Mili Pictures Worldwide, a new Chinese animation company, has opened an office in Los Angeles run by producer Bill Borden, who worked on “High School Musical” and “Kung Fu Hustle.” The company, based in Shanghai, hopes to pair the lower costs of production in China with experienced animators from Hollywood mainstays like Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar and Fox.
Though California and Japan are central hubs of animation production and consumption, the growth of the Chinese market has opened up a window for new companies. Mili will debut its first movie, “Dragon Nest,” at China’s biggest gaming convention in July. The movie is based on a popular online game used by six million users every day in Asia.
The company’s next movie, “Ping Pong Rabbit,” has begun pre-production in Los Angeles. Mike Johnson, Tim Burton‘s co-director on “Corpse Bride,” will direct the movie and oversee a team of talented animators from Hollywood animation studios. Production will move to China in the fall, and the movie will open in 2016.
“I’m incredibly excited to be working with the young team at Mili, which has big ambitions backed by great artists and strong resources,” Borden said in a statement. “I saw their animation for ‘Dragon Nest’ and was blown away by the artistic quality. When I heard how low the budget was, I was blown away again. I saw huge potential to do great work here.”
A group of Shanghaiese animators who had worked on commercials, short films and theme parks rides formed Mili two years ago with financing from Shanda Games, Chinas largest online game operator. That support grants Mili access to a large library of game properties it can adapt into film. Chinese venture capital films such as Shenzen Capital Group and Ivy Capital have also provided financing.
“With opening our Los Angeles office, Mili is showing it’s serious about collaborating with the best talent in the world film industry,” Jack Zhang, chairman of Mili, said in a statement. “While some other companies are exploring the strategy of releasing big-budget movies in the China market, we feel there is even more potential in making family entertainment at a reasonable cost that can travel all over the world.”