CICAF is the biggest animation festival in China and includes the Golden Monkey King Animation Awards, an education summit, animation trade fair, project investment fair, masterclasses, conferences and Cosplay shows.
The tourist destination Hangzhou is beautifully located at the side of a large lake and is rapidly becoming an important city for animation with the regional government investing 70 million yuan (approx £7million) to support original animation projects in the last year. 22 major roads in the city are decorated with cartoon characters. The city is also preparing to open an amazing new Comic and Animation Museum designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, which will be made in the form of cartoon bubbles and include an IMAX cinema. This museum will definitely be worth visiting when it’s completed. Here is the architectural visualisation.
I felt very privileged to be selected by the British Council to participate in the Expo as part of a UK Day. The opening ceremony for the festival was unlike anything I have ever seen before. We were taken to the Huanglong Sports Stadium, which is bigger than Wembley, to see a truly incredible show. After opening speeches from government officials on the cultural and economic significance of the animation industry, the Golden Monkey Awards were presented to festival prize winners. We were then treated to a two-hour spectacle, which featured kites, flying acrobats, mass dance troupes in all kind of costumes, ice skaters, Chinese popstars and TV presenters. Two massive screens on either side of the auditorium relayed live video feeds of the action. Huge screens also played animations that served as backdrops. Local dignitaries were seated in special seats at the front. Everyone was given plastic hand clappers with flashing LED lights so that the applause was magnified. I cannot imagine anything on this scale to launch a UK animation festival!
The scale of the expo itself was simply staggering. There were two halls in the convention centre, each the size of Olympia, but standing three stories high. On each of the three days we were there the number of people who attended the show exceeded 100,000 people. The demographic was mainly teenagers to early 20s and some families with their children. As it was a public holiday, this seemed to be a major attraction for teenage comic and animation fans. The only event I could compare it with would be Comic Con in the USA.
I spoke to a lot of people, but the majority simply wanted their photos taken with me as there are not many foreign visitors to Hangzhou.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the trip was my introduction to the world of Cosplay. In this teenage sub-cult, costumes are worn that make the wearer look like a character from a (Japanese) comic or animation. I was fascinated by the extent to which animation could influence fashion and the sheer scale of the economics behind this.
Not only was there a Cosplay competition, but several halls of clothes and accessories. I couldn’t resist buying myself a leopard print pair of ears with bells. At times I was surrounded by elves, cat people, French maids, pirates and purple haired ancient warriors with animal ears. I can imagine Chairman Mao turning in his grave!
On the final day of our trip, the British Council had arranged some cultural visits for us. In the morning we went to the Zhongnan Animation company. Founded in 2004 by the CEO of a construction company who wanted to see Chinese animations made for his children, the company now has over 300 staff. In the short time since it was founded, it has produced over 15 TV series and 25 feature films.
We were treated to a screening in their 4d cinema – as well as wearing 3d glasses you sit in a chair that moves with the motion of the action in the animation and air is puffed past your face at certain times. In addition, we were taken to see their merchandising store. Most of the profit in animation comes from toys and other associated items for which the animation itself serves as an advertisement. We were shown a number of new interactive toys that were being developed.
China is a clearly emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the field of animation. The animation industry is not only very successful in China economically, but also has cultural significance for the government who are keen to promote the development of Chinese art forms.