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UP Studios Partners with Landmark Chinese Mall Link City for Special Holiday Takeover
Animation studio transforms shopping center into a magical wonderland as it brings its original characters BOOMi and Bibop to Suzhou Industrial Park location

UP Studios is partnering with Suzhou’s landmark shopping mall Link City for an unprecedented holiday promotion – BOOMi @ Link City. Launching just before New Year's Eve 2014-2015 and continuing through the Chinese New Year, UP Studios’ takeover of the shopping center will be headlined by its flagship animated characters, BOOMi and Bibop. UP Studios creates original Chinese home-grown family entertainment franchises and characters for global audiences across a broad cross-section of media platforms. Suzhou, located near Shanghai, is an affluent urban area with a population of over 13 million.

Highlights from UP Studios' displays include a 4-meter high BOOMi sculpture in the plaza of Link City, as well as a majestic wishing tree decorated with hundreds of LED lights and glowing blossom flowers, creating dynamic outdoor and indoor photo attractions for customers throughout the busiest shopping season in the country.

This promotion furthers a recent trend in China, in which malls have made significant investments to license foreign children’s brands, such as Peanuts and Hello Kitty. This collaboration marks the first time a China-based creative studio is producing such a promotion on this scale. The promotion includes over 100 giant statues, interactive displays and decorative items featuring BOOMi and Bibop across the mall to greet shoppers during the year’s busiest buying season. The venue also launches a special pop-up store with BOOMi and Bibop merchandise to give customers an opportunity to watch BOOMi's cartoons and take home BOOMi and Bibop branded plush toys.

Holiday shoppers can enjoy even more BOOMi fun with a first-look at UP Studios' newest BOOMiGram app, which is slated for release simultaneous to the promotion. Using the app, visitors can take photos and videos with the exhibition's designs and then add animations to their videos to bring the characters to life.

This partnership with Link City expands UP Studios’ creative relationship with leading Asian real estate properties. Earlier this year, UP joined forces with Kerry Properties LLC to create original characters for a development project in Tianjin, China - Riverview Place. UP Studios and Kerry Properties LLC also collaborated on the design and management of UP’s Kerry Kangaroo, an anthropomorphic marsupial mascot, for their $100-million+ development Kerry Parkside property, one of the most successful retail developments in Shanghai.

With the enormous growth of ecommerce giants such as Alibaba, which recently tripled its profits and posted a net income approaching $4 billion, even large traditional retail malls are seeking partnerships like the one between Link City and UP to boost customer traffic and sales during the critical holiday season.

"Creating a destination where kids and families can interact with our animated characters in real-life is a wonderful opportunity," stated Trevor Lai, Founder, CEO and Creative Director of UP Studios. “We’re happy that our own BOOMi and Bibop will be able to deliver a fun and engaging retail experience for kids and families, spark their imaginations and make this holiday season their most memorable ever.”

Designing apps that transcend borders

With the Chinese market for media growing each day, the opportunity for app developers and entrepreneurs is huge. There are over 1.2 billion mobile phones in China, and on average more apps are downloaded in this region than almost any other in the world.

It’s statistics like these that have kids entertainment companies increasingly seeing China as the media market of the future. For Trevor Lai, CEO, founder and creative director of UP Studios, this region is one of the most promising – and one that North American and European companies should be exploring more vigorously.
As the leader of the Shanghai-based animation company UP Studios, Lai is an expert in designing apps for Chinese markets. His animation company is currently creating the original cartoon series Super Boomi. The studio also has a hit app on the market called BOOMiGram.

The new 3D animation app is a first of its kind, letting users add 3D characters to photos and videos. Developed in China, BOOMiGram was also the first app to have an Apple tour. Downloaded in over 90 countries, it has hit the top 10 photo and video app downloads on the App Store.

Lai recently spoke at the Children’s Media Conference about Chinese IP and international companies doing business in China. He followed up his speech with a Google Hangout covering, among other things, how to design apps for the Chinese market, as well as apps that transcend borders.

First off, it’s not about the numbers, despite the fact that they’re huge. With over 1.3 billion people in China and 1.2 billion mobile devices, it can be easy to focus on the size. Yet entering as large a market as China isn’t as easy or straightforward as one would think.

“The fact that the numbers are so huge doesn’t mean that that translates into sales or into merchandise opportunity for your children’s property,” notes Lai. “It’s really about looking at the entire market and whether or not you actually have the resources to mine and develop China into a true marketplace for your product and for your creations.”

Along with determining whether or not the resources are there to succeed, creating content that can appeal to international audiences is also important. Lai cites apps that focus on messenger services such as BOOMiGram, Facebook’s US$19 billion acquisition WhatsApp, or the Asia-based LINE messenger service, which according to Lai earned US$57 million in last year’s first quarter, largely from the sale of animated stickers.

“One of the deals that we’ve recently done at UP Studios is we were able to monetize animated emoticons,” says Lai. “Currently, emoticons and emoji are a multi-million dollar industry in Asia. But I think in the US chat emoticons and chat-related value apps could be really popular as well.”

“If you’re an animation studio or a creator and you have a property or creator that you think could work as an emoji or an emoticon, creating those and actually selling those on a marketplace is a really viable avenue for generating revenue. To give you an example of scale, we had within one year 42 million downloads of Piggy in Love emoticons, with no money spent on marketing or advertising.”

Lai was able to monetize his animated emoticons within China by licensing his Piggy in Love emoticons to China’s number one dating website. Its 100 million users were able to send its emoticons through chats.

“One of reasons we’ve been such a success is our target audience is the Hello Kitty audience, meaning teenage girls up to white collar office women are buying the books and downloading our Piggy in Love emoticons because at that age group they are very much fans of manga, anime and cute characters,” says Lai.

And while Piggy in Love skews towards an older female audience in China, in North American markets Lai believes the adorable pig would be marketed towards younger audiences.

“In Europe and North America, a Piggy in Love audience would probably skew younger, more in the young readers section of a book store for example,” notes Lai. “In China, a lot of the visual tastes are different than they would be overseas. So it’s very important for you to look at your property and see is this a kids property or in China – in Asia at large – would it be appealing to an older audience and is female-skewing or male-skewing? There are different tastes in Asia and it’s very important that you’ve done your research before launching characters here.”

Along with researching and releasing apps, Lai suggests that companies make sure they have the resources in place to support the app once it’s released – and to constantly update. Especially for Chinese audiences, who have an increasing appetite for sophisticated mobile tech and Hollywood films.

“Some of most impressive mobile technology, web technology, logistics technology is actually taking place right now in China,” says Lai. “I think the idea of Made in China is really shifting towards a Created in China mentality. The idea that China is a growing market is going to eventually switch to China is a leading market to entertainment properties around the world.”

In terms of getting a spot in this future market, Lai suggests you get a head start on the competition. As the market continues to open up, large players are already putting stakes in the ground: “My advice to you is to come to China sooner rather than later, and spend time on the ground.”

Animation biz looking UP in China; Care Bears coming to the comics; Stone Newman’s a Genius
Cynopsis: Kids          By: Cynopsis Media          July 23, 2014


Good morning. It’s Wednesday, July 23, 2014, and this is your first early morning briefing.
Things are looking UP in the Chinese animation market. Just ask Trevor Lai, whose Shanghai-based UP Studios is on the fast track to producing original family animation. Lai plans to bring to the U.S. and hey, while he’s at it, the world. Lai describes UP as “a combination of Silicon Valley and Pixar,” developing movies, TV series and even books, but also quicker-to-market apps like its first hit, BOOMiGram, which enables users to layer emoticons over video. The app already piqued the interest of Apple, which featured it in a cross-China tour of flagship stores. “We’re working on longer-term projects, but we can also create products that can hit the market quickly like Silicon Valley does… and iterate, iterate, iterate,” he tells CynKids. Here’s what else is on Lai’s mind.

Shifting dynamics in Chinese animation
The industry used to be driven by production and was bustling with work on shows the U.S. and Europe would send over. You’d see an entirely Chinese team animate an entirely French cartoon. Now, for the first time, we’re seeing a drive toward a real domestic industry, and it’s been [driven] by costs. The salaries of employees across the board have double and tripled. Production work has shifted to other markets. Thailand, Vietnam and India have competitive outsourcing and the industry here shrank. We started to notice a lot of production houses becoming IP studios. Back in 2008 there was a lot of Kung Fu stuffKung Fu Rabbit, Kung Fu Squirrel, because of the success of Kung Fu Panda. If Transformers are hot, you see a ton of transforming cars. It made me say, what is this market going to need going forward as the audience becomes more sophisticated?

The Secret to creating hit global properties
A lot of it comes down to storytelling. There are a lot of shows that have been done for the domestic [Chinese] marketa lot of morality tales–that don’t travel well. They don’t really take the viewer on a journey or cause them to imagine.

So, Oriental DreamWorks–good or bad for UP? 
As a fan, it’s really exciting. From a business standpoint, you have to be aware of these giants coming in and taking up significant market share and working with the most powerful domestic partners with access to sales networks that a startup studio wouldn’t have. So we definitely have to contend with that. At the same time, they have an existing model and legacy properties that are already established. If you think about it, Pixar was not the first animation studio to come around. Technology had a huge part to do with how they were able to stand out in the marketplace. When Toy Story came out, the press was about how the storytelling was unique. At the time, Disney already had a business model, the market was mature, but there was an opening at the rim for an original upstart. We have a unique niche. We’re completely homegrown, with original characters and stories.

The BOOMiGram boom
It’s Instagram meets Disney, where you can take a video and add CG animation on top. We created an app and within six months we approached Apple in China and basically they said, “If you can make it, we’d love to support it.” Two months later, I was presenting in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. In China, we have the opportunity to start exploring the characters. We can change and iterate BOOMiGram; even within the past year we’ve redesigned it three, four and five times based on [feedback] from the Apple Store, based on school tours here.

Momentum with U.S. broadcasters
Our concepts are attracting a lot of interest and with our ability to scale up to demand, the number of conversations with U.S. broadcasters has increased a lot. The No. 1 question is, “When can you deliver 54 episodes, 104 episodes?” The orders in China are much larger than in North America, that’s been the trend.

Interview with Trevor for VancityBuzz

1. Who are you? Tell us about your business and what inspired you to create it.
I'm the CEO and Creative Director of UP Studios, one of the fastest-growing creative studios in China dedicated to creating branded family entertainment. I've published more than 15 books since I was 17 years old, and it was always my dream to create cartoons and toys to inspire kids and kids-at-heart. We're currently producing an animated series based on my character BOOMi, and our innovative new animation app BOOMiGram was featured by Apple in Greater China during their first ever tour (BOOMiGram can be downloaded free here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/boomi-boomigram-video-+-photo/id541484734?mt=8).

2. How does China's startup culture compare to Canada's and what things could we both learn from each other to improve? 
It's difficult to generalize, but there are two main startup cultures in China: one for expats starting businesses there, and one for local Chinese entrepreneurs. In general, there is less of an acceptance of the "fail-fast" mentality that is popular in North America. Most Chinese entrepreneurs, if they've decided to pursue a startup path, take it more seriously and are usually a bit more conservative in their decision-making. So, you could say that China's startup culture could take more risks, while Canada's could take more care with calculating risks to avoid a high failure rate.

3. How has China and Vancouver's rising startup communities played a role in the development of BOOMi?
I've benefited from growing up with a healthy balance of both mindsets I just mentioned above. On the one hand, I follow the North American tech scene closely, and its entrepreneurial heroes - Steve Jobs, the Google guys, Jack Dorsey - inspire me to take big daring risks, like building a company around the idea that BOOMi and other characters we create could become the cultural icons that Mickey Mouse and Transformers are for previous generations. On the other, seeing how early in development China's entertainment market was, also spurred me on to start UP Studios and develop a very unique company culture.

4. What core problem is your company specifically solving and/or what's the main value you provide?
China's 300 million kids need to be positively inspired. Stories and entertainment will play a large role in influencing them. China's economic power is now well-established around the world. But its position as a cultural power, one that can influence the entertainment, technology and arts of other countries, is just beginning again in this modern era. Observers have called UP Studios a company that could become the "Disney of China" -- meaning, a true creativity and innovation leader in the family entertainment business. 

5. How did you end up becoming an entrepreneur and what challenges did you personally overcome to succeed?
I started my first company at the age of 17 because I wanted to publish books that I had written and illustrated. I asked my aunt to buy my first entrepreneurship magazine at a Safeway when I was 12 years old, so I guess I always knew that I wanted to control my own destiny. The biggest challenge I faced when I was starting out was not letting early success blind me to the many huge improvements I needed to make to continue to be successful in the long-term. Luckily, I had some great mentors and family members to keep me humble and 

6. What entrepreneur has inspired you the most for running your business and what makes them so special?
I really look up to what John Lasseter and his partners did to establish Pixar as a modern-day giant, but I also spent a lot of time studying Walt Disney, who was truly an entrepreneur in his time. From producing the first major animated motion picture to Disneyland, he brought his imagination to life in a way I hope to with UP Studios.

7. What Vancouver celebrity/influencer would you most be excited to have as a member of the team and why?
I admire Ryan Beedie and his contributions to SFU and the community; I think he would be a wonderful advisor in terms of responsible giving. I also think Brian Wong is doing some exciting things as a young entrepreneur, and as we also integrate apps into our entertainment ecosphere, perhaps there will be opportunities for us to connect in the future.

8. If you could tell your younger self something what would it be?
As Zig Ziglar said, "failure is an event, not a person", so just learn from your mistakes and move forward. Be humble, stay true to your own dreams, and enjoy life more, you workaholic!

9. What are some accessible resources used and winning habits you have developed to learn and grow as an entrepreneur?
Books! Aside from reading a lot of books (Earl Nightingale, Sun Tzu, many more) and magazines like SUCCESS, I also listen to podcasts like Stanford's free Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series, which is free and features talks from Mark Zuckerberg to Jack Dorsey. 

10. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Create a strong centre of gravity. I enjoy mentoring young entrepreneurs, and often I meet a lot of them who are chasing after "what's hot" and "what's next", instead of focusing on finding what their passion is and pursuing that with relentless execution. When you have a strong purpose, your gravitational pull attracts others and gives you even more momentum.