The Chinese animation firm aiming to rival Hollywood
- 5 August 2014
- From the section Business
A familiar issue for many businesses these days is a scarcity of top talent.
Chinese film studio Light Chaser Animation has taken an unusual approach to help to solve this problem - it bought a robot.
The device is a "telepresence robot", which it acquired from California-based Double Robotics. It consists of a battery-powered mobile platform to which an iPad is attached.
The wi-fi controlled device can move around the company's offices and it allows animation director Colin Brady - who lives in Los Angeles and did not want to move to China - to communicate with the rest of the team in Beijing.
He says he uses the robot more than he initially expected to. "During meetings and interviewing new employees, it is very helpful to look people in the eye and then look at their screen," says Mr Brady.
"It is very weird to be a robot that can roll around independently and surprise people at their desks, but that's a little bit of the fun part too." The best thing for him about using it is it allows him to spend more time at home.
His assistant Mo Chen says: "It's a bit scary when Colin suddenly shows up from behind, but thankfully, this doesn't happen a lot." But she says she does not find it weird talking to Colin through the device, since she is used to using Apple's Facetime app.
Company founder Gary Wang says the robot is just one example of the new communication tools that are now available to make working easier for teams that are dispersed across the world.
He adds that recruiting and retaining the right staff is absolutely vital for start-up businesses.
"If you hire 'A' class people they will hire 'A' class people from that point on. If you hire 'B' class people then… it will just go downhill from there. So we want to find our 'A' class people."
Mr Wang says the goal of the company is to produce animated movies like those made by Pixar and Dreamworks, aiming to achieve the same level of quality as the giant US studios.
He believes that the time is right for his new venture. As China goes through a transition from an economy based on industry, to one more driven by domestic consumption, he sees a growing appetite for home-produced entertainment.
"There are a tremendous number of people inside China who are looking to see stuff that's related to them, rather than just seeing another American film," he says.
Light Chaser has already made one short film and work is under way on its first feature.
Little Door Spirits is a fantasy tale aimed at a family audience. Although the content and characters are definitely Chinese, Mr Wang says he also has one eye on the wider international market.
"We want to make… something that can be shared with anyone in the world."
Light Chaser is not Mr Wang's first enterprise. In 2005, he founded Tudou, a video-sharing site which launched shortly before YouTube.
The business grew quickly, attracting millions of users. But after it merged with another Chinese video-sharing firm, Youku, Mr Wang says he became restless.
He began to look for a fresh venture. He considered several possibilities, such as creating a vineyard. Eventually the notion of starting an animation company emerged.
Mr Wang says he soon discovered that putting his idea into practice was not going to be easy. "It requires a lot of people to do an animation feature film - we calculated about 150 people… in various disciplines, [from] artists to computer tech support, animators, lay out and so on."
The problem was that it was difficult to find people with the right skills in China, because few, if any, large-scale animated movies were being made at the time.
"We needed to do a poaching trip," he says.
He travelled to California, visiting Hollywood and Silicon Valley, and ended up hiring a handful of highly experienced people, who helped him to recruit the rest of the team.
Mr Wang says he is in the fortunate position to have raised the resources to make several feature films over the next few years. If the movies prove to be successful, he sees the potential to expand into other areas, such as merchandising or even theme parks.
However, he recognises that he has entered a very risky business.
There is also a lot hanging on his shoulders. He is not only the company's chief executive, he is also the screenwriter and director. He says his previous experiences of writing novels and plays has been helpful with the latter roles.
Mr Wang believes it is in his nature to attempt to overcome difficult challenges. Some of the biggest difficulties many entrepreneurs face are uncertainty and self-doubt. He says he learnt to push these fears aside - and urges others to do the same.
"There's an old Chinese saying that when a boat hits the bridge, it will go straight again, [all] by itself," he says. "It basically means that it's actually not that terrifying. The big unknown is just like anything else."