Oriental DreamWorks moves forward on a new complex in Shanghai

Financial difficulties may have prompted DreamWorks Animation to sell and lease back its Glendale campus. But in Shanghai, construction on an eye-catching new headquarters for the studio’s Chinese joint venture, Oriental DreamWorks, is moving full speed ahead.

The 13-level tower — designed by New York firm KPF and linked to a large X-shaped IMAX cinema complex via a pathway envisioned as an extended red carpet — is literally at the center of a $2.4-billion entertainment, culture, retail and creative-office development called Shanghai DreamCenter.

Scheduled to open in late 2017, the waterfront complex situated on a choice parcel south of the city’s historic Bund district reflects a concerted desire by Chinese government officials to encourage the development of what they call “cultural industries.” A joint project of DreamWorks Animation, the private equity firm China Media Capital, and Hong Kong-based developer Lan Kwai Fong Group, major funding is from state-run China Development Bank Capital.

Detailed financial terms of the venture have not been disclosed, but DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg has been something of a cheerleader in chief for the ambitious 5 million-square-foot project that is at least four times bigger than Universal CityWalk. The Oriental DreamWorks movie studio will have room for 500-plus animators, up from the company’s current 250 employees, and will be at the physical heart of the complex. But the emphasis will be on theater and live entertainment; Katzenberg has touted the DreamCenter as China’s answer to Broadway or the West End.

Situated on the grounds of a shuttered cement factory, the complex will have five major live-performance venues with 8,500 seats in total, including a 3,000-seat facility housed in a dome where cement was once mixed. In addition to hosting international touring productions of musicals and dramas, the DreamCenter is envisioned as a magnet for pop, rock and jazz concerts; sporting events from mixed martial arts to motorbike racing; fashion shows and awards ceremonies; and conferences, art fairs and touring exhibitions such as the Body Worlds human anatomy show. Planning is also underway for a Lego Discovery Center and an attraction tentatively called the Kung Fu Panda Experience.


The IMAX theater, meanwhile, will include eight to nine screens and presumably be the ideal venue to host premieres of productions from Oriental DreamWorks — though it won’t be ready in time for the studio’s first effort, “Kung Fu Panda 3,” scheduled for release in January.

“There’s nothing like it in China or the world, really,” said Bill Lykouras, design director of Lan Kwai Fong Group, though he said London’s South Bank might be the next closest thing.

First announced in 2012, the project was initially slated for completion in 2016 but remained in the planning phase for about two years while DreamWorks and CMC tried to figure out how to make it work financially, said Lykouras; Lan Kwai Fong Group got involved 2013 and a splashy relaunch ceremony was held in March 2014.

After breaking ground, piling work began this May, and above-ground construction is slated to begin next year.