Animated ambitions

Updated: 2013-02-22 07:17

By Lin Jing (China Daily)

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 Animated ambitions

Brian Dowrick says it takes much longer in the West for an animator to become a supervisor or a director than in China. Provided to China Daily

Prompted by his work for the Beijing Olympics, American animator Brian Dowrick set up a school in Beijing aimed at raising the quality of his profession in China

As the Beijing Olympics captured the attention of the world in 2008, Brian Dowrick was in China's capital working behind the scenes as an animation supervisor for the event.

It was an exciting time and an insightful one for Dowrick, who through the experience realized the need for a quality animation school in China.

Two years later in 2010 BaiAn 3D training center was born with Dowrick as founder and instructor.

His first aim was to train qualified animators to work for his animation studio Eclipse, but he also had grander plans for the school's role.

"My aim is to improve the overall levels of animation in China," he says. "I want in five to 10 years, the best animators in China to be students I have trained."

Dowrick, from Philadelphia, has more than 20 years experience in animation. He has worked on numerous films including Stuart Little, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Night at the Museum.

Dowrick's first trip to China as an animator was in 2007, when he worked on the movie Red Cliff by Hong Kong director John Woo. Shortly afterwards he began to divide his time between that and the Beijing Olympics, which he worked on for eight months.

"It was a lot of pressure, because you never knew what tomorrow would bring," he says. "The job and responsibility was also huge."

Dowrick was used to directing small groups of animators but the project required him to supervise hundreds and work six or seven days a week for 12 to 15 hours a day.

During that time, he was also asked to help with other shows.

"Once we were even asked to teach 75 dancers about hip hop, because we are from the West," he says.

It was a challenging time, but looking back, the experience was invaluable, he believes.

"It is one of those experiences that if someone had described to you what you are going to do ahead of time, you would not do it, but if it happens to you, it is something you can use to help you in the future," he says.

"Just like if you are knocked off a boat, which is not something you would choose to do, but after you have done it, you become a better person afterwards."

The training center was set up with an initial investment of 300,000 yuan ($48,000) to cover rent, equipment and salaries.

Initially, Dowrick and his business partner Che Yanchun wrote up course material and conducted classes, with Dowrick personally spending 60 percent of his time at the center to ensure teaching quality.

The center offers three courses: a basic three-month one; an eight month course, which includes creating moving human characters; and a six-month extension course, which builds on knowledge from the other courses.

The average tuition fee is above 3,000 yuan per month, with classes running from 10 am to 6 pm, five days a week. Each day, Dowrick critiques the students' work. More than 30 students have graduated to date.

Na Heya, 22, a student who majored in animation, says she signed up for the course after viewing an interview with Dowrick online.

"The ideas and skills taught here are really useful and practical for my future work," she says. She took up the course for basic learners last year and hopes to work for Eclipse after graduation.

Besides fresh graduates, there are also many experienced animators looking to polish their skills. Zhao Yanlu, 28, from Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, has experience as an animator, but expects his training at the center to secure him a better job.

"I believe that I can go further with a period of study here," he says.

According to Dowrick most students receive offers before finishing their course. Training at the center is open to anybody who wants to be an animator, including those with no experience.

He is also a passionate and opinionated talker on the subject of animation and has strong views on the direction of the industry in China.

"Animation levels in the West are so much higher than Chinese levels that there is no competition, and the only area in which China can compete is low price," he says. "The price for the same project will be eight to 10 times more in the West than in China."

Several major studios, including Disney and DreamWorks, are setting up studios in China, to take advantage of lower costs.

This will benefit Chinese animators by creating more job opportunities and making it easier for them to work with major US studios, according to Dowrick. However, it could also push up costs and lead to China losing its price edge in the industry.

Dowrick is critical of many Chinese animation schools, which he says only teach the basics.

"The expectations of the audience have gone up with the advancement of technology and they expect better animation, but the teaching levels of schools have remained the same," he says.

He says Western animators have a different mentality to their Chinese counterparts.

"In the West, an animator will have to work for over 10 years to become a supervisor, then work as a director, and then start their own studio, but in China, some will start their own studio right after six months of work. The time frame is much shorter, and the expectation of a fast return is higher in China," he says.

"A poor artist is eating from a takeout box and wearing the same shirt for five days in a row. He is painting in his room, next to which a train is rattling by. That is the idea of an artist in the West: they are doing it because they love to do it. They will not change their jobs to bankers because of a higher income."

Dowrick began creating art and animation when he was five years old, drawing when he was in a bad mood, and often making flip-books using his mother's notebooks to create a moving image.

When he applied for university, a friend of his mother initially suggested he train as a chiropractor, because it paid well and the hours were good. But after some consideration, Dowrick chose to go where his interest lay, in animation.

"There are very few people out there in the world that would say that they love doing what they are paid to do," he says.

"And to be among that unique small group, is a privilege. I would not want to trade it."

(China Daily 02/22/2013 page20)