The UK-China Creative Challenge: Co-Designing a Hybrid 'Creature' as an Asset for Shanghai's Performing Arts and Screen Industries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Culture, Film and Media


In 2010, Shanghai branded and promoted its World Expo through a cuddly little blue mascot called 'Haibo. Today the city's ambitious plans to develop its design, games, performing arts and screen industries provides an opportunity for China and the UK to collaborate on new forms of joint 'resonant character design'. These new entities might be 'spread' across and between physical and digital platforms to attract and entertain children and young audiences in Shanghai and elsewhere.

This pilot project gathers globally prestigious industry partners from Hollywood, China's post-production visual effects sector, British television, and performing arts venues in both countries to collaborate with and guide an international team of researchers charged with a unique task: to co-design the initial concept artwork for a hybrid cross-cultural 'creature'. This cultural 'asset' might be brought to maturity in the future as a storytelling tool for stage, screen, multi-media exhibitions, and immersive exhibition experiences. Under the organisational leadership of the University of Nottingham, Shanghai Jiao Tong, Falmouth and the Communication University of China, the assembled participants will form a high-level 'Character Brain Trust' to explore how the birth of the 'creature' could be used to aid the commercial growth of Shanghai's creative industries.

The longer-term goal is to generate a broad range of cross-cultural characters able to bring to life and symbolise the relationship between the UK and China. Twinned research hubs in Shanghai and Nottingham are planned to investigate prospects for upskilling Chinese workers as well as generating comparative audience research of international excellence.


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Title Pre-development UK-China animation character portfolios 
Description From the June 2019 AHRC Shanghai UK-China 'Creature' co-design workshop, three of the resulting 'Creature' animation concepts were taken forward as pre-development portfolios. Each of these portfolios comprises a) character designs, b) story ideas, c) ideas for commercial exploitation. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact The three character portfolios were planned to be developed via an application to the AHRC's UK-China Creative Partnerships large follow-on funding scheme. However, the application, submitted in October 2019, was unsuccessful. 
Description Progress on the project far exceeded expectations. Thanks to the enthusiasm and expertise of the UK and China partners, it significantly overdelivered on the initial aims:

- The 'Creature Brain Trust' was formed at the Shanghai workshop with 32 delegates - 11 from UK and 21 from China
- The 32 delegates collectively co-designed initial concept artwork, including credible story ideas, for multiple UK-China hybrid 'creatures'
- Delegate feedback demonstrates the massive future potential as well as the truly exciting nature of the unique mixed methodologies - combining approaches drawn from creative design, performing arts and screen industries - pioneered by the workshop activities
- A large AHRC follow-on funding bid was submitted in October 2019 to co-develop and co-produce the resulting concepts
Exploitation Route The case for next steps was articulated in the (unsuccessful) October 2019 application to the AHRC UK-China creative partnership large grants scheme.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description - The findings led the University of Nottingham to commission a professional screenwriter and a professional artist to prepare three UK-China pre-development character portfolios, thus providing employment opportunities to the creative industries. - In June 2019, a project delegation visited the Beijing Film Academy (Screenwriting Department) to deliver a linked screenwriting upskilling workshop. - The UK's Creative & Cultural Skills reported on the AHRC workshop's contribution to its skills remit in: Sarah Laverty, 'Creative & Cultural Skills heads to Shanghai as part of new skills project', 18 June 2019. - China's Final Frontier (Shanghai-based animation company) reported on the AHRC workshop's contribution to its mission in: FinalFrontierLab. 'CCG & Character Creation: FF Out and About', 16 August 2019.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Digital Collaboration Fund
Amount £45,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2021 
End 12/2021
Description Going Global Partnerships - Enabling Grants to Strengthen UK-China Institutional Partnerships through academic collaboration 2021
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2022 
End 03/2024