Sunday, 14/01/2024 08:00

Việt Nam draws on cartoon experience

By Lê Hương*

Children, adults, males, females, and pretty much anyone you can imagine love watching great cartoons.

This art form has been around for years, ever-evolving as technology improves. At the forefront of animation in Việt Nam is the Sconnect’s Woa Network, which has created characters like Wolfoo, Tiny, Bearee, and Max, popular with children all over the world.

Since its establishment nine years ago, Woa Network has built up a content stock of more than 20,000 videos with over 4 billion views. The technology used varies from 2D to 3D and stop-motion.

“We have spent much time researching our audience, and our market, which are guidelines for our later production activities,” Phạm Duy Anh, head of Woa Network’s Tiny series production team told Việt Nam News.

“Our target market is North America. We hope to conquer the most demanding markets. Next year, we want to expand to the domestic market to apply Vietnamese traditional features in our products.”

At present, the team mostly does business on the YouTube platform. With their latest product using a character set of clay mixers, they are aiming for video-on-demand and TV platforms.

“Next year, we want to conquer big video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Apple Plus, and cinema including cinemas in Việt Nam,” Anh said.

ANIMATOR: Tưởng Vinh Quang works patiently in his studio. VNS Photo Lê Hương

“I think animation production in Việt Nam has developed well compared to a few years ago. We are facing a few challenges like being backwards in terms of technology and human resources quality compared to other studios in developed countries.”

Yet with the integration and sudden change in 4.0 technology and AI, they are catching up quickly, evidence of which is that future products are aiming at high-quality platforms like those in other countries.

Woa Network’s animation team has thousands of people all playing a crucial part in bringing characters to life.

Tưởng Vinh Quang, a staff member of the Tiny series production team, said his main task is controlling the characters and taking photos of them to create a series of actions in stop-motion animation films.

“This duty requires skill and diligence because if one works with repetitive actions, they can lose their patience and be unable to maintain the job for long,” Quang said.

HARD AT WORK: A member of Woa Network's handmate team at work. VNS Photo Lê Hương

According to Nguyễn Đắc Tuyên, head of Woa Network’s handmade team, the audience has more and more demands for entertainment, which will nurture the development of animation films.

“Vietnamese animation films are getting more and more professional and closer to the audience,” he said. “There are no longer pure entertaining films.”

Trần Thị Lan Chi, sales manager of Sconnect, said when they started the production, Sconnect focused on entertainment for children.

“Sconnect has realised that its content has affected the youth in a certain way,” she said.

“In the past few years, Sconnect started to produce both entertainment and educational content. A positive effect we have received is that when we meet partners with small children, they give good feedback on Wolfoo. Like their children told them: ‘Wolfoo said this, Wolfoo said that’… It means that our educative features have some positive impact on children’s behaviour and habits.”

Chi said Sconnect hopes that Vietnamese cartoons will reach the whole world. Vietnamese animation films haven't made any dent in the world’s animation market so far, but that could soon change.

“Wolfoo has set a step in the Chinese market,” she said. “Sconnect hopes next year to expand to other markets in Southeast Asian countries, then further to India and the US.”

CLAYMATION: Characters in Woa Connection's Tiny series using stop-motion technology. Photo courtesy of Sconnect company
The Woolfo series has reached China's market and the first series commercially screened at cinemas in Việt Nam. Screenshot photo from YouTube

More newbies

In comparison with Woa Network, Uppow Media Technology JSC is a fairly new company. It has both 2D and 3D products distributed all over the world, especially in Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and Brazil.

It has more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube.

The company’s main series now is Zozo Bee, which features lessons on behaviour and daily life.

“There are now many companies producing content on YouTube,” said Nguyễn Phi Hưởng, director of Uppow Media.

“We started quite late. We blend educative and entertaining features in our content. For example, we teach children to behave well, how to learn, and some soft skills in daily life.”

INTERNATIONAL HIT: Zozo Bee lures children with cute images and melodious songs. Screenshot photo from YouTube

Hưởng said their next target would be developing the existing brand Zozo Bee, seeking more investment, and finding a direction to exploit more content to get revenue to re-invest.

From the angle of a professional, Nguyễn Đình Quang, head of Uppow’s Zozobee project, admitted that the view of Vietnamese producers was different in terms of culture.

“Yet we can overcome that obstacle,” he said. “We can research on the net to profoundly understand the cultures that we are aiming at before producing animated films.”

Long history

Animation is one of three sectors making up Vietnamese cinema, together with feature films and documentaríes. It has a history since 1959, with the short animated film Đáng Đời Thằng Cáo (Fox, You Deserve It) and the first feature film Chung Một Dòng Sông (Sharing the Same River) completed around this time.

"It means that animated film has a fairly long history together with the feature film category in Vietnamese cinema," said Ngô Phương Lan, chairperson of the Việt Nam Association of Film Promotion and Development.

She said besides the state-owned Việt Nam Animation SJC, there were many private companies.

The Vietnam Animation SJC produces nearly 20 short animation films between 10 and 30 minutes long.

Private companies, in contrast, have a freer rein and produce a huge number of animation films for various platforms, not only for the Vietnamese market but also foreign ones.

“Yet sometimes, the private companies cannot find where they belong,” Lan said. “For example, when they join film markets or festivals, they need to have a proper name. Or their products and achievements have not been counted in the cinema sector's annual review report.”

Lan noted that such big companies like Sconnect had clear targets and market segmentation for each of their products. And they had succeeded.

ON THE MOVE: Vietnamese animation films are getting more and more professional and closer to the audience. VNS Photo Lê Hương

“I have recommended private animation companies blend Vietnamese identity in their products, tell Vietnamese stories through their characters, and show the way of thinking of the Vietnamese people,” she said.

Lan said the association had encouraged private animation companies and proposed the State gather resources when developing cinema in the culture industry. We need massive power, and films from many sources with certain diversity and plans. VNS

*additional reporting by Minh Phương

GETTING ANIMATED: Chinese parents look at books with Wolfoo images at a supermarket in China. Photo courtesy of Sconnect

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