“Couts” Diego Coutinho celebrates 50th anniversary of D&AD with Wish You Were Here?

pic1
Coutinho and the crew working on Wish You Were Here?

Diego “Couts” Coutinho did not always know he would eventually be considered a top art director and motion graphics designer in his country. He started working at the age of eleven, fixing cars. A year later, he began working in a chair factory. During his time there, he learned what hard work really was, and what it meant to succeed. At the age of 20, he went to school to study graphic design. He was the first in his family to go university.

Despite his humble beginnings, Coutinho quickly became one to watch. He has been recognized worldwide for his talents, winning awards and festival selections. Yet, even with all he has achieved, for him it is still about doing what he loves.

“The art director is one of the people in charge of the project, so if it goes wrong, it’s your responsibility, but if that’s okay you’ll get your laurels too. In this position, beyond the possibility of having more space to act, I feel very stimulated with the possibilities to explore my own ideas and solutions for the project,” said Coutinho.

Coutinho’s success continued when he worked on the film Wish You Were Here? to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famous D&AD Awards for design and advertising. Design and Art Direction (D&AD, formerly known as British Design & Art Direction) is a British educational charity which exists to promote excellence in design and advertising. Widely considered one of the most prestigious and difficult-to-win awards in design and advertising, D&AD celebrates the finest creativity each year across a diverse range of disciplines.

“It’s a dream to be part of the 50th anniversary of such an important festival and to play with such groundbreaking pieces of art direction and advertising. So, for a festival of such importance like D&AD to give us the opportunity to promote next year’s awards is fantastic,” said Coutinho.

The spot summarizes the five decades of the awards in a creative and unusual way, recalling memorable pieces of design and advertising that won the coveted pencil-shaped trophies. The over 20 references Coutinho’s team picked from the immense D&AD archives were reinterpreted, using various techniques like 2D and 3D animation, stop-motion, live-action and puppetry, all the while swapping characters and narratives between the ads. The resulting fragments were sequenced in a free-associative way, with elements from a scene “trespassing” onto the next creating a flowing, surrealistic narrative that reflects the ambiguous, unpredictable nature of memory.

“It was great to work with such creative freedom. Of all the work I usually do, this one was like the ‘cherry on top’ because of the creative freedom we had and all the extra fun we had along the way,” said Coutinho.

Wish You Were Here? went on to win multiple awards, including one from D&AD itself, the Wood Pencil for Branded Film Content & Entertainment online. It also won the Silver for Visual Language and Graphics at the Cannes Lions, the Gold for Title Sequence at Ciclope 2015, the Bronze in Motion Graphics at LIA, and the 2015 Merit Award for Broadcast & Moving Image/Animation at One Show.

02“I like the touch of mood that is important for the pacing of the film. I believe that it is fun for people in the field, who know the history of design and advertising, to try to identify all the references,” described Coutinho. “And receiving awards in many festivals for this project was an honor and a privilege.”

In this movie, Coutinho worked on the creative team, responsible for creating what would happen in the film. The storyline connects one commercial into another, and he had to think about how to merge two or three commercials in just one shot. After this, he created motion graphics and designed the posters of the movie.

“We began exploring ideas and concepts of what could turn out to be the film. After many suggestions, we got the proposal that summarizes, in a creative and unusual way, five decades of the Awards, all the while recalling memorable pieces of design and advertising that won the coveted pencil shaped trophies, mixing the commercials in a not your typical look-back piece, however,” he described. “The biggest challenge was to implement the concept of ‘let’s put mixed commercials in one spot’. The answer was gradually emerging based on associations, sometimes associations between elements in each commercial, sometimes in action or even free associations.”

The result is not a movie to be viewed from the perspective of the common market, in which technical elements as a clear identity, typesetting, and color work clearly permeate throughout the video, according to Coutinho.

“The final product asks for a moment of questioning about what is happening in the video, a fact that is obvious when we pay attention to the way how the track was built,” he said.

To create the posters, Coutinho used the same logic that was used to create the movie. He picked over some references from the D&AD archives and reinterpreted them in a fresh new way. The result of the posters come from mixing references of the Wish You Were Here? campaign, and other posters that were awarded in D&AD in the past. He used some materials that had been used in the creation of the short, and kept the references consistent with the identity of the campaign.

“Highly motivated, Diego has an amazing professional attitude that always brings a huge production value to any project he is involved,” said Diogo Kalil, a motion designer and 3D animator on the project.

You can view Coutinho’s work on the posters here, or check out the full video here.

Advertisements

Jackson Williams talks dancing with Whitney Houston, Magic Mike Live, and living his dream

jackson-2
Jackson Williams is from Peterborough, England.

Coming from Peterborough, England, Jackson Williams never imagined that one day he would dance alongside the world’s biggest stars. Growing up, he never thought he would be a dancer at all. He was always an athlete, playing rugby, soccer, swimming, and boxing, but it wasn’t until he was a teenager, when he saw his sister dance, that he realized his passion. Since that moment, his passion turned into a talent, and a talent turned into a career.

Williams is fresh off touring the globe with pop-sensation Ellie Goulding and her Delirium World Tour. He previously toured with Kylie Minogue, Australia’s most successful artist of all time, and Take That, the chart-topping boy band. He has appeared on Simon Cowell’s show X Factor, and toured with the show, and was part of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in London in 2012.

“This is the only job I’ve ever had. It is my twelfth year professionally. I love the excitement of being on stage. I’m a down to earth kind of guy, but there is something about having a personality on stage and you can be anyone you want and there is no judgement. I love performing,” said Williams.

Despite touring with The Alesha Show and Girls Aloud previously, it was in 2009 when Williams truly shot into a different category of dancers, and was recognized as one of the best that the United Kingdom had to offer. This was when he went on tour with none other than Whitney Houston.

“It said a lot, having the statement that such a high caliber artist wanted to work with you. They could have chosen anyone in the country but they chose me. They thought I was a friendly person who worked hard. These people who had been around for years wanted me around them. They trusted me. And in terms of a dancer, it put my name on the block and I have stayed there. I was the main boy in the show with one other guy. We were Whitney’s boys,” said Williams.

The promo tour went all over Europe, and sadly ended up becoming Whitney Houston’s last tour, as she tragically passed in three years later. Williams’ knows he was one of the last dancers to ever perform with the legend, and he knows it is an honor.

“She was one of the greatest and I feel proud,” he said. “She was a mega, mega, mega, mega, mega star. You are nervous, you are scared, and you are super excited, every kind of emotion. That first time that I was on stage, I got goosebumps when she hit a note. It was like I was cold but I was sweating. That had never happened to me before, and has never happened to me since. Humming, she still sounded better than anyone else in the world. She is the most incredible singer I have ever been on stage with. It is history. It is iconic.”

Jerry Reeve, the celebrated choreographer that brought Williams on the tour, says he did so because he is one of the most highly desired dancers in the industry in the U.K., with extensive experience and unmatched talent.

“Jackson stands out on stage as a dancer of tremendous experience and flawless technique. His years of success have perfected his craft on stage and make every concert at which he dances an inevitable success. Jackson dances very vibrantly and elegantly and conveys various moods with his performances, from comedy to romance. He gives every production a unique personality with his very original footwork, while he showcases his prowess in numerous styles, ranging from ballet, to hip-hop, to jazz, keeping audiences captivated and excited. Jackson serves as a valuable asset to every production for which he dances and most definitely contributes to their successes in retaining high viewership and high-ticket sales. His sheer eclecticism is always highly rewarding, and it is always a unique pleasure to choreograph such a distinguished talent,” said Reeve.

Reeve continues to seek out Williams for tours and shows he is putting together to this day, knowing that he possesses extraordinary abilities required to captivate audiences when he dances. For Williams, performing on Whitney Houston’s tour was the first time he really started to just enjoy what he was doing, without thinking too much about it.

“You become one on stage. It becomes second nature. When you are singing in a car but you are still driving, that is what it is like. You are doing it but you are singing along to it, without thinking about the song, that is what it was like performing on stage. I was dancing but not thinking about each move. I just got to enjoy what I was doing and take it all in,” said Williams.

And he hasn’t stopped since. It seems unbelievable that there was once a time when he hid that he was dancing from his father, going to dance classes after soccer practice. Millions of people have seen him dance, and he will keep doing it until his body won’t let him. With no plans on slowing down, the dancer will soon be taking part in Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas.

“If I was on my deathbed now, I lived a good life. I am quite chuffed,” he concluded.

EYE DROPS – AVNER MAYER SHOWS A KINDER WORLD

When art is malevolent it is divisive, seeking to focus society on what “others” are doing to make your life worse. When it is mediocre, it serves little purpose at all. But, when art is at its best, it gathers all peoples in and draws their inherent goodness out of them. The creators of art are no different than every other segment of society in the fact that they must daily choose to use their abilities to draw us closer to each other or tear us apart. The WATER Project seeks to cultivate the former. Also known as the Israeli-Palestinian Cinematic Project, this endeavor saw ten Israeli and Palestinian directors embark on a journey to create films, fiction or documentary inspired by water. Under the belief that water symbolizes the source of possibilities at the primal core of all things, these filmmakers took part in joint meetings in Tel-Aviv presenting their ideas to one another. Produced with full creative freedom with mixed crews of Palestinians and Israelis, these films reflected the personal and courageous perspectives of both sides view of reality. The film Eye Drops was part of the WATER project which was screened at more than 20 Festivals around the world, receiving significant press attention. The project premiere was at the Prestigious Venice international film festival as the opening film of the “Critic week” program. The WATER project received an Amnesty award for its effort to bring Palestinian and Israelis closer. Eye Drops is a reaffirming vision of the ability of all people to see beyond their differences, particularly in a subject matter as provocative as this one. The film received global attention at festivals including the: Tertio Millennio Film Festival (Italy), Stockholm International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival (South Korea), New Middle East Cinema film festival in Philadelphia, and many others. The look that Cinematographer (Israel born) Avner Mayer created depicts both the despair and hope of the people and this land. Overcoming the almost instinctual reaction of this land’s natives and the world’s view of it, Meyer’s imagery and design enables the audience to see the humanity underlying it all.

It’s easy to make assumptions about someone without getting to truly know them as an individual. That can be applied to the viewing audience of a news program, a film, or even a neighbor. In Eye Drops, Mohammad Bakri lives with his two sons (Saleh and Ziad) in a small flat in Tel Aviv. Their neighbor Sarah (played by Rona Zilberman) is a Holocaust survivor who asks them to assist her with her eye-drop medication. A unique and mysterious connection grows among them. The movie is about compassion and the ability to get along in spite of differences in religion and race. The filmmakers approach to the composition was to create a feeling of empathy. In order to convey this, the movie is almost always shot at the eye level of the characters. The hope for this was to allow viewers to see through the character’s eyes and souls. Many of the shots include the entire cast in order to create a feeling of unity. Exterior shots were designed to be cold and intimidating, almost as a mirror to the political climate in Israel at that point during the second Intifada (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada). In contrast, the houses are portrayed as places of great warmth in hopes of showing the love and compassion hiding inside this political climate. All that is need is to go into someone’s home and talk with them in order to find real, warm human beings.

eye-drops-with-directoractor-mohammad-bakri

It was Mayer’s task to create these emotional vignettes for Eye Drops. Mohammad Bakri (director/writer/actor) needed a highly skilled professional behind the camera who not only understood how to help him capture the story but to also understood the people and emotions that motivated them. Designing everything from the lighting to the framing of the shot necessitated a professional and emotional eye. Avner communicates, “As a DP I feel my work is always to translate the director’s vision into images. A lot of the preproduction process for me concentrates in creating the visual bible of the movie. When you work with new filmmakers, there are two main problems. First of all, their visual lexicon is not always clear; meaning you need to find a common language to talk about images. That’s always hard but it seems to be smoother with more experienced filmmakers. The second issue regards logistics and the amount of time needed to achieve some effects. It’s much easier to talk about shots than actually to perform them on set. It’s important that the director will realize what is possible to do and what’s not inside the budget and time constraints, prioritizing the important story beats. People don’t often realize that this is a lot of what my job entails. Mohammed is well known and respected in the Israel film community so it was a pleasure to work with him and it was much easier than working with a ‘new’ director…but there are always challenges. Mohammed wanted to shoot in the actual real locations. It was a blessing and a curse as a DP. The locations had a lot of charm and were very photogenic but the big minus was regarding space. This was mostly in regards to the house, which was a little too small. We were limited in our options with that space. In the end we found creative solutions and solved that issue.”

Eye Drops received voluminous praise and accolades from the community and critics. One of the most vocal fans of Mayer’s work on the film came from its creator. The fact that Mohammad was also the lead actor in the Eye Drops made Avner much more aware of the acting. Normally this cinematographer focuses on the visual side of the imagery; did the characters land in the right place? Is the lighting precise? Etc. Bakri praises Avner’s work and awareness declaring, “I honestly couldn’t have done this movie without Avner’s Support. It was my first narrative film, and coming into the movie there were a lot of elements I didn’t expect. Avner was my right hand, helping me in planning the scene blocking and shot selection. We were on a tight schedule and Avner got us there in time. I really think Avner is a real talent! He’s very committed to his work, he communicates well, and his visual perception and imagery is stunning! I’m never surprised to hear that he’s doing well in the industry, he deserves it!”

eye-drops-head-shot-diffrent-project

The climax of the film is when Sarah’s eyes are finally well enough to make out the faces of her helpers. She sees that they are in fact the individuals who she would have avoided if she had seen with her vision rather than with her heart. Eye Drops makes a profound statement that will hopefully predict the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Dancer Anton Engel talks the BBC Music Awards, Magic Mike Live, and doing what he loves

anton-bbc
Anton Engel at the BBC Music Awards.

Last month, dancer Anton Engel performed for millions dancing at the BBC Music Awards. The experience was not necessarily new for the young dancer, who has been featured on many broadcasts in his established career, but it was thrilling none-the-less.

The show, which premiered December 16th, 2016, featured Britain’s best musical talent. Engel knew what being picked as a dancer for the show meant, and would not let the pressure of performing on live television interfere with his job.

“It is always a great feeling to have such a big audience in the auditorium and at the same time watching you on the television live. The crowd was absolutely amazing,” said Engel. “We made sure we knew our material inside out so that we could would only focus on delivering a great performance and presence on stage.”

Engel, who is also a model, was given the opportunity with the show to really focus on his appearance on stage.  He was playing the role as both a dancer and model, with the responsibility of accompanying the presenters on stage with the right timing and elegance. They needed a model who would be able to take direction from a director very quickly regarding counts, placement, timing and movement. Coming from a dancing background, this was not an issue for him.

“It can be very stressful, but at the same time it is what I love. It was all about having a good quality of movement with an elegant and jazzy walk,” said Engel.

The ceremony, being one of the largest music shows in the world, had an average audience of 3.9 million people watching live on BBC One. Engel worked closely with the world-renowned team at Black Skull Creative productions, including Ross Nicholson, Dan Shipton, and choreographer Jay Revell.

“Anton will always present a great final product while keeping a professional approach to it during the process. It is always a pleasure to work with Anton, since I know that my work is in good hands. He has always delivered a great performance with a personal touch that only Anton can create. His performance quality is very original and pleasant to watch while his energetic and positive personality stays very enjoyable to work with,” said Revell.

Originally from the countryside in Switzerland, in a small town called Ballen, Engel has come a long way. He has performed for the British royal family, danced with worldwide top-charting group Fifth Harmony, toured with the sensational glamor group The Dreamboys, and been featured on Alan Carr’s New Year Specstacular. No matter how big or small his job is, he is always doing what he is truly passionate about.

“Dancing is something that I have always enjoyed. I feel like I can express myself in a way that words would not be enough. It’s that moment where you and the music become one and everything around you stops. The dance world is such a nice atmosphere, when you meet a dancer you have a lot you can relate to since you are sharing the same passion and have the honor to experience the feelings that dancing can give you. Being lucky enough to have an audience to share my passion with is the best feeling ever,” said Engel.

Engel grew up speaking three languages: German with his mother, Swedish with his father and French at school and with friends. At 13, he and his friends formed a competitive breakdancing group. He moved to Sweden by himself at the age of 16 to study dancing. At 19, he moved to London to live his dream of being a professional dancer. He is now 23 years old and have a critical place in the dance and fashion industries all over the United Kingdom, and will soon be making his way to Vegas to dance in Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike Live.

“The feeling of knowing that I will be moving to Las Vegas working for Magic Mike is unreal, I still can’t believe it. I am constantly thinking about it and it puts a smile on my face. Knowing that I will be performing for thousands of people in the iconic Hard Rock Café in Vegas is a dream coming true,” he said. “It is a huge change of lifestyle for me and I’m looking forward to it. I feel like It is time for a new chapter in my life and I have never felt so ready.”

Engel will be working alongside the director, Channing Tatum, as well as choreographer and co-director Alison Faulk, who choreographed the Magic Mike films with Tatum. He will also work with choreographer Luke Broadlick, associate choreographer and director Teresa Espinosa, and all the other professional dancers in the show. But for Engel, it is just another opportunity to do what he loves.

“When I dance I feel like everything around me stops. All my thoughts and worries are put to the side and I can enjoy life and the moment. The feeling of you being overtaken by dance, whether it is you just improvising, performing on live TV or for a big audience, the feelings and the way it makes your body feel there is nothing else like it,” he concluded.

You can buy tickets to Magic Mike Live here.

Graphic Designer Jiping Liu Applies Her Talent to the Film Industry

Jiping Liu
Graphic Designer Jiping Liu

So much money and creative effort goes into a film before it makes it to the screen, and while the fruits of a powerful collaboration are undoubtedly fulfilling, the real payoff comes from getting audiences to give their attention to a project, something that graphic designer Jiping Liu achieves with unparalleled mastery.

Many may ask how a graphic designer such as Liu fits into a film production, and the answer comes down to her ability to create striking graphics that grab a viewer’s attention and makes them want to watch a film they know very little about.

In addition to getting her bachelor’s in digital media arts from Beijing Jiaotong University, Liu, who is originally from China, spent a decade of her life painting.

While her creative skill as a graphic designer brought her a great deal of success back home in China, with Liu designing for Tencent, one of the largest internet companies in the world, as well as for leading mobile digital platform developer Inforgence, she knew there was an area where her talents would not only be better suited, but also more personally fulfilling, and that came through film. Fearlessly diving into her passion for film, Liu left her successful career as a graphic designer in China to complete her master’s in filmmaking at the New York Film Academy where she received a scholarship, and she has made incredible strides in the industry since.

Earlier this year she did the graphic design for the heart-warming film “She Gives Me Sight,” which revolves around a young blind boy named Cecil, played by Diego Delpiano who viewers can also catch in the upcoming film “The Zookeeper’s Wife” starring Golden Globe Award winner and two-time Oscar nominated actress Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”). The film, which Liu also wrote and directed, follows the way Cecil’s grandma, who is played by Rosemary Stevens (“Tumble Leaf,” “Newlywed and Broke”), raises him to be a strong and capable adult despite his disability by treating him as though he is no different than anyone else.

"She Gives Me Sight"Jiping Liu
“She Gives Me Sight” film poster designed by Jiping Liu

For the “She Gives Me Sight” film poster Liu created a captivating picture of Cecil appearing in a dark silhouette with the silhouette of a city skyline juxtaposed against the ‘Sight’ portion of the film’s title, with the poster’s background being a warmly lit representation of his grandmother’s home lined with a series of lamps. Revealing the dichotomy between dark and light, and the way a blind boy learns to see through ways other than his eyes,  Liu captures the essence of the film perfectly with the poster she designed for “She Gives Me Sight.”

The film has done extraordinarily well on the film festival circuit taking home awards at the 2016 Direct Short Online Film Festival, the LA Underground Film Festival, the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival and the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, as well as earning an award nomination at the International Monthly Film Festival, and being selected as a semi-finalist at the I HELLA Love Shorts Film Festival and the Hollywood Screenings Film Festival. “She Gives Me Sight” also screened at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, the SHORT to the Point Film Festival and the Roma Film Festival where it was chosen as an Official Selection.

Over the last few years Liu’s creative eye and skill as a graphic designer have led her to land coveted positions as the creator of eye-catching film posters for films such as “Successor of the Southern Star,” “Red Cherries,” “Don’t Touch Me” and the upcoming film “Sea of Mirrors” from well-known Macau director Thomas Lim (“Roulette City,” “The Rat-Ox Diaries”).

What makes Liu such a unique artist in the film industry is the way she has expanded upon her foundation as a graphic designer in a way that has allowed her to contribute her talents to a variety of vital roles on film and television productions.

Earlier this year Liu contributed her strengths as a graphic designer to the art department of Thirati Kulyingwattanavit’s award-winning horror film “Kumal.” Based on the ancient Thai legend of sacrificing an unborn child in order to achieve immortality, the film follows Tom and Charlie, two friends who hear screams from a decrepit house and dash in to help; but when they find themselves in the center of dark voodoo ritual, they soon discover that their good samaritan impulses may have put them in a situation from which they may never escape.

Being chosen as an Official Selection of more that 20 film festivals across the globe, “Kumal” has earned numerous awards including the LAIFF August Award at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, four Awards of Recognition from the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, and the Award of Merit from the Depth of Field International Film Festival Competition.

As part of the film’s art department Liu worked on creating many of the props and wardrobe elements in the film including the character’s bloody shirts and the blood drenched baby, as well as oversee the continuity of the bloody props from shot to shot. After wrapping the filming of “Kumal” Liu has also been tapped graphic design a new version of the film’s poster and title design.

She says, “Graphic Design helped me work in the film’s Art Department on set, and after shooting I worked on the poster and title design, so I worked in two processes for the film, which helped me connect and get a deeper understanding of the film, making it much easier to work on the poster and title design.”

With several award-winning productions under her belt, and several production companies clamoring to hire her for unique talents, it’s clear that Jiping Liu has found a powerful niche in the film industry thanks to her adept skill as a graphic designer.

ZHENG KANG’S LION DANCE IS AN INSTANT CLASSIC OF ANIMATION

Zheng Kang is redefining the role of animator. Yes, he is technically given the title director/animator but he does (pun intended) the lion’s share of the work on Lion Dance. For this production, he helped create the script, directed a live action cast (more about this later), directed the animation (coordinated with different teams on different continents), animated, and essentially helped to coordinate every aspect of this film. Zheng has been a driving force behind so many animated productions (Comedy Central’s TripTank, Diors Samurai, Baby and Granny, etc.) that he is constantly striving to create original approaches to ward off any unconscious attempt to fall into a pattern. In Lion Dance, Kang has gone to new heights of diligence and preparation in order to create a unique look and storyline to reflect accurately on his native culture and the characters of the film. It’s this intense work ethic and attention to even the smallest detail that led to a host of accolades for Lion Dance, not the least of which was the decision to use Lion Dance as a teaching aid by the faculty at USC (University of Southern California) School of Cinematic Arts for their graduate animation classes. Winning awards and screenings at prestigious festivals is high praise (both of which Lion Dance has garnered) but being used as a template to the premier graduate students in the field is a rare accomplishment indeed. It doesn’t come easy; Zheng can attest to this. He worked hard to make Lion Dance an epitome of its ilk. The achievements and praise of the film confirm that all of this tenacity paid off in spades for this young and creative professional.  Lion Dance continues to focus attention on Zheng Kang’s contributions to the animation film world.

with-live-action-crew

In creating Lion Dance, Kang wanted to present a love story that was original. Just as importantly, he wanted to present its main characters in a new way. He states, “As a Chinese man, I’m well aware that the male Chinese characters are often presented as comic relief. I was committed to portraying my leading man as exactly that, a leading man. I wanted to show that he could be brave, kind, searching for love; I wanted him to represent all those qualities that Asian men are seen void of.” The Hero, Jian, is the “head” of the lion in the traditional ‘Lion Dance’ during the parade celebrating Chinese New Year in his town. He and Ayumi (the female lead) lock eyes and fall in love, but Jian is in mid- parade and must continue his march through the town. It is typical when the Lion Dance is performed in real-life that two teams will take turns performing inside the Lion costume because it is so heavy and hot! When Jian hears a hand tapping on his Lion costume, he assumes it is the relief team and he races off to find Ayumi. He arrives at her balcony and is sad to see she is not there. Heartbroken, he heads back to take his place in the parade. The film then switches to Ayumi’s perspective of the events. After their eyes met, Ayumi decides that she can’t let Jian simply march away. She races after him, catching up with his Lion at the same time as the relief teams are taking their shift. She taps Jian’s Lion costume, and he mistakes her for the relief team. Throwing the Lion head onto Ayumi without looking, he races off to find her, unaware that she was standing right next to him! Now, as the relief team begin to march, poor Ayumi finds herself pushed along inside the parade. The star-crossed lovers seem doomed at this point to be diverted from each other. In the final act of the film, a sad Jian becomes very confused when he spots that his Lion is no longer in the parade, and is instead playing with local children. He walks over and lifts the Lion’s head off to find Ayumi underneath. Both are surprised, and relieved, having finally found each other. In the final scene, the camera drifts off to a romantic firework display as the young heroes fall in love. Zheng created these young characters to provide a role model he felt had been too often overlooked in film. He comments, “I wanted to ensure that I was as diverse as possible and created a starring role for an Asian man that allowed him to be an action hero (rather than a comedy relief) and a starring role for an Asian woman that allowed her to have confidence, strength of character, and personality (rather than being a Caucasian guy’s one-dimensional love interest). I believe that no matter what art form you work in, you have the ability to inspire and educate society with a positive message.

In his role as director/animator for Lion Dance, Kang utilized a very unique approach. Because he wanted the characters to avoid any status-quo type movements found in animation, Zheng cast and directed a group of live actors in order to get completely original movements and expressions. Employing a method known as rotoscoping, the animators would work on top of the live action footage and follow the actual live sequences. This led the animators to following the movements of the actors rather than deferring to their stock ideas about what movements should look like in animation. The result is immediately noticeable as different from the vast majority of animation productions. Zheng concedes that this method was every bit as successful as he had imagined. The only difficult aspect was that he had so many great actors auditioning with interesting interpretations of the characters.

work-on-animation

To meet the scheduling and budgetary constraints but yet still bring his vision to completion, Kang hatched another ingenious approach. Coordinating multiple crews on different continents, he created a twenty-four hour per day work schedule. Zheng’s co-director Tim Pattinson was astonished as he relates, “On Lion Dance, Zheng’s directing skills were exceptional. Using a series of sketches, drawovers, and video calling, he was able to effectively and assuredly communicate very complex animation direction to teams across 5 continents, resulting in the successful completion of our animated scenes. In Tokyo, Zheng created a complex and incredibly successful method of visually communicating the direction of our original sound and score design to Japanese speaking team members, via a series of graphs showing our story’s emotional peaks and troughs, high-energy moments, etc. Lion Dance has been very well-received globally and I have no doubt that it could not have enjoyed any of this success without Zheng’s clear, confident, and incredibly commercially-successful direction. Zheng’s skills on Lion Dance as the Animation Lead were invaluable, in terms of achieving our finished film.” The recognition and achievements Lion Dance has received are literally too numerous to mention in one article but a few include: Award of Recognition (Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival 2016), Animation Of The Month (The Monthly Film Festival) October 2016, Best Animation (Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards) November 2016, Best Animated Short Film (Chandler International Film Festival) October 2017, Best Animation (Asian On Film), Best Short Animation (Canadian Diversity Film Festival), Best Short Animation (Canadian Diversity Film Festival), and official screenings around the world in LA, London, Guam, Toronto, and many others.

final-mix-at-usc

When asked what fueled the herculean amount of work he did for Lion Dance, Zheng reveals, “I really do feel that any artist can have a positive effect. I knew that this was a great love story that could also show people from my part of the world to be the same as anywhere else. There will always be cultural differences but in our hearts we all want the same things. Animation serves to tell that story just as well as a feature film, a great song, or a moving painting. Oh, and one other thing fueled all of this. Typically, for a whole year, the work for me was 15-hour days/7 days- per-week. Approaching the last month of production, the light at the end of the tunnel was visible. Tim [Pattinson] and I have a friend named Konie and his fantastic Korean cooking kept us going. we’d have been living on hot dogs and potato chips for that last month if not for him. That’s a hero to me as well!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CINEMATOGRAPHER YASH KHANNA MAKES “OUIJA SUMMONING” FRIGHTENINGLY GOOD

When filmmakers create a film on a smaller budget that does huge numbers, Hollywood sits up quickly. That’s exactly what happened when Writer/Director Marwan Mokbel’s Ouija Summoning (produced by Egywood Pictures) became a hit horror film. Ouija Summoning was distributed by some of the biggest platforms in the U.S. and worldwide, including Amazon Prime, Walmart, Best Buy, Red Box, iTunes, Barnes and Noble, and many more. Horror films are among the most commercially successful genres in the industry. When a film like this with tighter budgetary constraints is so well received, it’s proof that the story and the look of the film are exemplary and in perfect synergy. Horror productions rely heavily on the believability of the “look” as fans of the genre continually demand more realistic visuals for the unbelievable situations. Mokbel needed a consummate professional as his DP for Ouija Summoning and he found it in Yash Khanna. One of the main reasons for Khanna’s enthusiasm about being involved was Marwan’s encouragement that his DP be experimental. Creative people love the opportunity to do just that…be very creative. The scenario worked out well for Yash, Mokbel, and the film they have created. Marwan states, “I hired Yash because of his extensive history of bringing a unique visual style and stamp to each production he has worked on in the past. Yash was nothing short of impressive with his work on our film. His understanding of lighting, composition, and color, reveal his talent while the thoroughness of his preproduction preparedness gives proof of his staunch work ethic and commitment. The film one hundred percent succeeded thanks to the fantastic contributions of Yash.”

Khanna relents that being prepared is the most necessary part of his early contributions to any film. His eclectic resume (including films such as: Funny Man, How To Get Girls, Slipaway, Exit, and many others) displays his ability to be a valued Cinematographer on a production for any genre but, his work on Ouija Summoning allowed him to stretch his creative muscles in the appropriate manner for this horror production. Yash notes, “The reason for taking on a project like this, other than working with someone great like Marwan, is that I was afforded the chance to do different techniques. I learned some new things about the horror genre working on this film. I learned how it can be made gripping. I was able to try some lighting ideas which I had wanted to try for a long time. Usually we don’t get to play much with underexposure and contrast but I was able to explore many of these ideas while shooting Ouija Summoning. Marwan works at a very quick pace so shooting fast on multiple setups was a good experience for me as well.”

pic3

From the very earliest stages of his preproduction planning, Khanna set down with the department heads to design the color palette for wardrobe and art design in order to achieve a gothic look for the film. Moving on to lighting and color, Yash wanted to execute soft lighting but with a lot of contrast. The reason behind this choice was to make the atmosphere appear grey and gloomy. Khanna and his team designed their lighting by first cutting and diffusing the daylight and then they began lighting the world of Ouija Summoning. They came up with the idea of using stained glass. This would allow them to introduce harsh colors in the frame. They then designed a rig that would keep the color temperature in sync with the sources, accommodating the many scenes with flashlights and candles. A prime example of the result is in the suspenseful first scene of Ouija Summoning. Yash explains, “The Opening scene was one of the toughest ones to film. We were filming in the basement of an old house. The scene was a long one shot with practical effects. We needed a very dim look as it was the first time we reveal paranormal elements in the film. Marwan had written the scene in a very gripping tone and we wanted to do justice to it. We rigged small units where the camera wouldn’t see them and rigged just the right amount of practical [lighting] where we would feel silhouettes moving.

It was really tight quarters and I had to operate the camera through the stairs walking down and following though narrow corridors. It was a long take. A lot of fans comment that this is a ‘jump out of your seat moment for them…which makes me very happy.”

In a film of the horror genre, it’s a modern day requirement to use VFX, fans expect it and almost demand it. In Ouija Summoning, a beautiful woman is haunted by an evil spirit after an innocent game of Ouija board goes horribly wrong. Sara (the woman) had a perfect life until an evil spirit was summoned from a Ouija board. This spirit had once killed its own son and cannot put the past behind it. Sara is tormented by this spirit, who will stop at nothing until it destroys Sara and everyone else in her life. Making good use of his prior experience working on projects which involve VFX, Khanna planned his lighting, color, and camera choices with the VFX team to make this work to the film’s advantage. Sometimes however, VFX is not enough. Only the authenticity that comes from witnessing real events works in a storyline. In the climactic ending scenes of Ouija Summoning, Sara flees from the spirit and the viewers witness a harrowing chase. For Yash’s role as DP, it was one of the most dangerous and important scenes. He confirms, “The car chase scene, towards the later end of the film, is where the character is driving away from the paranormal spirit. This scene required the car to appear fast and out of control along curvy desert trails. Our stunt man had to skid the car along the turns and do a 180 spin and flip the car in one single motion; after which the car explodes. This was filmed during a one-night shoot. Time constraints were strict, the risk of danger was high, and we could obviously not do take after take of exploding cars. I had multiple camera units running to maximize the footage. We lit a huge area of the desert because we were shooting from far away. The shot came out perfect and was one of the highlights of the movie, a real testament to the planning we did and the amazing execution of our crew!”

Because of the stir Ouija Summoning created, Yash is now fielding a host of offers. The best advertisement is doing great work. The public took great interest in Ouija Summoning and the look which Khanna created, now Hollywood is taking great interest in him. Smiling he declares, “The success of Ouija Summoning has been a great boost for my career. This was my first horror film. I have been offered many horror scripts as a result of it. I’m reading them and waiting for something unique to interest me. I am excited about what’s next.”

best-pic