China's Up-and-Coming Indie Animators

In China's rapidly growing animation industry, independent works are gaining attention. A dedicated film festival is held to allow young talent to be discovered, letting them follow their dreams.

China's gateway to independent animation, Feinaki Animation Week, is held for the fifth time
Feinaki Animation Week founder and organizer Zhu Yantong
Zhu Yantong's work, "My Milk Cup Cow," has received 24 awards in countries around the world
Zhang Chenxi volunteered at Feinaki Animation Week in 2021, regaining her passion for animation

Transcript

00:25

In China today, a rapidly growing field is gaining enthusiastic support from young people...

00:36

Animation made in China.

00:42

Chinese animation is very strong.

00:46

Many feature revolutionary new styles.

00:52

Recent Chinese animation has been
artistically and commercially successful.

01:01

Numerous Chinese animation works are pulling in box office returns that top worldwide charts,

01:06

with the market size expected to reach over 50 billion US dollars.

01:14

In addition to animated movies shown in theaters,

01:18

there has been a surge in independent animation released online.

01:23

The animated series "Yao-Chinese Folktales" has been viewed more than 300 million times, creating a sensation.

01:32

Amidst the growing popularity, Feinaki Animation Week,

01:35

an independent film festival dedicated to animation, is drawing attention.

01:40

Discovering new talent, the film festival has become a gateway to success for young animators.

01:47

All the animation here is amazing.

01:51

It's the best animation festival
in China now.

01:57

Feinaki!

02:02

This festival was launched in 2019 by Zhu Yantong, who also organizes it.

02:10

We need to speak up for good animation.

02:14

Our mission is to urge society
to watch these great works.

02:19

What do young animators feel as they create their projects?

02:24

This episode delves into the unknown world of Chinese animation.

02:29

Feinaki!

02:41

November 9th, 2023. Beijing.

02:57

Zhu Yantong visits the Feinaki Animation Week venue.

03:02

It'll be busy today...

03:06

With the festival starting the next day, she's busy checking the progress and giving instructions.

03:14

Let's do a run-through rehearsal of
the opening ceremony today.

03:26

To support the work of China's independent animators, Zhu launched Feinaki Animation Week in 2019.

03:38

The name Feinaki was taken from the word "Phenakistoscope" -

03:41

a device invented in the early 19th century which is thought to have enabled the creation of animation.

03:50

Having been held four times in the past, the event has won fame and recognition not only from animation fans,

03:57

but from major movie distributors and members of other industries.

04:12

- Who'd you call?
- The person in charge of music.

04:16

We don't have the opening theme yet.

04:19

It's important, so keep asking.

04:27

More than 100 volunteers help run the festival.

04:31

Many are students enrolled in animation schools.

04:40

Will the posters go here?

04:42

No, they won't stand out.
Put them up here.

04:49

Put the leaflets at the reception.

04:53

Zhu single-handedly does everything from producing the event to making decisions on all aspects of the festival.

05:02

How's it going?

05:13

- Where's lunch at?
- Over there.

05:25

How does it taste?

05:29

Preparations aren't going well.

05:34

It's always nerve-wracking!

05:40

Zhu's office is located in the suburbs outside Beijing.

05:51

21st floor.
I'll show you the humble Feinaki office.

06:06

Rent here is about 500 dollars.

06:09

Zhu works as a university lecturer while running the festival.

06:25

Zhu majored in media at a Chinese university.

06:29

After graduation, she went to Japan to study animation at the Tokyo University of the Arts.

06:40

This is art I drew before.

06:44

It's from a work I made.

06:53

Nunu, grab onto your steering wheel.

07:01

Her thesis film was an animation titled, "My Milk Cup Cow."

07:13

Come on, Nunu,

07:14

Papa put something magic
in your cup today.

07:21

What is it?

07:24

Papa hid a cow at
the very bottom of your cup.

07:29

If you drink up quickly,
you'll get to see her.

07:37

It's based on Zhu's own childhood memories of living alone with her father after her parents got divorced.

07:46

My wallet's been stolen,
so I can't pay you just yet.

07:50

This must be the seventh time you've had
your wallet stolen. Do you take me for a fool?

07:54

Liar.

07:56

I... Ok, ok,

07:58

Delicately expressing the anxieties felt by children amidst the deception and challenges of the adult world,

08:05

the work won 24 awards worldwide.

08:14

Thanks to the critical acclaim, Zhu shouldered great expectations as an animator.

08:21

But at the time in China, there were scarcely any places to show independent animation,

08:27

making it hard for animators to earn a living.

08:33

I didn't even know where to show
animation in China.

08:38

In the end, I released it two years later.
And it was only an online screening, too.

08:46

So many great animators make great animation.

08:51

Yet they couldn't find a way to
continue making their works.

08:57

To change this situation, Zhu decided to launch her own event for independent animation creators in China.

09:08

I wanted to give talented creators
a stage to showcase their work,

09:17

and develop China's animation industry.

09:22

Indie animation can stimulate
the commercial animation industry.

09:27

That's because we can show the
latest styles of animation.

09:33

That's good for the industry.
It's a positive cycle.

09:40

November 10th...The first day of Feinaki Animation Week.

09:46

Industry insiders from overseas also take part.

09:54

Who's taking ticket stubs?
Stand at the entrance, please.

10:02

The festival is held over four days, with about 5,000 people attending.

10:16

These tickets are for three animations.

10:22

There are so many great animations.
I can expose my kids to quality work.

10:29

I want them to feel the artistic
work from various countries.

10:47

It's starting. What's wrong?

10:49

I can't reach one of our judges.

10:55

Will you go on as scheduled?
I hope to...

11:07

And here is our organizer, Ms. Zhu.

11:15

Thank you, everyone.

11:19

Thanks to you, independent animation
is attracting more attention.

11:25

I really appreciate you coming
to this animation festival.

11:37

699 animations from 42 countries and regions around the world were submitted to the competition.

11:54

Of them, 64 animations were pre-selected by the jury and shown at the festival.

11:59

Winners are announced on the last day.

12:04

For creators aiming to make it in China's animation industry,

12:08

simply being nominated by this film festival is a major goal.

12:23

It's like a dream that I was chosen.

12:26

I'm not expecting to win awards.
I'm just happy to be selected.

12:30

Of course, I want to win awards.

12:33

"You can't be a good soldier without
aiming to be a commander."

12:40

Of all the young people participating in this competition, one is especially enthusiastic.

12:51

I was moved by your work.

12:55

I felt a strong truth in it.

13:04

Zhang Chenxi graduated from university in China then studied animation at an American graduate program.

13:17

The animated work she submitted is called "Braided."

13:28

Based on her childhood memory of her mother cutting her hair,

13:32

she depicted the subtle emotional changes of a girl's struggling relationship with her mother.

13:44

While studying animation at a Chinese university, Zhang had fallen into a slump.

13:54

As a student, I became depressed
and grew afraid of drawing.

14:01

The school told all students, "Don't worry
about minor feelings or themes."

14:07

"You must depict society and educate
people," they said.

14:13

I think many students felt overwhelmed
by the school,

14:20

and anxious about the themes they covered.

14:25

The university didn't nurture my creative
expression. It took it away.

14:33

Later, Zhang went to the U.S.

14:36

After completing grad school, she could have worked for a major animation company.

14:44

But she feared that she wouldn't be able to create what she wanted if she worked for a large company, and she chose to be independent.

14:56

I was very afraid of working
in commercial animation.

15:00

Independent animators don't earn much.

15:03

But I won't feel like I sold my soul.

15:09

Zhang first heard of Feinaki in 2021, the height of the pandemic,

15:14

when she saw an ad seeking volunteers.

15:21

At Feinaki, for the first time she met many peers who shared her dream.

15:31

You're filming this?

15:35

Animation is a language to me.

15:41

Many creators are shy and introverted.

15:46

But they speak enthusiastically about
their work.

15:52

At Feinaki, I felt that everyone is so kind.

15:59

I was really encouraged knowing
that this amazing world exists.

16:05

For Zhang, the biggest impression was left by Zhu,

16:09

who worked tirelessly to support other creators.

16:18

Back then, Feinaki was postponed
so many times due to COVID.

16:24

We were overworked while not knowing
whether the event would be held.

16:33

I think it was hard for Ms. Zhu.

16:37

I have so much sympathy for her.

16:46

The day after the event ended, Zhu was hospitalized for cholecystitis and pancreatitis.

16:55

Her physical condition had worsened by working while enduring pain for two months.

17:07

Zhu's family also worries about her health.

17:15

Give me a hug.

17:19

During the event, she hardly manages to see her son.

17:37

Mom's going to work in the office.

17:44

I want to play again.
You're too busy.

17:53

My husband tells me to work less.

17:59

He tells me everyday,
"You've done enough."

18:04

I'll stop when I really have to.
But I'll continue until then.

18:10

Now, everyone needs me,
and they encourage me.

18:18

It's a vital time to develop the Chinese
animation industry.

18:24

I have to do my part.

18:33

Zhang felt empowered from meeting Zhu and many other creators.

18:38

She hopes to give courage to younger peers struggling emotionally as she once was.

18:46

I'm afraid of expressing my real self
when making animation.

18:52

Do you have similar conflicts
when you create?

18:59

Your animation is made of you.

19:02

So whatever you feel must be right.

19:05

I think you should follow your heart,
and realize that vision.

19:12

Have courage, and make what you want.

19:16

Thank you very much.
I'm ready for it now.

19:24

Feinaki Animation Week also attracts people who had given up on animation.

19:33

The person in purple.

19:39

One of them is Qi Ran, who works at a major IT company.

19:45

I have a question.

19:48

In this industry, it's hard to pay the bills
while chasing our dreams.

19:54

Do you have a message for people
who have given up on animation?

20:02

To boost our motivation...

20:05

Try making an animation that's even
a couple seconds long.

20:13

It's important to form a habit
of constantly creating something.

20:22

Everyone on stage is a student.

20:27

They remind me of myself 10 years ago.

20:32

They're as passionate as I was.

20:40

Qi works as an in-house designer using her talent for drawing.

20:51

I drew this.

20:57

I won a company competition
and got a $7,000 bonus.

21:06

Her love of anime led her to major in animation at university.

21:12

Back then, she dreamt of becoming a leading figure in the animation industry.

21:20

A professor asked,
"What do you want to do?"

21:26

I stood up and said, "I want to be
the Hayao Miyazaki of China!"

21:31

It's embarrassing, looking back.

21:37

This is Qi's thesis work she made in 2011.

21:42

She filmed her sand drawing frame by frame.

21:53

But her parents and teachers both advised against her working in animation.

22:01

In 2011, the Chinese animation market was
small. There were only a few companies.

22:10

Animators earn just $250 a month despite
the long work hours.

22:20

Companies in other industries pay far more.

22:29

Ten years later, Qi couldn't forget her dream of creating animation.

22:36

But she was afraid to take the first step because of her parents' past opposition.

22:45

When I see people not living their dreams,

22:51

I wonder, is that how my life will be?

22:58

It makes me very sad.

23:08

I'm afraid I'll live a meaningless life
if I don't pursue my dreams.

23:24

Qi is participating in Feinaki for the first time.

23:28

She's met many young animators who have experienced difficulties similar to her own.

23:41

I gained a lot.

23:45

All the screenings were packed
with passionate fans.

23:49

I felt the energy of the animation
industry.

23:55

I discovered more than I expected.

23:58

It takes time and money
to realize your dreams.

24:02

Now I'm almost ready.

24:10

The last day of Feinaki Animation Week arrives.

24:19

These are the jury's comments.

24:23

- For the winners?
- That's right.

24:28

Award winners are to be announced from among the 64 initially selected works.

24:33

Will it take more time?

24:36

Take your time.
We'll go downstairs.

24:46

One of the jury members is famous musician Hugo Tan.

24:54

Everything is going smoothly.
It's amazing.

25:00

Thank you. We'll keep at it.

25:02

Usually, something goes wrong.
But this time, everything went smoothly.

25:09

There was one mistake, though.
We sorted it out.

25:16

It was a success.
Have confidence in yourself.

25:23

Hello everyone.
Welcome to the fifth Feinaki Award Ceremony.

25:32

The Jury's Special Nomination for Feinaki Award goes to...

25:37

'Braided,' Zhang Chenxi!

25:43

Though she didn't take home the Grand Prize, Zhang was honored with the Jury's Special Nomination award.

25:51

I think Feinaki is the greatest
animation festival in China.

25:57

Let's launch more animation from Feinaki.

26:01

Whether as a creator, audience member,
or a volunteer, please join us.

26:07

Thank you very much.

26:20

The festival concluded with Zhu's words of encouragement to young animators.

26:29

The most important thing is for
everyone to continue loving animation.

26:34

And to keep making it.

26:39

For people who believe in themselves,

26:44

and people who create with passion,
Feinaki opens doors!

26:54

Chinese animation is gaining experience,
and speeding ahead.

26:59

I feel hope for the country.

27:03

This diversity is likely to continue.

27:09

After her participation in Feinaki Animation Week, Qi Ran feels empowered.

27:15

She's decided to study animation again and resume production.

27:23

Zhang hopes to become a leading animator who gives support to younger generations.

27:35

Many young animators dream of making it big worldwide.

27:38

The potential for new talent seems limitless.