"In two years, we will be on the red carpet for the Oscars," says Su Xiaohong, writer and producer of The Dreams of Jinsha (DJ), while watching the live telecast of the ceremony of the 83rd Academy Awards in her studio in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province. DJ, a 85-minute film produced in Hangzhou by Chinese talent, is one of the 15 animation pieces short-listed for the 2011 Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, along with Toy Story 3, this year's winner, by Walt Disney Pictures and Shrek 4 by Dreamworks.
It marks the first time in 25 years for a Chinese film to have come this close to the Academy Awards.
The story of DJ celebrates the core Chinese values of love and courage. A teenage boy named Xiao Long travels back in time to Jinsha, a lost civilization 3,000 years ago in Southwest China, where he meets its princess Flower. Together they save forests and towns from a dark power.
Compared to Toy Story 3, whose production cost hit $110 million (80 million euros), DJ's budget registered at 30 million yuan (3.3 million euros).
Unlike other blockbuster 3D animation using computer design software, every stroke of DJ was drawn or painted by hand. It is also China's first cartoon to have met the international standards of B2K, meaning when the film is projected 30 meters in width, its colors remain vivid and its lines smooth. It took five years for Su and her team to complete the piece.
Many animation gurus such as Aron J. Warner, producer of the animated blockbuster Shrek, and Henrik Tamm, visual effects art director of Kung Fu Panda, have recognized their efforts.
"Mr Warner could hardly pull himself away from the frames of DJ," Su says.
"Best of luck in all your future movies!" Warner later wrote in Su's notebook.
DJ is Su's first try in the world of animation. Su never studied animation or art. Her major in college was Chinese and her childhood dream was to be a poet.
"The 30 million yuan invested in the film comes entirely from our own savings ... by me and my husband," Su says.
Su and her husband, Chen Deming, director of DJ, made their fortune in the 1990s in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong province close to Hong Kong, by making advertisements and TV programs for local TV stations and State broadcaster CCTV. They later went into financial investment.
"A visit in 2004 to the Museum of Sanxingdui, or Jinsha relics, changed the course of our lives," Su says.
"I have always been fascinated by two Dreamworks animation films. One is The Prince of Egypt and the other is Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. And it hit on me that we could make an animation to the tell the epic of Jinsha as beautifully as The Prince of Egypt."