Oscar-Winning 'Hair Love' Producer Lion Forge Signs Animation Deal With China's Starlight Media

It's a classic Hollywood underdog story: a rising animation studio produces an animated short that goes viral, and which goes on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short. Lion Forge Animation has had a banner year with the Oscar win of the acclaimed animated short Hair Love, and they're continuing that streak with a new multipicture deal with China's Starlight Media, the company behind Crazy Rich Asians.

Lion Forge Animation has entered a joint venture partnership with China's Starlight Media, fresh off the success of the Oscar-winning Hair Love. The multiyear, multiproject deal will produce a slate of animated shorts and feature films "focusing on a variety of stories and real-world issues," according to the press release.

The agreement is one of the few Hollywood-China deals to be struck amid increasingly tense diplomatic relations between the two countries since the U.S.-China trade war in mid-2018, and the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But Lion Forge and Starlight Media — both young companies fresh off early successes (Lion Forge with Hair Love, Starlight with an equity investment in Crazy Rich Asians) — already have several projects in the pipeline. The first two include a feature-length reimagining of the 16th-century Chinese legend and classic Chinese novel Journey to the West (for anime fans, that's the inspiration for Dragon Ball) as well as an original animated short inspired by the coronavirus pandemic. The animated short, which will focus on the pandemic's impact on both humans and other animal species, is being fast-tracked for a production start in April to take advantage of its timeliness, the partners said.

Lion Forge will take the lion's share of animation work at its studios in St. Louis, Missouri, but both companies will collaborate on development, pre-production, and financing.

In a statement following the announcement of the partnership, Lion Forge's David Steward II said, "We operate on the premise of championing diversity, so crossing boarders to collaborate with partners like Starlight Media is a move we're very happy to make in the spirit of achieving a desired content slate that reflects diverse voices and stories."

Starlight Media's Peter Luo added, "We want to be in business with Lion Forge Animation because we share a common vision, not just on taste and preferences of films, but on the execution of a business model that will bring high quality, very entertaining films to the marketplace."