500 DreamWorks and Filipino artists waded ashore Saturday in a mock assault to seize an animation production studio, a drill Disney claimed would have dire consequences on the future of peaceful animated feature distribution.
The joint exercise was part of a larger series of animation games held over the last month involving several thousand Filipino, Malaysian and Vietnamese digital artists along with scores of development, marketing, distribution and production executives from DreamWorks Animation, the Glendale, California studio best known for the Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon franchises. The games, part of CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg’s aggressive global expansion plan, were staged in various locations including the western Philippine island of Palawan, a production tax credit-rich territory in the South China sea that is hotly disputed by China, supported by their new co-production partner, the Walt Disney Company.
Disney Feature Animation has been extremely aggressive in Asia over the last 18 months, their efforts culminating in a mutual animation production and distribution pact signed with China this past April. A senior Chinese spokesperson said that the animation games, designed to demonstrate DreamWorks’s ability to land animation personnel anywhere in Southeast Asia, take over a studio, and begin working on scenes from a Madagascar or Kung Fu Panda sequel within 72 hours, would inflame regional tensions and greatly raise the risk of confrontation.
In recent years, China has had animation production and distribution disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. Each country has devoted considerable resources towards developing ill-conceived, unprofitable and largely vacant “digital content creation hubs” throughout the region, building up even more un-needed animation production capacity and useless global distribution alliances in hopes of capturing a larger share of the multi-billion dollar international animation and visual effects entertainment production business currently being profited on by everyone else in the business besides them.
Chinese Post-Production Minister Peter Charsiu-Bao claimed that China, alongside its new partner Disney, was only committed to solving part of the dispute through diplomatic dialogue. “Please do not confuse the two main issues here,” Mr. Charsiu-Bao told an assembly of reporters and Disney Channel fans in Shanghai. He continued, “One issue is the freedom for countries bordering the South China Sea to distribute animated properties without restriction, regardless of their inferior quality, ridiculous narrative or questionable economic viability. That we fully support. The other issue is territorial sovereignty over valuable digital studio space that historically has been under Chinese control. On this, we will not compromise. Along with esteemed partner Disney, China is prepared to take anyone who stands in our way and crush them like an empty can of straw mushrooms.”
Supervising animator Colonel Scott “Toothless” Donkins, commander of the joint DreamWorks – Filipino force, attempted to downplay the exercise. According to Colonel Donkins, “This has been blown way out of proportion. It’s nothing more than a training exercise for DreamWorks’ SEAPAC rapid response team, a group of animators and production executives that within 24 hours can deploy boots and Wacom tablets on the ground to support a studio takeover anywhere in Southeast Asia.” As Colonel Donkins explained, “Sometimes, senior DreamWorks management is unhappy with a film’s progress. Sometimes market conditions change. Private equity partners, government subsidies, tax breaks and special co-production funds suddenly become available and DreamWorks plans to be ready at a moment’s notice to take advantage of such situations.”