JIPING LIU: GRAPHIC DESIGNER DELVING DEEP INTO THE HEART OF A FILM

Author: Kelly James

Achieving excellence at your craft may seem like a simple but demanding course. To become recognized as a stand-out among your peers you simply focus on the basics and put in the Malcolm Gladwell prescribed 10,000 hours. While that may help you to master a skill, it doesn’t guarantee that you will become noticed by the industry in which you work. The difference between great and amazing is far more vast than that between good and great. In Hollywood that is exponentially true. Jiping Liu is an accomplished graphic designer with numerous award-winning films to her credit. With experience and consummate skills, she still needed an edge to gain notoriety in Tinseltown, when measured up against so many great artists. Liu is known for going the extra mile and spending time on set in order to get a better sense of the “vibe” or “aura” of a film. While many graphic artists in Hollywood are talented and skilled, it’s Jiping’s willingness to immerse herself in a film, much in the same way that the actors invest themselves, that enables her to bring a more authentic and artistic sense of what the filmmakers want to portray. Beyond the graphics and illustrations which she creates behind the scenes and the ones which the public sees, Liu has created many fans of her work…on both sides of the camera.

Horror films are perhaps more popular than they have ever been in cinema. This prolific presence creates more competition and better films for the audience. It also drives those involved in the genre and industry to challenge themselves to bring better work to the table. Director Thirati Kulyingwattanavitand hired Jiping to work on the film “Kumal” as her graphic artist. Kulyingwattanavitand was aware of Liu’s work and reputation as a graphic artist with fashion photography and also recognized that she had a keen understanding of film. “Kumal” is a story about two young friends who rush into a house after hearing screams, only to realize that there is an expiration date when it comes to being a good Samaritan. As the graphic design supervisor for the film, Jiping did the title and poster design as well as the sketch costume design. She admits that she likes horror films so much that she asked to be involved creating more during the production, in order to get a deeper sense of the story and mood of the film. Liu explains, “I like horror films. I’m a huge fan of The Shining by director Stanley Kubrick and graphics designed by my favorite designer Saul Bass. I feel like every part of that film represents the vision of the filmmaker and I wanted to achieve this for “Kumal.” I helped out with the prop department making old looking maps, I helped out with painting tribal tattoos on the actors, even learning how to create sugar blood for use in the more graphic scenes. I could have just done the storyboards, posters, and the like…but I wanted to dive deeply into this film. I knew that once I did, it would be the fingerprint of the film that came out in my work as the graphic designer for it.”

Thirati Kulyingwattanavitand professes, “Liu is graphic designer with extraordinary abilities… not only the traditional ones. I was incredibly impressed with her desire to understand the heart and essence of the film. ‘Kumal’ was a selection at more than twenty international film festivals and received: the Gold Award of Spotlight Horror Film Awards (2016), Winner of Best Horror of Depth of Field International Film Festival Competition (2016), winner of Best Horror of Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (2016), nominated by Bronze Award of Fameus International Film Festival (2016). Our film was also awarded Best Production Design at the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival (2016), and nominated at the Independent Horror Movie Awards for Best Atmosphere. These last two awards related specifically to the art department are completely the acknowledgment of Liu’s contributions to Kumal.”

For the film “Emily”, Liu used her graphic design skills with titles and posters again, but also aided the filmmakers with concept drawings and presentation designs for the Greenlight process. Also a horror film, “Emily” is about a husband (John) who abandons his wife (Emily) who dies giving birth at home. After this betrayal, Emily becomes a ghost and seeks revenge on her husband, punishing him in the end. Emily won a host of awards including Best Horror film at the LAIFF and Hollywood Horror Festival. Explaining her approach to the poster art, Jiping reveals, “It’s always the most exciting part, to end my graphic design work by creating a powerful poster on each project. I deeply understand the meaning and emotion for ‘Emily’ after having spent time on set. I created a close up shot of Emily’s worn and bloody hospital gown but I didn’t show Emily’s face. The placement of blood on her clothes insinuated that she gave birth to a baby. The whole frame was mostly on the right side. I used a black and bloody title on the left side, which makes the audience imagine it’s a dark aisle.”

“Locked” is a psychological action film in which a man loses his wife and creates an imaginary world where he fights with himself to save his wife and find the truth of her death. More quick paced action than blood was involved in the story; but there was still plenty of blood. “Locked” was still challenging but provided a welcome work environment for Liu. She states, “This project was challenging, but in the end, I learned and improved a lot from this film. Thanks to director and producer’s trust and confidence in me, I had a lot of room to play and experiment with the design, all on my own. Whatever the costume design and graphic designs, they came out of my heart for this film. I tried my best to use my design works to help tell the story, to deliver the emotion from a designer’s eyes.” The film’s producer Yuxiao Wang was ecstatic about Jiping’s contributions to the film as well as the opportunity to work with Liu. Wang comments, “Jiping Liu was absolutely a top level graphic designer in China. She worked for Tencent which is one of the largest Internet companies as well as the largest gaming company in the world. She is always the ideal lead designer to work with especially when most projects that I produce are a cooperation between China and the United States. I couldn’t find another artist like Liu who deeply understands Chinese culture and traditional art elements as well as western art style. Jiping is the perfect bridge between the two cultures and film industries.”

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As further proof of this, Liu is currently working on three productions: Bee, Armor Hero and Requiem Street which are some of the most ambitious (and expensive) productions in China. These films are set to be global features with Jiping as the lead graphic designer. The buzz around these productions is already swelling and Liu’s placement as lead graphic designer shines an even brighter spotlight on her consummate talent. As the American and Chinese film industries become more cooperative and immersed in each other, it’s artists like Jiping Liu who are ensuring excellence for both.

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