Behind the Anime Adaptation of an Award-Winning Chinese Sci-Fi Novel

Sci-fi fans were thrilled to see three trailers and a spacesuit design for the upcoming anime adaptation of the award-winning Chinese sci-fi novel The three-body problem on the Chinese video sharing and streaming platform Bilibili. The film is slated for release later this year.

Dubbed “Site B”, Bilibili has over 100 million monthly active users. He is co-producing the anime film with YHKT Entertainment and Three-Body Universe (Shanghai).

Ruan Rui, founder of YHKT Entertainment based in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, said he received a lot of feedback from viewers and expectations were high.

After being asked to work on the project four years ago, he was overwhelmed with honor and pressure.

Born in 1982, Ruan is one of the first Chinese professionals to specialize in animation, digital media art, game design and related fields. In 2015, Ruan established a cultural business that focuses on competitive animation products.

Even in its early days, the company produced many popular animation products, including Incarnation, which has attracted millions of fans.

The company has just completed several hundred million yuan in funding, with the latest valuation at nearly 2.5 billion yuan (about $372 million).

In Ruan’s office, there are several game consoles, a seventh-order Rubik’s Cube, and books placed on a large desk. Against the wall, a display case is filled with an array of certificates and awards of his works. There is also a cat and a grand piano in the room.

Ruan said he himself is a longtime fan of Liu Cixin’s Hugo Award-winning sci-fi novel, so he fully understands the challenge and importance of animating it.

“One of the difficulties is that the novel focuses on knowledge of the universe and imagination between civilizations rather than cinematic storytelling. In the process of producing the film, the team must first ask themselves whether the animated drama is in keeping with the tone of the book and provides the audience with a sense of realism,” Ruan said.

However, the challenge has attracted interest from seasoned animation production professionals across China. Ruan said its staff had grown significantly from just over 100 to nearly 500, with most newcomers working in screenwriting and production.

Cai Mingliang, a concept artist, leads a team of nearly 30 people to create images for the animation’s characters, creatures, and environment.

“We hope viewers feel satisfied while providing them with surprises,” he said.

For Cai, the starting point of creation is to think deeply and learn how to better visually present the environment, social functions and worldview in the novel. He tells his colleagues that when drawing a picture of a forest, a concept artist should work like a natural scientist, researching information such as plant species, longitude and latitude of where they grow.

“Animation, as a form of picture art, is particularly suited to the presentation of science fiction content. I can’t wait to see the adaptation exceed my imagination,” said the author of the book Liu.

“The ultimate connotation of The three-body problem is to think about the future of humanity,” Ruan said.

James C. Tibbs