Shanghai Animation Film Studio

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Shanghai Animation Film Studio
PredecessorAnimation Department
FoundedShanghai, China (April 1957 (1957-04))
Key people
Wan Brothers,
Te Wei
Yu Zheguang
ProductsAnimated feature films (anime), Motion pictures, Television, Music

Shanghai Animation Film Studio (simplified Chinese: 上海美术电影制片厂; traditional Chinese: 上海美術電影製片廠; pinyin: Shànghǎi Měishù Diànyǐng Zhìpiānchǎng) also known as SAFS (simplified Chinese: 美影厂; traditional Chinese: 美影廠; pinyin: Měi Yǐng Chǎng) is a Chinese animation studio based in Shanghai, China, as part of the Shanghai Film Group Corporation. Shanghai Animation Film Studio was officially established in April, 1957, led by pioneering animators and artists including Te Wei, and Wan Brothers. It has produced around 500 films with over 40,000 minutes of original animation data source, covering 80% of China's domestic animation production.

SAFS produces a number of animated films in various art forms with Chinese artistic characteristics, including Jianzhi, Shuimohua, Puppetoon, Zhezhi (also known as origami), Shadow puppetry, etc. It also has international collaborations with various studios around the world.


Establishment (1946-1957)[edit]

In 1949, at the time the People's of Republic China was established, the Ministry of Culture sent a group of young animators, including Te Wei (1915-2010), the caricaturist, and Jing Shi (1919-1997), the painter, to Changchun Film Studio, as known as Northeast Film Studio before 1946, to start an animation team. As Te Wei described, the pioneers had lack of knowledge and technique regarding animation, so at the time Te Wei led the team to study animation productions done by the Soviet Union.

In 1950, the animation team transferred to Shanghai, where advanced animating equipments and human resource were available, and it was expanded by the join of new young artists from Central Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Suzhou and other leading institutions. Meanwhile, as the political situation stabilized in China, the Wan Brothers, Wan Chaochen and Wan Laiming, the earliest Chinese animators, returned to Shanghai to join the group. In 1957, Shanghai Animation Film Studio was officially set up as an independent department under the Ministry of Culture. As the director and the head of the studio, Te Wei led over 200 workers at the time to create educational and entertaining animated films for children. While learning animation technique from overseas, the pioneers started to explore new methods to reflect Chinese cultural characteristics, including using puppet, paper-cutting, traditional Chinese art elements such as Beijing Opera masking. The Magical Pen (1955) and The Conceited General (1956), two of the most representative films at the time, brought up attention worldwide and won a series of domestic and international awards.[1]

The founding of Shanghai Animation Film studio was also promoted by the "Hundred Flowers Campaign" in 1956, in which the government of Communist Party encouraged the development and innovation of technology and art in China.[1]

The golden age (1957–1966)[edit]

After the success of The Magical Pen (1955) and The Conceited General (1956), the studio got additional support from the government which encouraged them to study Western animation and develop its own models and methods that were truly Chinese. The period of 1957 to 1966 was described as the "golden age" of Chinese animation films especially because of the high productivity and quality of Shanghai Animation Film Studio. Along with the creative techniques and outstanding Chinese artistry, a number of animated films have reached the top level internationally.

Premier Zhou Enlai said that "Animation films are rather outstanding with their special and unique style in the Chinese Film Industry."[2] In this period, the studio developed various innovative techniques expressing national style. In 1958, Wan Guchan, with young animator Hu Jinqing, and their crew developed a new animating technique, jianzhi, based on Chinese traditional paper-cuts and produced the first jianzhi style animation, Pigsy Eats Watermelon (1958). Te Wei, inspired by the famous ink wash artist Qi Baishi, directed first ink-wash and brush-painting style animated film - Where is Mama (1960), which won high valued awards at movie festivals including the Locarno International Film Festival in 1961, the 4th Annecy International Animation Film Festival in 1962 and 17th Cannes Film Festival in 1964.[3] In 1963, Te Wei and Qian Jiajun produced the second ink-wash and brush-painting animation, Buffalo Boy and the Flute (1963). In the same period, Yu Zhenguang (1906-1991) directed first folded-paper animation, A Clever Duckling (1963), featuring a folk craft technique, zhezhi (also known as Japanese origami).

The most well-known animation produced at Shanghai Animation Film Studio is Havoc in Heaven (Da Nao Tian Gong) (1961,1964), directed by Wan Laiming as his second cel animation. He adopted many features from Chinese stage art for environmental design, character design, movement reference (especially in Peking opera's military style)and the beautiful rich color palette. The movie was shown at the Locarno Film Festival in 1965 and won wide praise from international audience.

In this period, Shanghai Animation Film studio produced good amount of remarkable animated films in various forms including The adventures of The Little Fisherman (1959), The Spirit of Ginseng (1961), Red Army Bridge (1964), More or Less (1964) and so on. These films brought Chinese animation to the world stage at that time.

The golden age ended with the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, which dealt the animation film industry a hard blow, and limited the productivity of the studio.

Cultural Revolution (1966–1976)[edit]

During the period of the Cultural Revolution, the whole studio was shut down by the Red Guards from 1965 to 1972. Almost all the animated films produced before were prohibited except The Cock Crows at Midnight (1964) by Yiou Lei, a puppet film about overthrowing evil landlords, and Two Heroic Sisters of the Grasslands (1964), directed by Qian Yunda and Tang Cheng, singing the praises of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China:[4]

"There area countless stars in the sky. But greater by far is the number of the commune's sheep. In the sky are pure white clouds. But whiter yet is the wool of the commune's sheep. Whiter yet is the wool of the commune's sheep. Our beloved Chairman Mao Dear Chairman Mao , under your sun the prairie prospers. Our beloved Communist Party, Dear Communist Party. The little shepherdesses grow under your leadership. The little shepherdesses grow under your leadership…" [Two Heroic Sisters of the Grasslands (1964)][5]

Famous movies such as Buffalo Boy and the Flute(1963) and Havoc in Heaven (1961,1964) were banned because of the "ignorance of class struggle" and implication of overthrowing the government. Many of the leaders and artists of the previous productions of the studio were rounded up and forced into prisons or peasant villages to self-reflect on their anti-revolutionary action.[1] In 1973, animators were gradually sent back to the studio, but most animations during this era were made for propaganda use in order to educate illiterate groups of the masses about contemporary political affairs, including Support Vietnamese to Fight Against America, Expose the Peace Negotiation Conspiracy of America, and After School. In the same year, Wang Shuchen and Yan Dingxian made The Little Balu (1973), a story of a boy joined the liberation Red Army. The bold graphic style of characters and background corresponded to the style of prevailing propaganda posters around the country at the time.[1]

Not until the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976, did the studio finally recover under the stabilized political situation. Returning animators started to work on the projects that they had left for years.

Late 20th century (1976-1999)[edit]

In 1992, one of the first Western companies to come in contact with the studio was Perfect Animation in San Francisco, United States. They attempted to bring efficiency, dependability and quality control to the studio.[6] In 2001, the studio became part of the Shanghai Film Group Corporation.

21st century (2000-Present)[edit]

In March 2013, the studio sued Apple Inc. for selling over 110 of their films on iTunes without authorization.[7]

Key people[edit]

  • Wan brothers (Wan Laiming, 1990-1997, Wan Guchen, 1990-1995, Wan Chaochen, 1906-1992, Wan Dihuan, 1907 - ?), the founders and pioneers of the Chinese animation industry. Made the first Asian animation feature-length film, Princess with the Iron Fan (1939).
  • Te Wei (1915–2010), caricaturist, animator, director, the first head of Shanghai Animation Film Studio.
  • Jing Shi (1919-1997), painter, animator.
  • Qian Jiajun (1916–2011), animator, director, one of the founders of ink-wash animation.
  • Qian Yunda (born 1928), animator, director. character designer.
  • Jin Jin (1915-1989), children's writer.
  • Yan Dingxian (1936-?), animation director and head of Shanghai Studio from 1985-1989
  • A Da (Xu Jingda), animator, cartoonist, film producer

Selected films and TV series[edit]

International collaborations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Lent, John A. (2001). Animation in Asia and the Pacific. Indiana University Press. p. 12.
  2. ^ Shanghai: Shanghai Animated Film Studio. 1987. p. 2.
  3. ^ "水墨动画——中国心灵". Archived from the original on 16 July 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  4. ^ Quiquemelle, Marie-Claire (2007), The lost magic of the Shanghai Art Studios, Filmakers Library, OCLC 747797398
  5. ^ Shanghai: Shanghai Animated Film Studio. 1987. p. 2.
  6. ^ Hutman, Kenneth. "Sinomation: Shanghai Animation Studio -- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow". Animation World Network. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  7. ^ Reisinger, Don (29 March 2013). "Chinese animation studio sues Apple over iTunes Store sales". CNET. Retrieved 4 August 2015.