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The Ins and Outs of Moebius
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Thru the Moebius Strip, China's first 3D computer-generated imagery (CGI) animation with an investment of more than 130 million yuan (US$18 million), premiered in Shenzhen on Tuesday. 


However, this Shenzhen-made movie seems more like a textbook experiment than the blockbuster its trailer promises.   


The 90-mintue movie tells how a boy, Jack Weir, rescues his missing father through a myriad number of planets in 2100 and helps his father's giant alien friend regain his throne.   


The storyline is pallid and hackneyed. The numerous long shots are fatal to strong 3D effect or a powerful action movie.   


As the producer said at the premiere, the problems in the movie's production are the problems for China's entire animation industry. To Chinese audiences, the story behind it may be more interesting than the movie itself.   


Production began in Shenzhen in 2001, but the film's premiere was postponed in 2003 and again in 2004.   


The movie's originator, French designer Jean Giraud, known by his pen name Moebius, needs little introduction for aficionados of the comic book and visual art world. But he's unknown to the country's children.   


With Glenn Chaika as the director and James Cox as the screenwriter, the film and its trailer are entirely in English. You can hardly find a clue that the animation was produced by a local company in Shenzhen.




"We targeted the market in the US and Europe from the start. Worldwide distribution may be the only way to retrieve the million-dollar investment," said Wang Guoping, chairman of the Shenzhen-based production company Institute of Digital Media Technology Limited (IDMT).   


"Therefore, we decided to make a Western-style animation with key production people from the West."  


The problematic result is a movie produced by Chinese people targeting the Western market.   


A spokeswoman for the company said at the premiere that three foreign directors ended their contracts during the production because of disagreements with the Chinese-dominated directorate.   


Adding to the production's problems, the cost of making the 3D animation was six-time higher than expected.   


Spiraling slowly out of control, the crew grew from 150 animators in 2001 to more than 450. This blasted the animation budget from the initial 20 million yuan to 130 million yuan when Thru the Moebius Strip was finished three years behind schedule.


The company even needed to train local staff to use 3D software. But that was the least of their problems. More than 25 percent of the film was left on the cutting room floor and the rest was modified to change the characters' mouths to speak English rather than Chinese.   


The film's difficulties may not be over when it opens in movie theaters across the country on Friday.   


"More than 300 cinemas in 60 cities will have the movie," Jin said. He refused to reveal the revenue from distribution in overseas markets.   


However, few attending Tuesday's screening were positive about the movie's chance for success.   


The movie is screened in both English and Mandarin versions in Shenzhen theaters.


(Shenzhen Daily August 3, 2006)

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