Dreams Fueled by Passion

Working in Taiwan's Animation Industry

2019 / January

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

In the film Inception, a thief played by Leonardo DiCaprio is able to create false worlds that look remarkably real by using nothing more than his imagination. Similarly, there is a group of people in Taiwan who are using passion as fuel to generate dreams.

“If you can change tracks, then change tracks as quick as you can!” So spoke a graduate of Ming ­Chuan Univer­sity’s digital media design program with five years of work experience in a speech he made back at his alma mater. His warning fostered a sense of anxiety among the newly arrived freshmen in the audience.

But there’s something to the old-timer’s advice.

It is all too common for Taiwan’s animators to conceive of innovative works only to end up with insufficient funding to bring those works to life…. Taiwan’s animation industry is facing hard times. Consequently, even though many students want to work in animation and related fields, they face grim employment prospects when they graduate. 

Overseas Diary I: Japan

Hard work, step-by-step advancement

Director Ang Lee once said: Taiwanese, being people from a small island, need to take the initiative to leave it and engage with the world. Both culturally and geographically close to Taiwan, Japan is a kingdom of anima­tion, and it represents the top choice among Taiwan­ese animators for overseas careers in the field.

“Full of rich resources and with many related exhibi­tions” is the general assessment of the Taiwanese anima­tors who have gone to work in Japan. Manga, animation and gaming are interrelated fields there, and they have given birth to all manner of peripheral products and merchandise. Consequently, the animation indus­try in Japan has tight, well developed and complete chains of production. The high level of professionalism and comprehensive systems of promotion character­istic of the Japanese animation indus­try are even bigger reasons why many Taiwanese animators move there for extended stays.

To enter the Japanese industry, many people start from scratch, enrolling at a professional animators’ school. In addition to the education, they also can make connections for future employment. ­Chang Shao-wei, who is head of the animation studio Poirot, took this route.

“Taiwanese emphasize the value of experience, but the Japanese emphasize the cultivation of youth,” says ­Chang. Because there are so many styles of animation there—ranging from martial arts, to sports, to stories based around female leads—each animation studio has its own specialties. He notes: “Companies in Taiwan hope to get experienced, battle-tested talent; whereas Japanese firms hope to get newcomers that they can mold entirely to suit their purposes. That ultimately res­ults in each studio having its own style. The new talent will turn into the kind of animators the company needs.”

But animating isn’t easy, and many find the working conditions too challenging to stay on. Lin Hung-­sheng, who graduated from a professional animators’ school and who does background animation work for Mu­kuo Studio, recalls: “While studying at animators’ school, those ahead of me all said that the work was very hard and the pay poor. But it would go in one ear and out the other. When we graduated, we learned just how true those reports were.”

In the field it’s quite normal to work 12 hours a day, six days a week. Plus, you often end up working on tight deadlines, so you might have to pull all-nighters. Some studios even have dormitories where workers can catch a few winks.

And starting salaries aren’t high. Typically, there is a basic wage, which is supplemented depending on how many projects one works on. Sometimes, in the case of internships and probationary hires, there is no salary whatsoever. For all kinds of reasons, animation studios there have extremely high rates of personnel turnover.

But once you get past the initial growing pains, the professional respect you get isn’t based on your years on the job but rather on the actual work you can do. And there is a comprehensive system of career advancement, so that quite a few people decide to stay in Japan and pursue their careers there.

Overseas Diary II: America

Cultivating directors with original stories

A goat toils to enter medical school and excel there. After graduating, it wants to work hard and establish a place for itself in human society. But as it looks for employment, it faces innumerable obstacles because it is different.

Such is the plot of Barry, an animated short that was screened at the Tai­chung International Animation Festival, the South Taiwan Film Festival, and Taiwan Ani­cup. The characters are appealing, and the story’s rhythm is simple and clear, with humorous narrative techniques that belie its serious themes. Although rooted in the dir­ector’s own background and history, the film struck a chord with many people overseas.

There are quite a few college and university departments in Taiwan connected to animation. Because they typically focus on gaming and multimedia, they tend to offer instruction in the use of software. But there is little emphasis placed on the narrative techniques that are at the core of creating original animated films, despite the fact that these stories are actually the key to these films’ ability to draw people in.

That is why Shen An­chi, after graduating with a degree in animation from Tai­pei National University of the Arts, entered the bachelor of fine arts program in character animation at the California Institute of the Arts.

“The stories have to be understandable to audiences, and the characters have to be likable.” Shen thus sums up the program’s creative ethos. Located in California, at the center of the film industry, where creative personnel abound, CalArts was founded by Walt Disney. It’s no wonder that the school has tight ties with the industry. Apart from the many famous artists on the faculty who personally instruct students, students also have abundant opportunities for internships with animation studios.   

Because the program emphasizes the cultivation of directors of animated films, every year the students there individually create shorts for their major project. Thus was the birth of Barry.

Not yet embarked on her professional career, Shen, like many overseas students, can’t help but feel a bit overcome by uncertainty. Her doubts aren’t unlike those raised by her film: “Maybe no matter how hard I work, I still won’t be able to attain a good result.”

Young and fearless

Although Taiwan’s animated films attracted renewed attention after Barkley was nominated for a Golden Horse in 2017 and On Happiness Road won the Golden Horse for Best Animated Feature in 2018, as far as Taiwan’s long-­moribund animation industry was concerned, this happy news was merely a brief respite. It did not herald an industry­wide turnaround.

Even so, six graduating students in the Department of Digital Media Design at Ming ­Chuan Univer­sity—Yang Chi-chun, Chang Chun-kai, Lu Hsin, Kuo Chia-tse, Yeh Yi-ling and Wu Wen-jie—were un­deterred by the grim career prospects described by senior workers in the field. After working together on a graduation project, they jointly founded the animation firm Us Studio, where they have continued to pursue their dreams.

“You can create stuff that wouldn’t be possible shooting live action.” “You can create another world beyond people’s wildest imaginings!” “You can use non-humans (such as animals), or even tell stories from the perspect­ive of inanimate objects.” “There are no limits. You can do whatever your heart and mind desire!” The members of Us Studio thus enthuse about their chosen art.

And these advantages were on full display in Gone with the World, the animated short that was their gradu­ation project.

Six minutes long, with five scenes and eight characters, the story uses a glass bottle to link together the perspect­ives of different animals. Compared to most gradu­ation projects, the film was ambitiously complex and required the students to master unfamiliar techniques. The team’s advisor worried they wouldn’t be able to finish it.

But finish it they did, and then they showed even more youthful hubris by submitting the film to various international competitions, where it won several prizes, including the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 San Diego Inter­national Kids’ Film Festival.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Because they are so difficult to make, animated films may take many years to finish. Us Studio is located near Tai­pei Expo Park in the basement of an unremarkable office building. Passersby would never guess what was inside. The work space really seems sealed off from the world—a place where these animators can focus on real­iz­ing their dreams removed from worldly concerns.

When people are young, they have beautiful dreams, but can these dreams put food on the table? Us Studio has answered this question in the affirmative—because the founders’ passion for animation has attracted invest­ors who are willing to support their next original work.

Although one can’t instantly change the broader environ­ment, there’s no harm in trying when you are young. Give it your best shot and don’t be too concerned about the results. Ultimately, each good new work sparks hope for Taiwan’s animation industry.    

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夢に向かって 情熱を燃やす


文・蘇俐穎 写真・林格立 翻訳・山口 雪菜











だが、アニメ制作の仕事はハードで、続けられるかどうかも大きな試練となる。同じくアニメ専門学校を出て、Mukuo Studioで背景美術を担当する林鴻生はこう話す。「専門学校時代には、先輩たちから仕事がものすごくハードで、待遇も決して良くないと聞かされていましたが、就職してはじめて実感しました」
















台湾オリジナルのアニメは2017年に『小猫巴克里(Barkley)』が金馬賞にノミネートされ、2018年には『幸福路上(オン ハピネス ロード)』が最優秀長編アニメ賞に輝いて注目された。しかし、長年にわたって低迷している業界は、受賞で一時的に盛り上がっても、情勢が大きく変わることはない。

そうではあっても銘伝大学デジタルメディアデザイン学科で一緒に卒業制作を完成させた6人——楊琪均、張鈞楷、呂欣、郭家澤、葉依玲、呉文杰は、先輩の忠告にひるむことなく、卒業後に一緒にアニメプロダクションUs Studioを設立し、夢を追い続けている。



その卒業制作『漂(Gone with the Word)』では、こうしたアニメのメリットが存分に発揮されている。




工程が複雑なため、アニメの制作には数年かかることもある。Us Studioの基地は圓山花博公園の近く、目立たないオフィスビルの地下にあり、通りがかってもその存在には気付かない。まるでこの世と隔絶されたような場所で、彼らは残酷な現実世界には目もくれず、夢の育成に専念しているのである。

若者が夢を見るのは素晴らしいことだが、本当に夢だけで生活していけるのだろうか。Us Studioはこの問いかけに答えを出した。彼らの熱い想いに惹かれ、次のオリジナル作品の制作に出資する人が現われたのである。




文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林格立












但動畫工作相當辛苦,留不留得住,還是一大考驗。同樣從動畫專門學校畢業,在Mukuo Studio擔任背景動畫師的林鴻生分享:「在專門學校就讀時,前輩們都說工作非常非常辛苦,待遇也不是很好,學生們都只是聽聽而已,直到進入業界工作才知道。」


















即便如此,銘傳大學數位媒體設計系楊琪均、張鈞楷、呂欣、郭家澤、葉依玲、吳文杰等6名應屆畢業生,沒被前輩的話嚇著,在一同完成畢製作品以後,進一步決定成立動畫工作室Us Studio(貳拾工作室),持續逐夢。




而這些優勢,也被順理成章地運用在他們的畢業製作《漂》(Gone with the World)之中。




由於程序繁複,動畫製作的時間動輒數年,曠日廢時。Us Studio的基地,就藏在圓山花博公園鄰近,一幢不起眼的商辦大樓的地下室裡頭,在這個路上行人難以察覺的隱密空間,好似與世隔絕,讓他們不問現世殘酷,只管專注孵育夢想。






年輕有夢最美,但光憑夢想,真的可以有飯吃?Us Studio證實了這點。因為對於動畫的熱情,他們吸引到投資人,願意支持他們投入下一部原創作品。


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