William Kan’s Pleasant Goat films have earned him a spot in the Chinese animation Hall of Fame. One of the highest grossing animation director in Chinese cinema history, we were lucky enough to catch up for a chat about goats, pandas and CGI beasties…
So tell us about your latest project…
Well I’ve just finished my newest animation, which is a collaboration with Stephen Chow, the director of Kung Fu Hustle. He asked me to direct his new animated movie which opens in China on September 26th. Stephen made a live action movie called CJ7 about eight years ago, and we decided to remake the movie in pure CG animation. The story is kind of complicated for a live action movie and we decided to rewrite it with new characters. It’s really exciting!
Right now, you hold the record for the highest grossing animated film series in China. How does it feel to hold such an accolade?
I was the first one to break the record, and to be honest, it’s kind of stressful! (laughs) Every time the box office opens, I always put this pressure on myself for it to do better than the previous film, but it’s a great motivation for me to always try and do something better, to keep improving and try different things.
What makes your films so special?
First of all, the movies start with a great concept, an idea that people really want to see. My responsibility is then to make them more valuable and more successful. I try to put a lot of different elements in my films to make them more accessible and also fresh for audiences. New characters and new ideas are the key.
At the moment, you’re very famous in China, but almost unhead of in the West. Do you hope to break the European and American markets soon?
Actually, while I’ve been working in China, I’ve started to develop some new ideas that I hope will appeal to a wider audience. I’ve been in discussions with several animation companies, including Dreamworks. They came to see my work and they were like “Wow! Your style is so edgy and it’s suitable for Europe as well!” The Chinese animation style is very rooted in our culture, there are always elements of the Chinese art styles or traditions in our films, and especially in the stories, there is always something typically Chinese there. American animation, or Japanese, it rests very much in the culture, but we’re working on bridging that gap.
So who were your heroes in animation? What were the films that inspired you?
I remember sitting watching cartoons when I was like three years old and the first animation that I remember is some crazy robot anime from Japan. Later on I started watching Tom and Jerry so these influenced me a lot. I still watch a lot of cartoons now! I love all animation, whether it’s from Japan or the States, or anywhere really! But if you asked me for one, I would have to say Laputa (Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky) because it’s the first movie I saw at the cinema when I was a kid and it just amazed me. I begged my mother to take me to see it over and over again! And then of course Toy Story was a huge inspiration.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m not only concentrating on animation right now. After I finish this project with Stephen (Chow), I have a really exciting new project which is live action, but with CGI characters. It’s kind of like Paddington, but the main character is a panda! The story is beautiful, it’s based on a real panda in China, who is actually the oldest panda in the world. NBC made a documentary about her, and we wanted to make a movie to celebrate her upcoming birthday. It’s going to be a lovely family film and we hope that the Western audience enjoys it too! After that I’ve got a new stop-motion movie in the works. Everyone knows that the UK is the home of stop-motion, which is one of the reasons I came over here, but I wanted to add some really Chinese elements to mine and try and popularise the style in my own country. Each country makes something special, and I really want to try and bridge the gaps and create a kind of universal movie!