ANIMATING ‘IP’

The World of Chinese - - TEA LEAVES -

COMICS AND EMO­JIS BE­COME EN­TER­TAIN­MENT BRANDS

As the so-called “IP fever” in China’s film in­dus­try sput­ters to a halt, pro­duc­ers are hop­ing an­i­ma­tion will help boost a fal­ter­ing busi­ness model.

Orig­i­nat­ing from China’s on­line cul­ture, “in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty” (IP) can re­fer to on­line nov­els, games, or streamed en­ter­tain­ment that are con­sid­ered mar­ketable as main­stream me­dia. Ahead of this year’s in­ter­na­tional Li­cens­ing Expo, held in Shang­hai from July 18 to 20, or­ga­niz­ers are en­cour­ag­ing lo­cal an­i­ma­tion stu­dios to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing “de­riv­a­tive” prod­ucts, and in­crease their IP’S value with qual­ity pro­duc­tion and sto­ry­telling.

On­line com­menters of­ten ex­claim, “I re­ally like that IP!” as if dis­cussing a genre, rather than a le­gal term. Ac­cord­ing to Gao Xiang, a pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture at Nankai Uni­ver­sity, this con­cept of IP dates back to 2013, and has since be­come a “gold­mine” for the en­tire en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, which suf­fers a lack of ex­pe­ri­enced screen­writ­ers or orig­i­nal screen­plays. Suc­cess­ful ex­am­ples in­clude The Leg­end of Sword and Fairy, a pop­u­lar on­line fan­tasy RPG adapted for TV, and on­line ro­mance novel My Boss and I.

But IP’S hey­day may al­ready be be­hind it, thanks to a slew of dis­ap­point­ing adap­ta­tions that crit­ics blame on stu­dios’ de­pen­dence on sales and mar­ket­ing teams over cre­ative di­rec­tion. There was a dearth of “big IPS” at the of­fi­cial se­lec­tion of the 20th Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in June, as such adap­ta­tions gar­ner poor re­views, and have min­i­mal ap­peal out­side their orig­i­nal fan base.

By con­trast, an­i­ma­tion IPS have greater li­cens­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, with more po­ten­tial for profit. In a Bei­jing mall in May, a week­long ex­po­si­tion on “My Em­peror” (吾皇), a fe­line char­ac­ter from a 2015 web-comic by il­lus­tra­tor Baicha (白茶), re­port­edly drew 13 per­cent more vis­i­tors to the mall than usual ac­cord­ing to The Pa­per, which also cited lack of an­i­ma­tion IPS as a short­com­ing of China’s home­grown Wanda Theme Parks.

Wechat emo­jis have be­come an­other source of an­i­ma­tion IPS in re­cent years. In 2014, around 65 per­cent of rev­enue from the Ali the Fox IP, a char­ac­ter with more than 200 mil­lion down­loads from the Wechat sticker store, came from spin-off mer­chan­dis­ing such as Ali-themed toys, linens, and sta­tionery, as well as li­censed op­er­a­tions like Ali’s Café. – DAVID DAW­SON AND H.L.

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