Monthly Archives: January 2010

Phuket Retreat (Part 3)

Phuket Retreat (Part 2)

Felix in search of happiness.

Not quite Disneyland…

James looking for the beach.

Scrawl’s Beach Boys Massage Service is not getting the response it had hoped for.

The Divine Sisterhood of Scrawl

Felix looking to practice what he wears, but Bernard is having none of it.

Jeong is upset that James didn’t pull off the tag-team bargaining tactic at the last shop

Gangster in paradise

Phuket Retreat (Part 1)

We skipped the annual retreat last year, due to obvious economic reasons. This year we brought back the traditional yearly getaway. Destination: Phuket island.

Little over half the company came along for the ride. Some stayed back for personal reasons, a couple were overseas for work, and the rest are kinda new to the family so hopefully they’d stick around for next year’s trip.

The idea was to get the work done on day 1, so the other two days won’t need to worry about hangovers (and there were a fair share of those). After dinner the group was split into 3 teams to brainstorm ideas on specific issues and challenges, then each presented their findings before management wrapped things up with a no holds-barred Q&A. That out of the way, it was Patong’s party strip for some crazy R&R.

The less said of Patong’s  nightlife, the better – not because it wasn’t interesting (on the contrary, it’s pretty mind-blowing) but in view of the fact that we erm… make cartoons for kids. Suffice to say, the place was hardcore. Still, we managed to find a harmless little drinking hole to wash down a couple of Killkennys and just people watch (and believe me, there were plenty to see).

Day 2 belonged to the beach. I pretended to sleep while Choon Meng and Jeong’s conversation invariably drifted towards territorial distribution rights assignment.

I hoped the rest of the guys were having fun as we barely saw them before dinner. Found out later that some went shopping, others were holed up in massages and manicures, while the rest went back to the hotel to rest up after a pretty late night. Yup, the bosses only had each other for company. Still, with the sun beating down, the warm water and a good supply of ice cold San Miguels, we got by OK.

After the group dinner, it was back to our respective evening pursuits again. Some night market shopping, walking aimlessly while taking in the Patong sights, warily skirting the borders between tourists and the Patong transvestites and touters, and knocking back a few drinks for good measure. Just wholesome, safe, family fun. Really.

Day 3 wrapped with a morning management meeting (no kidding), more massages and a quick last dip in the pool before heading off to the airport. On the bus the following Annual Scrawler Awards were given out:

Messiest Desk – Peihui

Special Power – James (I have no idea what’s the criteria for this award)

Most Eligible – Huiting

Most Improved – Siying

Scrawler of the Year – Roger (scared some of us to death with how drunk he got on the first night. Not the reason he got the award though)

Long Service Award – Shuling

Till next year!

Roger enjoys a rare chance to show of his face in full glory.

Wrong island, buddy.

The tour guide trying his best to…look yellow.

Felix and Xiao Ma share an intimate moment.

My frames are bigger than yours.

Roger presents his theory on  how animators can look cool at a beach resort.

Kaiping presents as her assistant Xiao Ma thinks of his favourite alcoholic beverage.

Jing presents her theory on why tall guys can’t concentrate.

Bernard explains why tank tops are comfy. Choon Meng doesn’t buy it.

Zhang Yu was so engrossed he didn’t realise he dropped his cigarette.

To be Continued…

Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair / Licensing Show

Yes, someone OWNS the smiley face.

10-13 Jan, Hong Kong – First market of the year (sort of). It was our first time at the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair / Hong Kong Licensing Show. Didn’t quite know what to expect. The show itself was huge with 4 exhibits housed under one gargantuan convention centre.

The Toy Fair itself was mainly OEM exhibitors. It’s less of a show by toy makers (or inventors) than it is for manufacturers. Over 90% of toys in the world are made in China, and those guys were all there. As a result, it didn’t quite work for my purpose as I was hoping to see some new ideas, innovation and products in toy and game design that could inspire new show concepts, or speak with some toy companies to explore opportunities in show development. There was a bit of that, but overall not that productive. I may check out the New York Toy Fair and Tokyo Toy Show in the future, but until we have our own toys and need to find manufacturers, the show in Hong Kong doesn’t seem to be too relevant.

The Licensing Show, which was happening in the same convention centre, is smaller than the Toy Fair but still a decent collection of licensee booths and IP owners. Jeong did most of the work here, chatting up folks of all types and looking to get some business exploration going. It definitely felt like a good place to have a presence some day when our IP library is bigger.

The closest Ervin will come to a big hit?

Our friends from Dooodolls at their stand

The shows aside, I also squeezed in a trip into Shenzhen (the Chinese border) to meet with some partners from Guangzhou, and we had lunch with Cartoon Network Asia on the last day before heading home on what was a terrible flight on Jetstar. But it’s budget travel, so I’ll bite my tongue on that one.

Jeong scoring his own ‘hotel lobby attractiveness’, out of 5.

View from our hotel room. That’s a cemetery, in case you’ve never watched Hong Kong serial dramas.

Animation Bloggers Drop In

From left: Karen Moltenbrey (Computer Graphics World), Eric Alba (Stash DVD), Matt Lambert (Motionographer), Amid Amidi (Cartoon Brew), random Asian animation execs.

8 Jan – It was a brief visit organised by Contact Singapore, but still fun to meet these guys and just show them around the studio. Again, not much time to really sit down with the group to chat about animation, which I’m sure would have been a lot of fun. Hopefully we can do that in New York in a few weeks (at least with Amid and Matt who are based there). Probably need the presence of alcohol anyway.

Amid autographing his book, Modern Cartoon, which happened to be lying around.

Staff Portrait (by James) – 8.1.10

More from Dongguan Trip

Animation Fair ground

One of the more unique booths I’ve seen at any market.

Directors, staff and industry guests of OTTO

I like the plush toys

Yes there was alcohol involved. Chinese faces don’t lie (that includes me).

No minimum guarantees from this distributor

New Year’s Eve dinner with Director Zhang’s team. Great bunch. Lotsa funny stories.

2010 countdown – Dongguan style

Dongguan 29 Dec – 1 Jan

In the end, I was barely at Guangzhou at all as the whole trip was based out of Dongguan, which is about an hour and a half away from Guangzhou’s Baiyun airport. It was also the site for the China International Animation Copyright Fair, which I attended (more on that later). Truth is, very little of the itinerary was made known to me. OTTO Animation, the organiser of the trip and our MOU partner, had full control over my time there, and rightly so since the whole trip was at their expense.

Turned out OTTO were impeccable hosts – and I use that term with some understatement. It’s literally VIP treatment all the way. From the two Bentleys at the airport pickup (one for me; one for my cabin-size luggage) to the personal mobile phone to the 5-star hotel and all the attention to details in between. Right up to my departure, the OTTO  directors and staff were nothing but generous and thoughtful. Plus they know how to party. My only worry is how to match their hospitality when they visit Singapore.

The fair itself was larger than I had expected. It was my first taste of a Chinese animation fair, and…let’s just say it definitely has its unique flavour. In some ways it’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. China is, in itself, THE market. What’s clear though is that this is, or at least has the potential to be, an immense industry – one that even the Chinese Prime Minister is rallying for (and when that happens, you know its for real).

Perhaps more than any other country, Chinese entertainment content, be it for television, film or print, has at its core a cultural capital that is held sacred and revered; an important part of the nation’s historical, social and anthropological fabric that needs to be advocated and crucially, protected. Animation, with young audiences the primary audience, is not surprisingly seen as a priority industry that is extremely well guarded from foreign influence.

Whether the same animation content can travel outside of China is a different matter. Chinese companies, producers and the like almost always have overseas markets in their ‘official’ sights, but it is clear the Chinese market is their foremost target. Also, many don’t seem to appreciate or adequately understand the intricate differences in audience and cultural tastes globally.

My feeling is that as long as the Chinese authorities continue to exert pressure on producers to align with so-called ‘national interests’ (every animation concept, treatment etc. has to be approved to secure broadcast permission), it’s hard to see Chinese animation seriously breaking out internationally. It’s not really a disastrous situation though. Chinese companies all want to be seen as ‘global’, but their own market is such a behemoth that above all else,  it’s about entrenching a dominant position first, including with the authorities.

That said, it’s great that companies like OTTO are at least looking to try, or least get some serious exploration going. The team is young, forward-looking and a lively bunch with good leaders, ambition and vision. I’m looking very much towards the next couple of months of talks. Hopefully, together we’d develop a framework, if not identify some projects to start with. The idea is to make another trip after the Chinese New Year to make concrete some plans.

Director Zhang (OTTO) and Leno from Planet Nemo

Vivian (OTTO) who coordinated the trip with pinpoint precision

Chinese Star Wars cosplay musical. Very wrong.

More pics and good stuff in next post!

Scrawl Suzhou

I ended year 2009 here in Suzhou, trying to setup Scrawl Suzhou at lightning speed.

In my first trip here, we’ve more or less settled on the location. This trip, I’m here to do up all the necessary paperwork to first get the company registered, then lease agreement, renovations, banking, accounts, human resource, buying furniture… the list goes on

In just a couple of days, I managed to get the approval to do business here, but to get the actual licence done up, it’s a different department, and I guess I’ll have to wait till my next trip here in 2010 to get the licence itself.

In this past 2 weeks, I’ve gotten myself rather familiar with Suzhou and Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). Pace here is nice, traffic is not so congested and most importantly, people here are generally quite nice. There is a Chinese saying that goes ”上有天堂,下有苏杭“。 Literally translated, it says “up in the skies, there is heaven, down below on earth, there is Suzhou and Hangzhou”, which implies that Suzhou and Hangzhou are comparable to heaven!

Suzhou Li Gong Di

So I guess that is why our MM Lee KY chose Suzhou to setup SIP. I must say that SIP does have its appeal and attraction. First time I was here, I was wondering to myself “this isn’t the China I know”. The China I know is in the likes of Shanghai – congested, bad traffic, organised in a disorganised way. SIP is really quite different. With my limited vocabulary, I find it hard to describe the difference. A trip here would say it all.

Idea Pump Station - where Scrawl Suzhou will be located

We chose to locate our office here. It used to be a water pump station (hence the name), which they refurbished it into a creative hub. There are at least 3-4 other animation companies located in this building. The “idea” behind this pump station is for ideas to continue flowing like the water in a pump.

In my next trip here, I’ll be following up with the reno etc.

Happy New Year!