SINGAPORE — In Taipei and Hong Kong, horrid crimes are no longer left for tabloid readers to imagine.
Crimes are now re-enacted by animators, who render the latest real-life carjackings and knifings into video game-quality digital cartoons.
The videos, as visually alluring as the Grand Theft Auto game series, are produced within hours. Recently, within one day of a police officer’s murder, the Apple Daily tabloids released a vivid re-enactment of the murder — capturing the perp’s haircut, the length of his blade and the torrent of blood spurting from the officer’s neck.
“People really want to watch stuff instead of reading,” said Simon Lee, CEO of multimedia for Apple Daily. The tabloids, which already attract Taiwan and Hong Kong readers with hardcore crime coverage in print, launched their “Motion News” in mid-November.
Some of the Chinese-language animations are posted online and can be viewed here. But the tabloids are mostly marketing the animations as mobile downloads, beamed into phones for about three cents per video under a low-cost subscription plan.
“Some people might have a hesitation about the truthfulness,” Lee said. “I debate them. Even if I write something, how true is that? We’ve been training [the animators] for two years to obtain every detail in the crime scene.”
But Apple Daily’s foray into digital gore has already riled the Taiwan government. Taipei Mayor has promised to fine Next Media, owner of Apple Daily’s Taiwan and Hong Kong editions, more than $15,500 for violating Taiwanese decency acts.
According to the The China Post, Chairwoman Bonnie Peng of Taiwan’s National Communications Commission said the videos “cannot actually be called news.” The commission has warned of further retribution, including blocking Next Media’s pending licenses to launch cable TV channels.
Apple Daily’s animations recreate police blotter items ranging from armed robbery to bizarre domestic disputes. For more than a year, the Apple Daily animators have built a library of digital knives, cars, buildings and people that can be tweaked and inserted into the recreations.
It takes only about two hours to create an animation and the tabloid attempts to produce between 20 and 30 each day. Beyond crime, the media group intends to churn out animations recreating court scenes, behind-the-scenes sports moments and medical procedures.
The roughly 300 animators work in what resembles a telemarketing call center. Each wears a headset used to banter back and forth with reporters and editors. They work using two monitors: one that displays tidbits about the crime and one that’s used to hurriedly recreate the incident.
Both the animators and reporters revel in an obsession over small details, Lee said. “They say, ‘The hair color isn’t like that. It’s darker. No, that guy is too tall or way too short.’”
A small number of readers have already objected to the service, complaining that animators could never perfectly render a horrid crime scene as it actually unfolded. Other readers, Lee said, find the cartoons uncomfortably graphic.
“People sometimes can’t handle the truth,” Lee said. “Culturally, for the generation who grew up with the internet, they know how to handle the truth. Some older people might find this too exciting. But even as they say this, they still consume our product.”
But the preliminary response, Lee said, has been overwhelmingly positive. The website’s traffic doubled on the first day the “Motion Videos” were posted.
Shortly after launching in 1995, Apple Daily’s racy Hong Kong edition was condemned by Chinese authorities. But through its relentless coverage of street violence, celebrities and auto accidents, it eventually became the second-largest circulation paper in the city. The Taipei edition was launched in 2003 to similar success.
The re-enactments, Lee said, are part of a larger strategy to wean readers off print and crank up the tabloids’ online and mobile phone offerings. “Let’s face it,” he said. “Newspapers are going downhill. And print is no longer the future.”
Through a licensing agreement, Lee said, roughly 70 percent of iPhones sold in Hong Kong are installed with an Apple Daily application that offers “Motion News.”
The tabloids eventually want to produce animations for Western newspapers, which may find it difficult to compete with Apple Daily’s up-and-running animation farms. Lee said he’s considering a “road show” to the U.S. to interest various news outlets.