productions have a gift for delivering a near perfect mix of humor, adventure, personal challenges, and touching emotion that the whole world wants to see. The multi-billion dollar question is how do they do it? How is Disney able to take stories from so many different countries, cultures and continents, and make them accessible to every other culture on earth? That's a skill that the Chinese are keen to learn.
"Chinese animators are impressed by the specialized operation of Disney. We are trying to absorb advanced experiences from them as much as possible in three weeks," said CCTV's Fang.
Yu Shengjun, producer of the Chinese animated series "Little Artist Remy Bear," was equally excited about the opportunity. "It's helpful for the development of Chinese animation to learn advanced experience and technologies from Hollywood. I use the expertise learned from Disney to improve my work, attracting more buyers from other countries."