COMPANY TOWN

Oriental DreamWorks creative chief decamps for new Huayi animation branch in China

Joe Aguilar, who as chief creative officer of Oriental DreamWorks shepherded the Shanghai-based portion of production on “Kung Fu Panda 3,” is jumping ship to become chief executive of a new animation subsidiary of the Chinese studio Huayi Bros. 

In an announcement Monday, Huayi said the new subsidiary would be staffed by a core team of industry professionals with experience in Hollywood. Markus Manninen, another DreamWorks Animation vet, will serve as artistic director of the new entity, which will be based in Shanghai.

“Kung Fu Panda 3” recently became the highest-grossing animated film in Chinese history, having taken in $152.1 million since its late January release on the mainland.

The film was jointly produced between DreamWorks Animation in Glendale and Oriental DreamWorks, a $330-million joint venture established in 2012 with China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and other Chinese investors. Oriental DreamWorks has yet to announce its next major project. 

In a statement released by Huayi on Monday, Aguilar said the Chinese animation market has “great potential but the competition is becoming increasingly fierce.” Filmmakers, he said, should take advantage of the wealth of content in Chinese pop culture while at the same time striving to “internationalize their expression” to make Chinese films more popular internationally. 

Aguilar said he already had two projects in mind, one a pure animation comedy and the other a live-action/computer-animated comedy.

The hiring of Aguilar and Manninen follows another big personnel move by Huayi. The company recently named Jerry Ye, former vice president of Dalian Wanda’s culture division, as the chief executive of Huayi Bros. Pictures.

Aguilar has a long history in Hollywood with DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox, having worked on films including "Madagascar 3," "How to Train Your Dragon 2," “The Croods” and “Puss in Boots.” Before coming to China, he helped DreamWorks Animation set up its India operations. 

Swedish-born Manninen joined DreamWorks Animation in 2003, serving as visual effects supervisor on films including “Kung Fu Panda” and “The Croods.”

In an interview last summer at Oriental DreamWorks’ Shanghai offices, Aguilar said moving to China was like starting “almost a new life.”

“I had to really learn the business all over again,” he said. “I felt invigorated in a way I didn’t expect.”

Follow @JulieMakLAT for news from China

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