Since The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, the enthusiasm for science fiction among the Chinese readers has run higher than ever.
It's the first book of the "Remembrance of Earth's Past" trilogy — also referred to as the "Three-Body" trilogy — that tells the story of Chinese physicist Ye Wenjie making contact with the Trisolarans, an alien civilization intent on invading Earth to escape their endangered motherland.
The Three-Body Animation, a 15-episode series based on The Dark Forest, the second novel of the critically acclaimed trilogy, recently premiered on video-sharing platform Bilibili.
The first two episodes debuted on Dec 10, generating over 120 million views within 12 hours and stoking heated debate online. A new episode will be broadcast every Saturday.
With other big-budget TV series and movie adaptations in the works, the animation is the first to air, amid much anticipation from both fans of the books and a general audience. So far, other adaptations have only released trailers.
"The first two episodes fulfilled my anticipation and the story was largely faithful to the original work. I like the thrilling plot and the good combination of scenes and special effects," says Zhou Si, a book fan of the trilogy since 2013.
Bilibili, the Three-Body Universe (Shanghai) Cultural Development Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Yoozoo Group, and animation studio YHKT Entertainment, co-produced the series.
Bilibili invited the studio to join the ambitious project, largely based on their previous cooperation of co-producing the popular science fiction animation series Ling Cage.
"The biggest challenge to make an animation about the 'Three-Body' trilogy is how to demonstrate the broad definition of science fiction," says Ruan Rui, founder of YHKT Entertainment, based in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province.
He admits that they're under great pressure because of the trilogy's great fame.
"Our adaptation is largely based on the original novel, with artistic creation of some scenes and supplementing the plot with details. The ultimate goal is to better present the story and the group of characters, with consideration of the audiovisual effect as well," he says.
Ruan says it's not easy to balance science and imagination, the animation and the original novel, the fans of the novel and non-fans, animation assets and creation ideas.
"The novel is a milestone for China's science fiction literature. It presents Chinese peoples' understanding of the universe, indicating that the community of human beings has a shared future," he says.
"As the novel has a magnificent world view and complicated themes, it's hard to showcase the original work's setting of science and the imagination about future technology."
The team of scriptwriters carefully read the novel before they started adapting it. For a five-minute scene concerning complicated scientific theories, they spent about a year revising the script over discussion with the experts.
The producing team consulted experts in the fields such as quantum physics, nuclear power, aerospace and mechanical engineering, so as to combine these cutting-edge technologies, as well as scientists' understandings about future science, into the animation.
They also communicated with the experts regularly to hone the animation with sci-fi designs that are in accordance with scientific knowledge and laws.
Ruan believes the commonality of animation, TV series and movies is that the core is about storytelling. The biggest advantage for science fiction animation is that the advanced technology can realize the imaginary scenes. But it's very demanding for the animation team.
"We want to create good-quality animations that attract an audience of different age groups and stand the test of time, breaking the stereotype that animation is for children only," he says.
Wu Linfan, vice-president of the animation studio, agrees.
"We've tried our best for over three years to make this brainchild. For each scene, we watched dozens of times to adjust repeatedly," Wu says.
Wu understands that there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people's eyes. He says in character setting, the team concentrated mainly on each role's temperament, rather than just appearance. They also put great efforts in transforming the descriptive words in the novel into visual verisimilitude.
He believes it's also an opportunity to boost the development of China's animation industry, with the influence of the world-renowned science fiction trilogy.
According to Ruan, the major animation studios in China have greatly improved technology and process management in recent years, with a steady increase in production and industrialization levels.
"Thanks to the popularity of guochao, or 'China chic', that features fashionable designs mixed with traditional cultural elements, and the country's preferential policies to boost animation, the industry has been developing rapidly, with the prospect to keep pace with overseas counterparts," Ruan says.