Huayi Brothers Taps Hollywood Veterans To Launch Animation Unit

Animated films in China are breaking the box office and Tencent-Alibaba-backed film studio Huayi Brothers Media Corp. is taking a bite of the action.

The Chinese company said on  Monday that they will launch their own animation untit, headed by Hollywood veteran Joe Aguilar as chief executive. Mr Aguilar was formerly a producer at DreamWorks Animation as well as Twentieth Century Fox.

In a statement to the Shenzhen stock exchange Huayi Brothers also announced that Markus Manninen will be the art director for the new company. Mr. Manninen worked on visual effects for the Kungfu Panda 3 movie, which grossed a record $146 million, the highest amount for any animated film in China.

The new unit is the latest in a series of links growing between the US film industry and China’s tech giants. Alibaba and Tencent have embarked on aggressive, individual spending sprees for IP content, as demand for entertainment continues to create a vacuum for local platforms. Just last week Tencent led a 500 million RMB ($76 million USD) funding round for boutique film studio Linmon Pictures, following a series of other deals including Disney partnerships covering ESPN and Star Wars. The Chinese tech giant also launched their own film production unit in September 2015.

Alibaba has expanded into all aspects of the film industry, from production to distribution, ramping up investment since the launch of Alibaba Pictures in early 2015. The company acquired the total remaining stake in Youku Tudou late last year, forming the cornerstone of their online subscription business. In 2015 the company forged strong links with Hollywood, including distribution deals with Disney and Paramount Pictures.

Huayi Brothers, which also counts Chinese finance institutions CITIC and Ping An among their core investors, has been laying the infrastructure in early 2016 for a cross-border expansion. In December the company revealed an investment in a Hong Kong shell company alongside Tencent Holdings and Jack Ma-backed Yunfeng Capital. The new entity will oversee the production of 10 live-action films and 3 animated films in cooperation with unnamed US production houses. Huayi Brothers also signed an 18-movie deal with Robert Simonds’ STX Entertainment last April.