Zanda Tang creates epic and hilarious fight scene in award-winning animated flick

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Zanda Tang

As an animation concept artist, Zanda Tang shows his imagination and design to others through painting. He accumulates his knowledge and life experience into his art, creating a cathartic experience that audiences around the world can relate to. He researches every element of his designs, knowing the backstory of even inanimate objects, all to better tell the story he is visualizing.

Tang has risen to the top of his industry in China working on many distinguished projects. He has helped to market many illustrious brands in his country, from the China Academy of Space Technology to the Huiju Shopping Center Beijing. His work has captivated millions around the world, and several of his works, including Diors Samurai, Lion Dance, and Baby and Granny have made their way to many prestigious international film festivals.

Baby and Granny is a multi-award-winning short. The 2D animated action-comedy is about a baby and granny who share a common bond, as Baby’s mother is Granny’s daughter, but who fight like crazy when left alone.

“The story of the animation itself is one of the reasons why I joined the project. When I saw the story, I thought it would be a very interesting animation. This unexpected dichotomy lies behind the identities of two common characters. Such exaggerated and interesting stories are helpful for design. The story unfolds with a realistic plot. Granny scrambled to take care of the baby, but Baby couldn’t communicate with Granny. The story uses hyperbole to create a confrontation when two people fight. At the beginning and the end of the story, mother is at home, and they are in a normal state of quiet. And when mom goes out, two people become combative. The exaggerated character setting and rich story rhythm make the story very attractive,” said Tang.

The visuals are highly-influenced by the work of 60’s Pop Artist Roy Lichtenstein. This created a unique challenge, as they had to honor his style while still making their own. Tang did his part by researching the style and the script, figuring out how to best combine them. He was the props and weapons designer for the film, so he worked closely with the team to choose a weapon that is more suitable for both characters. In the early scripts, both characters used guns to attack each other. Tang did not agree with this. He thought the weapon choice could better explain the characters and therefore further immerse the audience into the story.

Tang’s role was pivotal for the climax of the film, the fight scene. Granny’s weapon consists of two Chinese kitchen knives that are drawn closer to the character’s identity and can be used to indicate her superb kung fu skills. For Baby, he designed more exaggerated firearms, such as an oversized gun to bring a sense of humor into the picture and added lovely and lively colors to help shape the character. In the background of most of the shots, Tang also designed many flying props. The props symbolize the characters’ respective identities and show off the absurdity of the fight, making the animation that much more entertaining.

“Many people think that you can easily get a good action movie if you put a lot of effort into the character. In fact, I think when characters move, what really makes their movements seem quick is what’s behind them. In this project, I not only put some props behind the characters, but also made efforts for the rationality and sense of painting of the animation. When two characters jump up to attack each other, something belonging to their characters flies behind them. Items, like Granny’s drawstring balls and kitchenware, which fly up behind the granny’s back, the teapot, and the toys and bottles behind the baby, are added to set off the exaggerated style. The design of these weapons and props is very helpful for the animation of the story picture and character action,” Tang described.

Tang’s efforts helped bring Baby and Granny multiple awards and recognition, including Best Animation Short Student at the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival and Best Animation Short Film at the London Monthly Film Festival. It was a semi-finalist at the International Online Web Fest and an Official Selection at over 11 festivals around the world.

“I am glad to have made such a challenging project work. After we tried the new painting style, we can still have such great achievements. We were lucky and our efforts were not in vain. Spending a lot of time choosing weapons and items proved to be a worthwhile investment. This reward also makes the team members trust each other more, so we have more power to plan the next project,” Tang concluded.

 

Written by John Moore

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Zekun Mao uses editing to create a thrill for audiences

Zekun Mao still remembers the first time she truly noticed film as a form of art, beyond a simple form of entertainment. She was watching Christopher Nolan’s 2000 blockbuster Memento, and she was fascinated by not just the story, but how it was being told. She began to immerse herself in movies, making her realize a passion that she never knew she had. She knew from then on that she was meant to go into filmmaking, and now, as an award-winning editor, she is living her dream.

“Whatever style the story requires, I will cut the film in that way. I would describe my style of editing as naturalism. I came from a documentary background. Being natural, or being real, is the most important thing. When I am editing, I like to stick to the style of the footage and stick to the tone of stories. I love showing the story as it should be. If it should be emotional, then I will make sure the way I cut the movie will make audiences feel that particular way,” she said.

Becoming an industry leader in her home country of China and abroad, Mao knows just what it takes to captivate an audience. This is exemplified with her work on films like Jie Jie, And The Dream That Mattered, Janek/Bastard, and American Dream, to name a few.

Last year, Mao also saw worldwide success with her film Our Way Home. The dramatic thriller tells the story of Chinese-American James, who picks up his older sister Barbara from college for Thanksgiving 1962. After a racist encounter in a diner, they think they’re being followed, but it’s not someone they expected. The story spoke to Mao, who has experienced similar forms of racism in her own life, which is why she felt compelled to work on the film.

“The story is about racism, especially at this moment when a lot of similar things are happening in the world. A lot of the feelings that immigrants have are painful, confused and embarrassing. Through this story, I want to tell the world that racism is a terrible thing and it shouldn’t happen to anyone. Moreover, the story is about Chinese immigrants. I want to highlight stories that are about my own community and about our history. As a Chinese filmmaker, I see that as one of my responsibilities. I think it is very important to show the difficulties and struggles that Chinese immigrants have even today,” said Mao.

Our Way Home had its world premiere at the Hollyshorts Film Festival 2018 where it was an Official Selection and is expected to continue its film festival run this year. Mao was pivotal to the film’s success. As it is a thriller, creating tension and uneasiness is key to captivating the audience, and editing is a vital tool to achieve this. Her work created the tone, bringing the audience into this dark world, making the thriller just that: thrilling.

“I am really happy that our film has been such a success. I feel really rewarded. All the hard work that we put in was really worth it. I am so happy that the story let the world pay attention to racism that still exists today. I am happy that through this film, I speak out loud what a lot of people want to say. I am also happy that I highlighted the story from my own community,” she said.

When editing, Mao made the decision of using fast cuts. During one crucial scene where the characters are being chased, Mao used her skills to create a feeling of danger, using jump cuts. The cuts are constantly jumping between cars and between the inside and outside of the car.

Mao thoroughly enjoyed her time working on Our Way Home. Everyone she worked with was dedicated to making the best film possible, and it shows in the final cut. Mao formed great professional relationships on set, which was almost the best part of working on the film. The best, she says, was sharing the story with a worldwide audience.

“The story is the reason why I worked on this project, and telling the story is the most enjoyable part of this process. I am very happy that I was able to tell this story, because I believe a lot of people experience racism in different ways. And a lot of Chinese-Americans had the confusing moment of figuring out who they really are. I hope after watching this film, audiences can think about all these problems,” she said.

Be sure to check out Our Way Home to see a telling and timely story, and just what Mao is capable of as an editor.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Award-Winning Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko Makes her Mark in Film

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Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

Considering that so many people want to break into the Hollywood entertainment industry, it makes sense for many of those aspiring talents to devote their energy into one specific area in order to become the best and land the jobs they desire. Whether their interest lay in the art, camera, lighting or one  of the various departments on a film set, many work diligently just to make a name for themselves in one specific area.

While there is definitely something to be said for focusing one’s energy in one direction– many creative artists are not linear-minded. That is why, when we hear of someone like Viktoriia Vlasenko, who’s managed to effectively utilize her diverse talents to make a mark in the industry in various areas, it comes as quite a breath of fresh air.

Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

Most recently Vlasenko was the costume designer and makeup artist on the feature film “86 Merlose Ave.” directed by Lili Matta. The film, which is currently in post production and stars Emmy Award winner Jim O’Heir (“The Bold and the Beautiful”), Emmy Award nominee Terri Ivens  (“All My Children”) and Screen Actors Guild nominee Langston Fishburne (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”), has already earned numerous awards for its screenplay, including Best Feature Screenplay from the Best of the Best Competition, and was chosen as a Finalist at the Hollywood Screenplay Contest and The Write Room, a Semi-Finalist at the Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and a Quarter Finalist at the Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition and Screencraft.

Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

From working as a director to a costume designer to a makeup artist and more, Vlasenko seems to have done it all; and she’s done it well, so well that she’s been awarded on countless occasions for her contributions to the industry. Earlier this year she was recognized by the International Independent Film Awards with the Winter Gold Award in Special-Effects Makeup for her work on the film “Set Me Free,” and in 2018 she earned their Fall Gold Award in Costume Design for her work on the film “All Lives Matter,” as well as a certificate for achievement in Makeup from the Ocean Film Festival.

Vlasenko’s skill as a costume designer and makeup artist shine out above all else. A true artist, she her capacity to create new looks and trends in costumes, and use makeup to turn actors into far out characters, she has become an increasingly sought after force in the industry. Her skill in creating mesmerizing and futuristic looks is on incredible display in the film “Unworld.”

Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costumes from the film “Unworld” designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

Earlier this year she was recognized by the Wintershorts Film Festival for her work as the producer, costume designer and makeup artist on “Unworld.” Her work as the costume designer on “Unworld,” a dystopian drama, also earned her the Best Costume Designer Awards from the European Cinematography Awards and the Indie Shorts Fest, as well as a certificate from the Summershort Film Festival.

“I work hard, I can do the work of five people,” Vlasenko says laughingly. “I’m also a quick learner and I can work with various materials that other costume designers are afraid to work with. I’m also a good painter.”

Vlasenkos’ multifarious talent encompasses all things related to visual design. Over the past few years she’s made a stellar mark in the international entertainment industry with her work as the costume designer on 20 productions, the makeup artist on nine productions, not including those where she served as the special effects makeup artist, has produced six projects and directed four others.

Vlasenko says, “It is necessary to like what you do, it is important to be a talented and gifted person, and to always be learning something new… to successfully join each project and to you prove yourself in full force… and to leave a personal mark in history.”

There’s no doubt that Vlasenko has already left her personal mark in history, and she continues to do so. Growing up in Ukraine Vlasenko quickly found her passion for fashion and costume design, an are of interest she would continue to cultivate through her university years at Milan IED Istituto Europeo di Design where she earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion and costume design. With ceaseless creativity and a love for bringing various characters to life through her work, moving into the world of costume design was right up Vlasenko’s alley. And the awards she’s earned to date for her work prove that it’s one area where she excels exponentially.

“As a costume designer, I think of myself like a painter. I can follow my imagination… I can produce very creative and crazy things. I don’t only work with fabric, but with metals, plastic, 3D-prints, various incredible materials and paints as well,” explains Vlasenko. “Although it is difficult, it very interesting. It is interesting to transform actors or singers into different characters and personas, to produce fantastic costumes for superheroes or historical characters from fiction books.”

In 2018 Vlasenko earned the Bronze Award from the Latitude Film Festival for her work as the costume designer on the film “Betrayed,” a project that she also earned the Best Costume Design and Best Makeup Awards from the Flicks Film Festival. Another of Vlasenko’s award-winning projects is the film “No War,” which she wrote and directed, as well as costume designed, which earned her the Best Costumes Award from the Oniros Film Awards and was chosen as an Official Selection of the Neon Film Festival.

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Terrasse by Viktoriia Vlasenko

Early on in her career Vlasenko founded the popular fashion brand Terrasse, through which she has continued to display her talent for creating new trends and innovative style.

Vlasenko says, “I often see other brands making copies of my creations, especially while traveling in other countries.”

While other designers may feel embittered at the sight of their designs being copied by others, Vlasenko takes it all in stride as she continues to create new and innovative looks. As a fashion designer Vlasenko would often handle the makeup for the photoshoots with her designs, so for her, becoming the makeup artist on film sets has been a rather seamless transition.

Not only was she was the makeup artist on three fashion films for her own brand, Terrasse, with the fashion film “Terrasse White” earning her the Makeup Award from the Golden Square Film Festival, but she also did the makeup on the films “No War,” “Unworld,” “Set Me Free,” “Betrayed,” “Table of Four” and more. Vlasenko was also the makeup artist, special effects makeup artist and costume designer on the upcoming film “Loss of Grace,” which is currently in post production and stars Jasmine Waltz from the films “Black Water” and “Poker Run,” and action star Paul Logan from “Code Red,” “Mega Piranha” and “Flight 666.”

If all this wasn’t enough, Vlasenko’s work as a fashion designer was also featured in two multi-page spreads in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the New Face fashion magazine.

Viktoriia Vlasenko's designs for Cirque Du Soleil
Viktoriia Vlasenko’s designs for Cirque Du Soleil

Vlasenko says, “I love my work and have been privileged to work on interesting projects with creative people. I create unusual costumes that are never boring. My reputation as a designer rests on the ability to be innovative and creative. I’m always open to new creative projects with different themes, films, fashion shows, and more.”

Praised for incredible work ethic, Viktoriia Vlasenko has never been one to stop at the first sign of success. She currently has several projects underway as a costume designer, including the films “Cowboy Bebop” and “Batman Beyond,” for which she is designing a totally new look for the Joker and Batman with intricate costumes few others, but her could design. Vlasenko has always been drawn to the work of the phenomenal Cirque Du Soleil performance group, and she is currently designing a series of costumes that she will pitch to them for future productions.

 

“Underbelly” actress Ayeshah Rose at the forefront of the Female Wave

Ever since Ayeshah Rose played the ongoing role of Natalie in the acclaimed and award-winning Australian TV series, “Underbelly”, the Australian actress and now filmmaker has maintained a steadfast belief in portraying characters which help promote a positive narrative around female empowerment while highlighting the universal strength of the human spirit.

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Ayeshah Rose, as shot by Kristian Taylor-Wood

“Underbelly” maintains a stellar reputation as a darling of Australian television, a show which changed the way local audiences perceived its own history and wanted it represented on screen. Ayeshah retains a sense of gratitude for her opportunity to take part in the Logie and AACTA-award winning show that also boasted a top cast like “X-Men Origins” actor Aaron Jeffery, “Wentworth” and “Rake” star Danielle Cormack, and “Once Upon A Time’s” Emma Booth.

Ayeshah’s involvement in the series, which told true stories about Australia’s criminal history in the 1970s and 80s, formed a strong bedrock upon which the rest of her exciting career has continued to build. In many ways, by breathing life into the role of Natalie at the time, Ayeshah proved her chops as someone who would go on to adopt a marginally significant role in elevating the industry’s consciousness around females on screen. In the hands of any other actor, the character of Natalie may have been relegated to a relatively trivialised character seen more for sexualised purposes than anything else.

Ayeshah’s strengths as a screen actor, and capacity to bring a sense of dynamism to any scene in which she appeared and grab an audience’s attention, meant that she delivered a truly memorable performance which did not go unnoticed.

Indeed, Ayeshah attests to how her time on set gave her an opportunity to forge a strong creative partnership with award-winning film and TV director, Shawn Seet (filmmaker behind the upcoming “Storm Boy” with Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush).

“The director absolutely remembers my role, because it was the only intimate scene in that series that was more loving rather than vulgar or explicit.”

One particular scene Natalie discusses is opposite award-winning Australian household name, Peter O’Brien, also known for his role in “X-Men Origins.”

Natalie’s scenes, as she proclaims, “required bravery at such a young age, and a huge imagination.”

The character of Natalie was also crucial to the show’s narrative because she had an affair with lead character, George Freeman. After Natalie leaves her abusive uncle, who was tasked with actually taking care of her while her husband fled to America, Ayeshah had to convincingly fall for Peter O’Brien’s character and deal with the emotional fallout after her husband returns.

The varying levels of emotions called for an actor who could bring equal amounts of intensity and vulnerability, a skill that Ayeshah has been heralded as having in spades.

That bravery demonstrated during filming of “Underbelly” set the tone for many of Ayeshahs other career highlights, including most recently with “Me Too,” an award-winning film project Ayeshah also wrote, directed and produced.

Ayeshah speaks articulately when asked about the film’s storyline.

“A young vibrant, aspiring artist, who thrives on chance, puts her absolute all into auditioning to a panel of producers and a casting director for a rare opportunity for a part in a film. A moment in time to fight for this job, to prove she is talented, attractive and good enough to be noticed.”

Tension however rises when it’s clear that maybe the character’s talent isn’t enough, as Ayeshah goes on to explain.

“Amongst the situational tension, it seems her dramatic and genuine depth of a performance may not be enough to stand out in hope of securing a role. She knows what she must do. She understands what is expected of her.”

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Ayeshah Rose on set for “Me Too.”

The question the film therefore asks is what extremes must women go to for an opportunity to have an opportunity? In this regard, Ayeshah’s craft as an actor and storyteller has made valuable headway in using the medium of film to probe challenging and important social questions to its audience.

The added bonus was that Ayeshah was honoured with a Best Actress mention at the Independent Shorts Awards.

“I felt grateful that an audience could see the [depths] I went to as an actor. I also really valued having the message being understood…I put so much into that project both directing and acting. It required so much focus and vulnerability as well as being prepared for the potential ridicule by a larger audience.”  

Ultimately, Ayeshah is looking even more forward to the future, more so than she is proud of her already impressive contributions to the landscape of females in film.

“I’m proud of the work I’ve done and am really looking forward to make more contributions to the world of film, and work alongside as well as support other driven female creatives along the way.”

I am in a good place with my work as I’ve now done work that has helped communicate particular and current issues as well as support artists to continue to strive for those characters that are OUTSIDE of their type cast. There are many incentives for authentic traits and blood lines of actors to play certain roles, but I hope to continue doing what I believe true artists should be exercising, which is unlimited imagination.

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The poster for Ayeshah’s award-winning and critically acclaimed film, “Me Too.”