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First Int'l Animation, Cartoon Fair Opens

Hungry for everything from warrior robots that transform into pterodactyls to soft and pudgy babies tackling mythical dangers, China is opening up to a world saturated with animation.

America, Europe and other Asian countries are full to the brim with animated features, so animators and production companies are now looking to China.

Speaking at the First Chinese International Animation, Cartoon and Game Fair, which opened yesterday in Shanghai, head of the animation department at Nanjing Normal University Wu Yue said that after decades of slumber, Chinese animators have begun developing new products.

Since 2000, more than 100 university animation programmes have sprung up and graduates have gone on to start their own businesses, mostly in the Yangtze River Delta. There are dozens of studios between Nanjing and Shanghai.

"There are many small studios," he said. "They are clustered in east China."

And the growing market is proving attractive to investors.

Efforts by South Korean companies to expand into China are being supported by their government, which covered most of the costs for companies participating in the fair.

"We hope to develop the market here," said Sun Hee Lee, manager of planning at Intersave, a developer of online and mobile phone games.

"The number of people coming here is evidence of the exploding market," she said.

China Central Television (CCTV), the country's largest broadcaster, has also taken note. It wants to take a bigger chunk of the animation pie from the dominating Korean and Japanese, said Wang Fang, a spokeswoman for China International Television Company, a division of CCTV focused on animated products.

CCTV plans to use not only animated series but also related merchandising and games as a source of revenue.

The question that is still open is whether audiences are ready to link animated series with games and merchandise as well as take in an injection of foreign tastes.

"Online games and animation... this kind of content can blend very well," said Yasuhiko Kinoshita, chairman of Micott & Basara Inc, a Tokyo-based animation developer hoping for big things in the Chinese mainland in the next couple of years.

The country's love of animation goes back to the 1930s and 40s when Disney-inspired features were first produced. Since then most animators have been influenced by big productions from the US, Eastern Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

Unlike other Asian markets , Chinese animators have been selective in their influences, picking features that match the local culture.

(Xinhua News Agency July 29, 2005)

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