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Actor Shvan Aladdin’s Role in Hollywood Promotes Cultural Diversity

Playing a character that not only hits close to home, but also marks a time in history when cultural conversations are needed most is a rare and powerful opportunity for any actor.

Establishing success as one of the only Kurdish actors in the industry today, LA based actor Shvan Aladdin’s Middle Eastern heritage and colossal talents have helped bring a stronger sense of multiculturalism to Hollywood.

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Kurdish actor Shvan Aladdin shot by Bjoern Kommerell 

Capitalizing on his Kurdish roots, Aladdin has landed numerous leading roles across film and television productions in stories that are fundamentally relevant to today’s society.

His creative approach to depicting stories of substance on screen have helped to ensure individuals from around the world are seen and heard in a more authentic way.

“First and foremost, it’s an honor to know that I am one of the first to represent my country in a place like Hollywood,” Aladdin proudly shares. “But I really hope there will be many more than me in the future. And I hope that by me being here, it’ll open up the doors for many more who start to believe in themselves.”

Societal issues such as racial profiling, gender equality and women’s rights continue to surge news headlines. Cultural diversity amongst the entertainment industry however is a whole conversation on its own.

With independent studios and progressive filmmakers pushing the boundaries to expose stories of truth, cultural conversations are now the storyboard for many award-winning mini series and Hollywood blockbusters.

“I want to tell stories that are not out there. I am from Kurdistan and it’s so rare we see Kurdish stories being told to the greater audience,” Aladdin shares. “I want to be one of those who brings those stories to life. Aside from that, I want to work with stories that hopefully teaches me, the actor, and the audience something new.”

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Shvan Aladdin in the hit film “Martyrdom”

Despite seeing some movement in cultural diversity across Hollywood of late, many will argue that we still have a long way to go to achieve equal rights.

Recent studies from a 2019 report shows that out of 3,895 speaking or named characters had an easily identifiable race or ethnicity. Of those, a full 63.7% were white, 16.9% Black, 5.3% Latino, 8.2% Asian– but, only 1.5% were Middle Eastern/North African.

Focusing on roles behind the camera, the report also indicates that out of the 112 directors from the 100 top films of 2018, a mere 3.6% were Middle Eastern/North African.

Evidently these stats show great room for improvement, there’s no denying that. However most recently we’ve bared witness to change as some of the industry’s most reputable sources are praising diversity.

The 2019 Korean drama “Parasite” won the award for Best Film at The Oscars earlier this year, marking Hollywood history as the first non-english film to take home the prestigious award.

Arab-American star Rami Malek earned critical acclaim for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury in the incredible biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Malek became the first ever Arab-American to win an Oscar for Best Actor for his outstanding performance in 2019.

And although Egyptian born Mena Massoud skyrocketed to Hollywood fame for his role of Aladdin in the 2019 box office smash remake, the star has struggled to land auditions ever since.

Thus leads us to question, why is there a continual lack of diversity in Hollywood? And why is there still a misrepresentation of cultures in film and television today?

Being one of the only Kurdish actors in Hollywood, Aladdin recognizes the demands for further diversity, adding, “the truth of the matter is that there aren’t any Kurdish actors out here, and it’s a pity. I hope that we will get to a place where tons of other Kurdish actors move out here and get the opportunity to work in this town.”

He continues, “It’s crazy when you think about how big this city is and yet there are no Kurdish actors in it. I really hope for a change in that section.”

So how does one man from Kurdistan implement such change in Hollywood? By moving away from the stereotypical roles which questions the accurate representation of the Middle East.

A 2018 study showed that 78 percent of all Middle Eastern and North African actors were cast in villainous roles, such as terrorists or tyrants, something that Aladdin has personally experienced.

He shares, “I used to get many auditions for stereotypical roles. But then it got to a point where I just had enough. There are only so many terrorist roles you can do before you feel drained.”

Being one of the only Kurdish actors in Hollywood has come as an advantage to the talented star, who is leaving behind the typecast roles to depict characters of substance and truth.

“There have been many times where directors have been looking really hard for Kurdish actors and it’s just impossible to get a hold of them.” Aladdin continues, “I was in a film ‘Noise’ by Michael Aloyan and it took us weeks to find a Kurdish actress. The girl we ended up finding wasn’t even an actor but it worked out.”

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T.V. Carpio and Shvan Aladdin in “Noise”

The final casting was flawless, and the engaging film gained widespread viewing via Amazon Prime and was nominated for Best Short Film Award at the 2018 Austin Film Festival.

Aladdin’s genuine performance as the young Kurdish immigrant in the touching film is a character that hits close to home. He reflects, “My mother immigrated from Kurdistan to Sweden in the late 90s, so growing up being a child of an immigrant, I have enormous respect for immigrants.”

He proudly continues, “I know that no mother or father immigrates just for fun. It’s all about giving your children the opportunities you didn’t have growing up. All I am today, I have my mother to thank for.”
“Noise” tells the story of two unique individuals who find love in the most unexpected form with a deaf American woman and a young Kurdish man developing a connection based on sensory touch and vibrational rhythms. Using a notebook as a translator, the characters prove that when you remove language, communication really has no limits.

Their connection becomes tested when the pair are introduced to alternative characters who, according to societal comfort appear to be more suitable. But after a brief moment of contemplation, the two trust their instincts and find their way back to each other.

The optimism shown in the final scene proves that love can exist in all forms, with Aladdin adding, “It’s beautiful. It shows that there’s no limits when it comes to love… I’m so proud to have been part of it.”

Emerging far beyond the stereotypical roles, Aladdin’s career was inspired by the comical pleasures he gained from watching sitcoms as a young child.

Describing his upbringing as “organic,” Aladdin was born and raised in Slemani, Kurdistan. Looking back on his early childhood he reflects, “It was very interesting, sometimes it feels like I’ve gotten to live two very different lives. In Kurdistan, we didn’t have water or electricity 24/7, this was in the 90’s.”

Having water and electricity for most young children is a thought barely to even be considered, however for Aladdin and his brothers this was ultimately a different story.

“I remember having a water company on my street and huge trucks would come and fill them with clean water,” he continues. “Once they drove away, water would keep running down for some minutes before it completely turned off. My brothers and I used to run and fill buckets with clean water so we’d have it for the days to come.”

Reflecting on his past, Aladdin shares, “These are things we take for granted today but there was a time where I didn’t. And it’s interesting thinking about living life then compared to now. “

After migrating to Sweden with his family at age nine, Aladdin became absorbed in the world of network television growing up on classics such as “The Nanny,” “Family Matters,” “Friends” and “The Golden Girls.”

Influenced by these sitcoms Aladdin found direction. “Naturally after a couple of years I just realized that I wanted to do what those actors that I looked up to were doing,“ he shares. “The TV was my best friend for many years…it also taught me Swedish and English.”

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Film poster for “Akeda”

Profiting from his Middle Eastern background, Aladdin scored one of the lead roles in 2018’s “Akeda” directed by Dan Bronfeld. The award-winning film tells the story of a young orphan boy who, whilst filming a movie has his humanity tested when the director pressures him to give a violent performance that blends fiction with reality.

Aladdin plays the role of Mustapha, a filmworker who also lost his parents at a young age. Filled with empathy, Mustapha is torn between professionalism and succumbing to the relatable pressures that the young boy feels.

After reading the script Aladdin became riveted with the storyline, adding, “I think that viewing the world through a child’s perspective makes us question ourselves a lot. We forget that this crazy world we live in and witness, the children witness as well. They look up to us to reach a solution to all these problems. And at times we hand over the responsibility to them. I think that is the core of what the story [Akeda] is about.”

“Akeda” earned critical praise winning Best Film and Best Screenplay at the 2018 San Diego International Film Festival, Catalina Film Festival and Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles, as well as a further 13 nominations across global festivals.

Aladdin’s strong ability to paint a character’s depth and sorrow was proven in the 2018 drama “Martyrdom,” a dark film about a radicalised Middle Eastern man struggling to adapt to a society he sorely doesn’t fit in to.

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Shvan Aladdin in “Martyrdom”

Feelings of defeat takeover when the character’s heinous acts of crime result in the accidental murder of his wife and son, and the repercussions that follow will haunt his remaining years.

When preparing for the grieving role Aladdin shares, “It was a lot of responsibility but I worked day and night preparing for this character and making sure that I knew who he was completely. I ‘knew’ my son, my wife. I made sure to create a full background for the character so that even though I was alone in the short, I still had the life of the character out there to play around with.”

Being the starring actor in the movie, Aladdin was the driving force behind the film premiering at the Montreal Film Festival along with its nomination for Best Short Film.

Reflecting on these outstanding performances and the achievements which followed, it’s obvious that the plethora of skills Aladdin has on offer have helped establish the successful and influential career he has today.

“Thankfully, these past years I’ve gotten to play many well rounded characters that tell deep and beautiful stories.” He adds, “and that’s something that means a lot for my creativity and the vision I have of what I want to do as an actor. I’m not here to play a terrorist.”

Using his Kurdish roots as an accurate representation of the Middle East, Shvan Aladdin is turning heads and changing minds of those who drive diversity in Hollywood. Although a long way to go, multiculturalism is on the rise as more and more industry heads, much like Aladdin are paving the way for change.

Meet Danish Director of Photography Sophie Gohr

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Cinematographer Sophie Gohr

Though the career paths for many go undecided until later in life, ‘signs’ of a person’s natural gifts and interests are often apparent in childhood– we just have to know how to spot them.

Growing up in Espergærde, a small fishing village outside of Copenhagen, Denmark, Sophie Gohr was surrounded by a bucolic countryside that fueled her creative imagination. After attending a National Geographic photo exhibit, she went home and made her own camera out of cardboard. She was 6.

I was absolutely in love, I knew I wanted to do something like that when I got older,” recalls Gohr.

With a lens made out of a toilet paper roll, Gohr would take her ‘camera’ across town, going on photo adventures and capturing everything ‘mentally.’ Quickly taking notice of their daughter’s budding interest, Gohr’s parents bought her a camera. It was then that the young Dane began cultivating the creative eye that would later lead her to become a sought after cinematographer.

I would sneak up to the library in school at every chance I got to look at photography books,” says Gohr. “My favorite photographers were Steve McCurry and Yann Arthus. The photographs were telling a story and it was like magic to me, I could feel it, smell it and it was like I was there.”

With a painter for a grandfather, and a fashion designer and dance instructor for a mother, Gohr grew up surrounded by creatives who supported and nurtured her developing interest in the arts. Some of her earliest memories are of her grandparents taking her to museums to look at paintings, and attending ballets, opera houses and Riverdance performances with her parents.

“I remember my mom telling me to draw or paint what I felt the opera or dance was about and how it made me feel. To me that has been such a gift in making the connection of feeling something and putting it down on paper,” says Gohr.

“My mom also started meditating and doing visualizations with me when I was 10. I think a lot of these things influence you, especially having parents that supports you in your art emotionally.”

Cinematographer Sophie Gohr
Cinematographer Sophie Gohr

Today, Gohr’s ability to seamlessly infuse the shots she captures with emotive qualities and create a visual language that pulls viewers into the story on screen is one of the key elements that sets her apart from others in her field. Whether she is leading the camera department as the cinematographer on films such as “Wretched” and “Madeleine,” or on tv series such as the upcoming Danish comedy “Frida and Karo” and the upcoming docuseries “A Woman’s Story,” Gohr has a unique talent for nailing the director’s vision.

The new comedy series “Frida and Karo,” which Gohr recently wrapped production on, is directed by award-winning director Jonas Risvig, who’s known for his work as the director behind several cinematic music videos such as Felix Cartal’s “Get What You Give,” Sopico’s “Paradis,” and Tritonal’s “Call Me.”  

Sophie was our prefered cinematographer for the project and made us able to visualize our humor in the aesthetics of the piece,” explains Risvig. “She has a great eye for details and visual identities.”

Starring Karoline Brygmann from the series “Yes No Maybe” and “Something’s Rockin’,” Frida Brygmann and Peter Zandersen from the series “Follow the Money” and “Ride Upon the Storm,” and produced by Reinvent Studios, the series “Frida and Karo” is set in the modern age and follows the lives of two friends. Gohr’s seasoned skill in terms of lighting and visual composition has made her a powerful cinematographer who knows exactly how to frame and light each scene in a way that supports the story.

Gohr says they were going for a ‘very bright and happy’ look in terms of the visuals for the upcoming series. “Since it’s a comedy I decided on warm tones for the lighting, and get sunlight vibe. And I used soft vintage Leica lenses to create the feeling of softness,” explains Gohr. “I used my RED weapon to get the clean cinematic look. The director really wanted the framing to be very simple as if it was a Youtube channel show. A living room type of situation, that turned out really fresh and different.”

Through cinematography Gohr has not only found a field that utilizes her unique range of skills, but it’s one where she gets to shoot projects like the ones she dreamed of doing in her youth. Earlier this year she began working as the cinematographer on the upcoming docuseries “A Woman’s Story” from director Nathalie Jornheim. With each episode taking place in a different country, the show depicts stories about specific women across the globe and incorporates aspects of the local culture and cuisine from the countries portrayed.

“I can’t talk too much about the show yet because it hasn’t been released and we are still shooting,” explains Gohr. “But I love the theme, cultural documentaries are what I fell in love with as a kid. I’m enjoying observing the stories of each of these women, and having a director who is very visual makes it an awesome project to be a part of.”

As the head of the camera department, Gohr is in charge of creating more than just the visual look of the series, but overseeing her department’s budget and the work of those on her team. About some of the differences between shooting docuseries such as “A Woman’s Story” and some of her other work, Gohr says, “You have to be ready and on your toes at all times, to get that special moment. Where as commercials and narrative projects are usually shot in more controlled environments, and there is more prep time.”

Though the release date for the series “A Woman’s Story” is not set just yet, Gohr confides that the creators of the series are in talks with Amazon, Netflix and Youtube as potential platforms.

Though she was born and raised in Denmark, Gohr moved to London at the age of 16 to study music prior to moving into photography. “At that time I really wanted to be a rockstar and photography was something that would happen in the ‘future’ for me,” recalls Gohr. “I have now learned that sometimes what you think is only going to be a hobby, actually ends up becoming the love of your life.”

The hobby has undeniably turned into a full-fledged career for Gohr, and it’s one that continues to fuel her curiosity, ignite her passion and draw on all of her skills. In addition to working on a plethora of film and television series, Gohr regularly works as the special on set photographer on projects from Pink Banana Studios, an award winning creative production company based in London, which earned 9 AVA Digital Media Awards this year. As the special photographer, Gohr has captured crucial behind the scenes shots on numerous commercials for Pink Banana Studios, including ones for Dove, Green Berger, the Huggle App and more.

 

Richard Rennie: Dominating the Entertainment Industry from All Angles

Multi-hyphenate Richard Rennie – well-known for his work across the fields of acting, modeling and dancing – is not going away anytime soon. Much like entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Donald Glover, Richard has found that expression in all areas have helped him cultivate a truly unique place as an artist in an ever-evolving world. It’s this quality that ensures that there is no one really else like him. Yes, he might fall in the same area as the aforementioned Lopez and Glover – zipping between jobs on even a daily basis – but the energy with which the award-winning performer does it, is very distinct to him.

“I think I’ve always had a unique way of looking at things; a little bit left-of-centre, that has meant people know when ‘Richard’s stamp’ is on a piece of work. Whether that’s a film project I’m acting in, a performance I’m dancing in, or a campaign I’m featured in as a model or spokesperson.”

The entertainer, well-known for his work at the Moulin Rouge and on “Unverified” for Funny or Die, has several acting projects out this year that would suggest this man never quite stops.

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Richard Rennie has a slew of acting, dancing and modeling projects out this year.

“Bachelor Lions,” co-starring David Arquette from the “Scream” franchise and “Eight Legged Freaks,” is one such film that will showcase the unique blend of performance skills that Richard has at his fingertips. “I actually got to play their dance coach in the film.  It was an amazing experience – combining my love of dancing and acting. David Arquette, Mitchel Musso, and James Maslow were all so great to work with and I must say, they’ve all got some moves.”

This project, from RiverRock films, has already had a VIP screening at Cinerama Dome, the famously known leading first run theater. “Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the red carpet event, as I had commited work in Paris at the time. My co-stars included me though.  They were sending photos of themselves all posted up on the red carpet showing off some style, but that only made me want to be there more” Richard explains with a wink.  

Another project Richard has lined up, “My Mom Is Dead”, marks a change in pace for the comedic thespian who plays ‘Kristoff’ in this heartbreaking drama. “That film was challenging to shoot.  The story was created from real life hardship and experiences of the writer. It was great to have her on set sharing the experience with us. I wanted to make sure that we respected her truth and portrayed her story in the most realistic way possible. The whole cast went through something magical together, as we let our raw emotions run free to tell this sad but beautiful story.”

Co-starring Melanie Vesey (“Law & Order”, “Man on the Moon”) and “Twilight” hunk Michael Welch, also well-known for his role in “Z Nation” and NBC’s “Grimm”, “My Mom Is Dead” hails from acclaimed director Sophie Webb (dir. “El Mirador” starring Rick Cosnett of “The Flash”.)

“I really enjoyed the change of pace with “Mom” – every actor was amazing and the mood on set brought out a naturalism in everyone’s performances.” In that film, Richard’s role is crucial because he is the best friend of Emma. “Kristoff is really Emma’s pillar and emotional support throughout the whole film. Emma has lost her mother and is not close to the rest of her family, so Kristoff brings happiness and optimism to the story, proving that you do not need to be blood related to be family.”  

To top it all off, Richard solidifies his prominent relationship with ‘Just One More Productions’ – the esteemed company behind Lionsgate co-production, “Open Water 3: Cage Dive,” starring Megan Peta Hill (“The X Files”) and Joel Hogan (“Home and Away”). In the sequel to “Cage Dive” directed by festival darling Gerald Rascionato, Richard will play the lead love interest Chris. The role and project signifies yet another change in style that we are confident Richard will take with ease.  His previous collaboration with ‘Just One More Productions’, also directed by Rascionato, was “Call Me By Your Maid”- a hilarious award-winning parody film.

That project simultaneously confirmed Richard’s indispensable position at Funny or Die, the distributor of “Call Me By Your Maid”, as Richard had also appeared in a main role for the renowned company’s “Unverified”.

As Richard explains, “it’s so interesting how Hollywood and the entertainment industry works – there’s so many co-productions and crossovers between companies. We all know each other!” he adds with a laugh.

Wendy M. Bain, the accomplished writer and actress, who co-stars alongside Richard in the Hollywood Play Old Frenemies explains “Richard has been an absolute pleasure to work with! His unique skills as a comedic actor make it a nightly challenge to not break character and laugh while I am performing on stage with him. His comedic energy is incredibly engaging and he has a natural talent of commanding the stage. Hundreds of hopeful actors auditioned for the role of Martin, but as soon as we saw Richards unique performance and take on the character, we instantly knew he was the actor we wanted.”

While his future as an actor looks bright, Richard’s tantamount career as a model also doesn’t show signs of slowing down. His relationship with his European agent, Sports Models, who also represent specialized Models with skills in athletics and fitness alongside their high fashion books, continues to thrive. Richard works often with his Parisian agent, as he is represented in both High Fashion, and as a Dancer for specific shoots that demand the unique skill set which Richard holds. Other leading fitness Models represented by Sport Models include “Axelle Etienne (BMX World Champion) and Aria Crescendo (World Renowned Yoga Master). Upcoming is an anticipated spread in edgy publication, “Fantastic Man”, putting Richard’s look in front of hundreds of thousands of readers who subscribe to the men’s fashion bible.

In the dancing arena, Richard’s muscles will continue to stretch. “Dance was my first love of performing and I couldn’t imagine not working within the field. Although I am busy with acting gigs, I make sure to find time to get up on stage and dance. There is no other feeling in the world than allowing your body to move through dancing and get lost within music.”  He is continually involved in dance projects that showcase his dominance in the style of Hip Hop and Commercial dance, constantly expanding from previous performances alongside Grammy-nominated artists Florence and the Machine back in the UK.

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Richard Rennie, center, has been celebrated for his incomparable skills as a dancer and entertainer all around the world.

“I’m excited for the future,” Richard says with a smile. “It’s important to look forward with a positive attitude, as that’s what attracts people to work with you and hire you over and over again.”

From “Intrusos” to Hollywood Cinema: Actress Nazarena Nóbile

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Argentinian Actress Nazarena Nóbile

Argentinian beauty Nazarena Nóbile will be making her debut in U.S. cinemas later this year with roles in the upcoming feature films “Summer Night” and “Intolerance: No More.”

Directed by Satellite Award winner Joseph Cross “Summer Night” stars Victoria Justice (“Victorious,” “Zoey 101,” “The First Time”), Justin Chatwin (“War of the Worlds,” “Shameless”) and Analeigh Tipton (“Manhattan Love Story,” “Two Night Stand”).

“Joseph Cross is amazing. He is such a wonderful person. I mean, I knew him as an actor but he surprised me as a director,” says Nóbile. “He is such a nice guy. And his wife and his little daughter Amelia is a sweetheart. In fact, she played my baby daughter in the film.”

Prior to making the move to the U.S. with her husband Juan Baldini three years ago, Nóbile  established herself as an actress through featured roles on several popular Telemundo series such as the multi-award winning show “Silvana Sin Lana,” as well as “Quien es Quien” and “Eva la Trailera.”

Aside from her onscreen reputation in Latin America, Nóbile emphasizes the help of producer and fellow Argentinian, Angel Cassani (“Never Surrender,” “The Pastor”), in connecting her with the right people in the states and sparking her transition into the U.S. film industry.

She explains, “I met Joseph Cross and producer Tara Ansley thanks to Angel Cassani. We met through a skype conference because I was in Buenos Aires at that time, my father had health issues and I had to keep him company for a few months last year. And suddenly they told me there was a part for me. I played Harmony’s sister… It was a small part but I was so happy to be involved in that movie. It was my first important project in LA and I truly appreciate they had thought of me for that.”

In the upcoming film “Summer Night” Nóbile’s character is the disturbed sister of the lead character Harmony who is played by Victoria Justice.

“It’s about growing up…. And how difficult it is to go from adolescence to grown up life,” says Nóbile about the film.

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Poster for Sergio Guerrero’s “Intolerance: No More”

In the upcoming film “Intolerance: No More,” a cop drama directed by Sergio Guerrero who earned the Cartagena Film Festival’s  Golden India Catalina Award and the Gramado Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for the film “A Day Without A Mexican,” Nóbile will be taking on a larger role as Lucy, the wife of a cop who’s struggling with concepts of life, death and justice. Produced by Yeniffer Behrens (“The Power of One,” “Encounters,” “Between the Lights”).

Nóbile says, “The film is about the abuse of power, which is in the spotlight a lot these days. It’s a very interesting movie. And it is filmed in a very interesting way. I think it’s gonna be a great surprise for a lot of people.”

Nóbile also has a producer credit on the upcoming film “On the Other Side,” a film that centers on immigration and is currently in post production. Clearly this multi-talented Argentinian has been busy making moves in the states. She is also planning to relocate from Miami to Los Angeles very soon.

I’m so happy living in the US. I love this country, Miami, New York, Chicago, but Los Angeles is my favorite place in the world. I feel most at home there.”

Though Nazarena Nóbile began acting as a child, it was actually while working as a journalist in Argentina that her name first became synonymous with ‘celebrity’ across Latin America. She admits, “I started to work as a journalist for very important Argentinian newspapers and TV networks. I mean, even though acting was my first and true love, journalism was my first important job in the entertainment industry.”

And it was upon landing a recurring role on the entertainment show “Intrusos,” Argentina’s version of “TMZ,” where she was a regular entertainment journalist and panelist for several years, that Nóbile such a well-known figure across Latin America. Though she says she doesn’t regret the decision to move to the U.S., that doesn’t mean leaving her home country and her position at “Intrusos” behind didn’t bring some sadness.

“‘Intrusos’ is one of the most important TV shows in South America. It was very hard for me to leave” she explains. “I love my country so much. It’s such a beautiful place to live. And the people are amazing there, Argentinians are very special people. I miss a lot of things.”

But it seems as though she’s adapted to stateside living quite quickly as well. And with both “Summer Night” and “Intolerance: No More” in post-production and expected to be released in the upcoming months, it’s safe to say audience in the states who didn’t know Nóbile before, will definitely know her after.

 

Profile: Leading Actor Giselle van der Wiel

Leading Australian actress Giselle van der Wiel, who has just been cast in two series shooting in the United States, is not as intimidating in person as one might expect. In a career that spans different mediums (TV shows like “Hendrix” with “Neighbours” actor Chelsea Jones) and characters (and Spanish exchange student in “In the Land Farthest From”), Giselle has built a reputation as a powerful presence in camera that would lead one to assume she’s overawing in person. In the best possible way, Giselle retains her strength upon our meeting but also possesses an incredibly personable nature that makes it no surprise her acting career continues to go from strength-to-strength.

We’re sitting down with Giselle to discuss two feature films in which she appears in critical roles, “On Halloween,” a new feature film with “2:22” actor Ezekiel Simat and “Reaching Distance,” with “Unbroken” actress Morgan Griffin. It’s the night after a glitzy film premiere and Giselle has just walked the red carpet with fellow Aussie A-listers. “All part of the routine of being an actor,” she says humbly, with a laugh. It could be easy to get distracted by talking about the behind-the-scenes glamour of a blockbuster premiere, but Giselle likes to focus on the work. So we resume our conversation about her upcoming projects and how she has achieved such great things in her eclectic career.

“I’m constantly working at growing as a person – I feel that unless I really know myself, and if I don’t experience life and meet new people, I can’t really grow as an actor.”

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Giselle van der Wiel on the red carpet for a film premiere.

When contacted about Giselle’s performance, “On Halloween” director didn’t need to be prodded to heap praise on Australia’s answer to Kristen Stewart. “Giselle has a crazy unique ability to own every frame she’s in,” Timothy Boyle enthusiastically explained.” There are moments where an actor gives more than you, as the writer and director, ever intended. It’s in these moments that the film takes on an extra level of depth. It’s what good actors do. It’s what Giselle did for me every day of the shoot.” Timothy, whose feature “The Half Dead” starred “Lord of the Rings” star John Rhys-Davies, clearly speaks from a position of authority. He goes on to compare Giselle’s unique appeal to that of other mega-star Australians Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and “Avatar” star Sam Worthington.

While we lose focus laughing about the ironically funny moments that come with shooting a horror film, we briefly touch on her key character in “Reaching Distance,” from award-winning director David Fairhurst. In the role of “Chell,” Giselle shares the screen with BAFTA-nominated actress Tara Morice, best known for her work opposite twice-Oscar-nominated Emily Watson and her part in Baz Luhrmann’s “Strictly Ballroom.” Giselle explains “the beautiful thing about this industry is that it’s really collaborative, so everyone’s connected and everyone knows each other. It helps everyone lift their game.”

On the topic of those two TV shows Giselle is due to start filming in the US, she has to stay quite mum. “Unfortunately I’m not able to go into too much detail about my characters, but I can say that my character’s name in “Masculinity in Crisis” season 2 is Joanna.” “Masculinity” series is an award-winning co-production between Joseph Gordon Levitt’s production company HitREcord and successful outfit Nix Film, and is distributed by Amazon Studios. Series creator and lead actor Alex Cubis (“Dear White People”) explains that Giselle was cast because there was no other actor who could play her role. “The character was specifically written to possess the ability to perform in Australian and American accents, and speak Spanish. Aside from her X-factor, Giselle was the only girl who auditioned who could play the role.”

When asked about her character in “Dipsticks,” Giselle laughs. “That project is going to be fun because it’s a comedy; I don’t want to reveal too much about that. But I’m really happy to have a chance to play a lead in a comedy series.” That series also stars NBC “Community” actor Dominik Musiol, so it’s safe to say that Giselle is in fine company when it comes to her career.

“I feel really lucky that I get to continue working in different countries and in different styles – that was always my goal when I started acting. I’m very grateful.”

Filmmaker & Journalist Liliya Anisimova Reveals Her Fashionista Side on TheSTYLEtti

Journalist Liliya Anisimova
Journalist Liliya Anisimova

From her time as a news anchor for local Moscow news stations Doverie and Teleinform, to working as the host of several hit TV programs on the popular Russian Travel Guide (RTG), journalist and filmmaker Liliya Anisimova has spent a lot of time in front of the camera, and she always looks stunning. Granted, she’s a natural beauty, but her keen eye for fashion truly makes her stand out.

My mom likes to tell this story all the time of how when I was about three putting clothes on for daycare. I put my yellow track suit on, I remember that suit, it was chic yellow with colorful stars, a Juicy Couture style tracksuit. And my mom gave me pink socks,” Liliya recalls with a smile. “I looked at her and said, ‘I’m not going anywhere in a yellow suit and pink socks. I need yellow socks’… I wouldn’t go anywhere until my mom found me yellow socks. She always tells this story saying, ‘who told you about matching colors, nobody taught you how to pair colors’.”

As a journalist and filmmaker, Liliya Anisimova’s accomplishments are beyond impressive– to the point of making of us wonder if she has some super human power giving her the ability to accomplish more in a day than most. As the writer and director of the films “From Real to Reel,” “Magic of the Underground,” which earned the Best Experimental Film Award at the 2013 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, and the poignant documentary “Love is the Highest Law,” which screened internationally and earned numerous awards including the Award of Merit from the 2015 IndieFEST Film Awards, she’s made a strong name for herself as a talented storyteller.

Ironically though, it was Liliya’s chic style, not her seemingly endless accolades, that first caught the attention of The STYLEtti Editor-In-Chief Janea Mastrandrea. Janea recounts on TheSTYLEtti blog, “I was shooting street style in New York one day when I came upon this woman with fabulous shoes. I met filmmaker and shoe-lover Liliya Anisimova. And the next day, we began collaborating.”

Charline De Luca black and white heels
Liliya’s Charline De Luca black and white heels

Wearing her Charline De Luca black and white heels, black skinny jeans and a light pink-beige soft wool cardigan jacket, Liliya was rushing to meet a friend in midtown NYC when she was approached by Janea, who ironically had no idea that she was already a celebrated journalist. 

“[Janea] was a very beautiful classy lady, one of those editor-in-chief looks. She asked about my shoes and complimented my style, and that’s how I met Janea.. and that’s how I started writing for The Styletti. It was such a privilege and joy to start writing column regularly in a fashionable glossy magazine style,” recalls Liliya.

“I’ve since written around a hundred articles about traveling, attending events, meeting outstanding people and of course, fashion.”

Since that fated encounter three years ago, which is proof that you never know who you’re going to meet out there in the world so you might as well opt for looking your best, Anisimova has continued to be a lead fashion columnist on the site.

Janea adds, “[Liliya’s] posts are among our most read.”

Growing up in Volgograd, former Stalingrad, Russia, Liliya’s love for fashion and the desire to express herself through her own unique style was something she developed early on in her youth.

She recalls, “When I was growing up it was the time when the USSR had just crashed and we didn’t have a big clothing or shoe selection in stores. So everyone pretty much looked the same, and I hated it, so I would come up with my own ideas and ask my grandmother to sew and knit me different pieces. I remember she did a knitted 100% light wool sweater and matching knitted sweatpants which I loved!”

It was only a few years later, at the age of 13, that Liliya first began working as a contributing journalist to local newspapers such as the Russian national newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda’s Volgograd regional edition, Volgogradskaya Pravda and Vecherniy Volgograd aka Evening Volgograd.

She admits, “I’ve loved to write since I was a little girl. I used to ‘publish’ my home-made magazine, I published multiple school papers while in high school, and collaborated with some local papers in my hometown before I started my undergrad in broadcast journalism.”

Liliya went on to earn her Bachelor’s in journalism, another Bachelor’s in translation in professional communications and her MFA in Journalism from Moscow State University before relocating to the states where she earned another MFA in Social Documentary Filmmaking from New York’s School of Visual Arts.

As a local news anchor in Russia Liliya covered a wide range of subjects. Occasionally those subjects intersected with her love for fashion, such as covering Moscow Fashion Week; but The STYLEtti has given her a platform to reveal her fashionista side in a different way.

Liliya explains, “For me, writing a column is very much a get away from my daily video work, I write it once a month, sometimes two if the schedule permits. I love attending events, art gallery openings, fashion shows of course, meeting photographers, designers, artists, models and other interesting people. It’s genuinely very inspiring.”

From her articles covering NYFW where she’s interviewed international designers and covered the runway, to those about attending gallery openings, such as Karim Rashid’s exhibit featuring his new design collaborations in Manhattan last Spring, Liliya writes about fashion in a way that makes the reader feel like they’re one of her close pals.

Karim Rashid
Karim Rashid and Liliya Anisimova at Rashid’s Exhibit in NYC

Dressed to impress, Liliya wore her sensible, but classy black peep-toe Gucci flats, a red Kate Spade knee length coat (featured in another post you can check out here) and her white boatneck sleeveless Raoul dress to Karim Rashid’s exhibit. With over 300 awards under his belt, Karim Rashid is considered one of the world’s most famous industrial designers; and, with the images of Liliya looking chic and stylish at the opening being featured on The STYLEtti site, the post became highly popular and offered readers insight on how to dress one’s best in such a high profile environment.

She often does #OOTD and #OOTN posts as well, which show her personal style for everyday and nightly outings, and serve as a great source of inspiration for those looking to making their wardrobe more fashion forward.

“I like to write about every day simple events, something that anyone can relate to…. I normally get more inspired to find beauty in everyday life in regular people… I think it is my background in journalism and filmmaking that makes me have the same approach to that column.”

On a personal level, Liliya’s natural style is simple, but classy, which makes sense considering her fashion icon is Audrey Hepburn. A little black dress, which she says is ‘as old as time,’ classic nude heels, which work with everything, a silk pastel colored blouse,  ajean shirt and black skinny jeans are among the basic selection of items she says are ‘must haves’ for any fashion forward female reader.

While she’s made a name for herself covering hard-hitting news and travel stories, as well as through her work as a documentary filmmaker, where she primarily focuses on human interest stories relevant to present times, fashion has been a part of Liliya Anisimova’s life all along. So, having her own fashion column is not only the perfect grounds for her talent and personal interests to intersect, but it also continues to draw readers to The STYLEtti site.

Janea says, “Liliya’s sense of humor and understanding of what interests our audience has helped grow our exposure and keeps readers coming back for her influence and entertainment.”

Professional Heavyweight Boxer Turned Actor Larry Olubamiwo is a Knockout On Screen

Larry Olubamiwo
Actor Larry Olubamiwo shot by Karen Scott

As a former professional heavyweight boxer Larry Olubamiwo knows a thing or two about knocking opponents out in the ring; but the successes he’s become widely recognized for in recent years have actually taken place outside of the boxing ring as Olubamiwo’s continued to show what he’s made of on the silver screen.

At 6-foot-4, Olubamiwo looks outwardly dominating, something that undoubtedly lent itself to his benefit in his boxing career and intimidated opponents before the first punch was even thrown. While that naturally strong aesthetic has also led him to be the first choice for a number of commanding lead roles as an actor, his collective work in film and television have revealed his capacity take on multi-layered roles that extend far beyond that of the stereotypical tough guy.

In projects such as Verona Rose’s 2016 dramatic film “Fabric of the Royals” where he stars alongside Alice Fofana from Benjamin Rider’s multi-award winning film “Seven Devils,” and the series “Life of Hers,” which won the Best Ensemble Award at the 2014 Screen Nation Awards, the emotional range and vulnerability that Olubamiwo brings to his characters draw us into the story making it hard to peel our eyes away.

Despite earning extensive praise for his on-screen roles, Olubamiwo remains admirably humble about his career and his talent, but knowing his strengths and capitalizing on them, as is the way for any actor who wishes to ‘make it’ in such a competitive industry, have been imperative to his success.

“My sensitivity and vulnerability as an actor despite my physicality sets me apart,” says Olubamiwo. “I have been told that I’m able to convey a range of emotions with just my eyes, which I am grateful for as acting, a lot of times, is about stillness.”

Though Olubamiwo had a passion for acting during his youth, at that time boxing was where his heart and mind were focused. He spent years undergoing the intense training required of a professional athlete, eventually going on to become a powerful heavyweight competitor in the ring. In 2012 his boxing career ended abruptly, which brought understandable challenges, but in a way came as a godsend as it opened the doors for Olubamiwo to devote himself fully to his work as an actor.

While he’d already played key roles in films such as Jim Dickinson’s comedy “Rough and Ready,” as well as several commercials including a BBC Sport promo for the Rugby World Cup where he played a featured rugby player, and the popular 2007 ‘Bungee’ commercial for the Electoral Commission in the UK, which continued to air during every election until 2013, Olubamiwo was finally in a position to fully immerse himself in his acting training and take his work to the next level. Bringing the same fervent dedication and focus that he gave to his work as a professional boxer, the actor quickly became a sought after force in the entertainment industry.

He explains, “My love for acting and my natural work ethic I have as a boxer allowed me to excel in the training. And while I was training, I was very proactive in searching for acting work and an agent. And the rest is history as they say.”

After landing representation with Imperium Management, Olubamiwo’s captivating talent immediately struck a chord with “Fabric of the Royals” director Verona Rose, who aside from her work as a director, is known for numerous performances on hit series such as the multi-award winning series “EastEnders,” the two-time Primetime Emmy nominated series “Hustle,” and most recently, the Golden Lion Award winning dramatic film “Our Little Haven.”

Rose says, “It was such a pleasure to work with Larry. I had seen his work previously and it’s amazing what range he has despite his size and skills as a fighter. He is able to show such emotion without even saying a word which is true acting. I learned alot from him on set and want to work with him again.”

Nominated for Best Film at the 2016 Screen Nation Digital-iS Media Awards, a prestigious awards ceremony in the UK that’s often referred to as the ‘black Bafta’s,’ “Fabric of the Royals” tells the powerful story of a family who leaves their home in Jamaica to start a new life in the UK in the 1980s. Taking on the starring role of Derek, the head of the family, Olubamiwo gives a captivating portrayal of a man struggling to assimilate to a new culture and rise above the racism and violence he experiences in his new country, in hopes of giving his children a better shot in life.

Told through the eyes of his youngest daughter, “Fabric of the Royals” offers an impactful insight into the many challenges minorities face upon emigrating to a new country.

Revealing Derek as both the strong backbone of the family who commands respect from his children and the fun-loving dad who makes everything alright when they experience truly horrific treatment from the outside world, Olubamiwo endows his character with multiple layers. His performance on screen not only makes his character easy to love and root for as the film unfolds, but it also serves as a testament to his impeccable acting ability.

While Olubamiwo nails the mark in the powerful father-figure roles he plays in both “Fabric of the Royals” and “Life of Hers,” not all of his characters are as easy to love, but they don’t have to be. In the 2016 dramatic horror film “Cat Face” he took on the starring role of Kaka, a priest with mystical powers that brings a murdered woman back to life and gives her the power to track down a violent cult of serial killers and take bloody revenge.

Olubamiwo sends chills down the spines of viewers with his performance, and “Cat Face” went on to be awarded at the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) in 2017. Revealing yet another area of the actor’s widespread skill set, Kaka speaks Yoruba in the film, a language Olubamiwo is not only fluent in, but one that makes the character that much more mysterious on screen thanks to the way the actor portrays him.

Larry Olubamiwo is one uniquely talented actor who embodies the beautiful contradiction of being the polar opposite of what outsiders tend to assume at first glance. And while his imposing figure has made it easy for him to play the intimidating, sometimes even criminal role, like Reynolds in the 2015 thriller “Honour Amongst,” it’s Olubamiwo’s incredible emotional depth, dedication and magnetism on screen that makes him someone worthy of the spotlight and international praise.

Up next for this talented actor is the dramatic crime film “The Middle Man,” which is written and directed by Philip Howard and is slated to begin filming late this year.

Charlotte Chimes On Acting Real: Playing Real-Life Characters

Charlotte Chimes has always believed that the best acting performances are those which are ‘real.’ Others might choose the words ‘truthful’ or ‘believable’ for the same effect, but whichever term is used, it’s clear that Charlotte has carved quite the niche for herself as a leading Australian actress regularly called to play real-life people in gripping dramas.

Such is the impressive significance of her reputation in Australia, Charlotte played the key role of Katrina in the acclaimed Channel Nine movie, “Schapelle.” Directed by award-winning “Better Man” filmmaker Khoa Do, “Schapelle” tells the story of Australia’s most notorious and high-profile convicted drug smugglers in the nation’s history. Schapelle Corby spent nine years in an Indonesian jail cell, and maintained her innocence that she did not plant marijuana found in her bodyboard bag by Indonesian airport security. The case drew international headlines and remains as one of Australia’s most well-known real-life stories, and was therefore the country’s most highly-anticipated television event when it aired, drawing millions in viewers.

Any actor who would be involved in the narrative production documenting Schapelle’s story could easily therefore be called successful, because the story is so well-known; the fact that Charlotte Chimes played a key role “Schapelle” therefore puts her in the top echelon of Australian actors.

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Charlotte, with director Ben Mathews, on the red carpet for the prestigious Sydney Film Festival last year.

Co-star Krew Boylan, well-known for her roles in Logie-winning series “Molly” and international favourite “A Place to Call Home,” speaks very highly of Charlotte. “I had the pleasure of working with Charlotte [on SCHAPELLE]. Charlotte is a gifted actress…I highly recommend her skills, dedication, craft and talent for any work both in Australia and abroad.” Boylan, who is also one of the founders of the Dollhouse Production company alongside Golden-Globe nominated star Rose Byrne, played Schapelle herself. “Krew was lovely to work with,” Charlotte explains. “We had a great time exploring the story from all different angles.”

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“Schapelle” was a highly-anticipated movie on Australia’s #1 network, Channel Nine.

In addition to her work in “Schapelle,” Charlotte is also well-known for her role as Anya Habschied in “Catching Milat.” Charlotte explains her character well. “Anja Habschied was one of Ivan Milat’s seven victims  –  it was so important that all of his victim’s stories were told in this mini -series…to honour them.” The mini-series was especially important in the Australian film industry because it was directed by Peter Andrikidis, Australia’s most prolific television director also responsible for helming the award-winning ABC series “Janet King” and the feature film “Alex and Eve” with “Chasing Life” star Richard Brancatisano.  

In another strong reflection of her truly unique talent and incredible accomplishments, Charlotte featured as Erin Everett in the successful series “Deadly Women.” Her performance was therefore available to 300 million Netflix subscribers all over the world who watch the popular program. For her role in the chapter titled “Green Eyed Monsters,” Charlotte explains the importance she placed on bringing truth and giving justice to the real-life story of her character. “Female murderers are rarer than male murderers and often become quite famous for their crimes, as the media sensationalises them. It was important to portray her not simply as a one dimensional monster but a three dimensional heart-broken woman who made some very grave choices.”

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Charlotte in a gripping scene from an episode of “Deadly Women.”

Charlotte, who has also given critical turns in film “Loco” (with “Neighbours” star Taylor Glockner) and TV series “The Verge” (with “Twilight: Eclipse” actor Matt Deane), warmly expresses her gratitude when it comes to her career success.

“At the end of the day, I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to give voice to such interesting and complex, real-life characters.”

Through Motion Visualization Captures and VFX Zhaoyu Zhou Creates Innovative Film “Last Dance”

VFX artist and director Zhaoyu Zhou23592110_10215392853721198_2657579445691441541_o
VFX artist and director Zhaoyu Zhou

From manipulating the imagery of live-action footage to creating characters like the titular bear in “Paddington,” the CGI Autobots in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” and even bringing former ones back from the dead, such the “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” character Grand Moff Tarkin, the advances in visual effects technology has given filmmakers exponential freedom to literally create anything they can imagine.

A perfect example of the unique power and possibilities that new digital technologies have brought to modern filmmaking is Chinese VFX artist and film director Zhaoyu Zhou’s recent film “Last Dance,” which earned the Best Experimental Film Award at the Miami Short Film Festival and was chosen as a Semifinalist by the 2017 Adobe Design Achievement Awards.

An experimental motion capture visualization film, “Last Dance” tells the ancient Chinese romance story “Farewell My Concubine” in the way of Peking Opera, a traditional Chinese performing art that combines music, vocal performance, mime, dance and acrobatics.

"Last Dance"
Poster for “Last Dance”

”I came up with this idea and concept back in 2015 since I have family and relatives engaged in Peking Opera performances, and I have also been influenced by this traditional performing arts since childhood,” explains Zhou. “By creating this film I wanted to depict Peking Opera in a new form, while also giving audiences the opportunity to experience this traditional Chinese performing art.”

Zhou shot “Last Dance” using famous Peking Opera artist Zhang Ming, who assisted in the choreography and performed the dance as both the King and the Concubine simultaneously on a motion capture stage. Zhou then transferred the motion capture data into Houdini where he created the dynamic simulation effects we see on screen. A data intensive film, Zhou also brought in Houdini FX artist Debra Isaac, who’s known for her visual effects work on the documentary films “Holy Man: The USA VS. Douglas White” and “Wildest Weather in the Solar System.”

“Motion visualization is a newer form of storytelling, and it utilizes the most advanced VFX techniques. The final visual look is achieved through the effects of dynamic simulation. I used Mantra to render and Nuke to composite,” Zhou explains. “There are no texture maps on the two characters, so in order to achieve the elegant look I had to tweak the light and shader material.”

The film, which has also been chosen as an Official Selection of the 2018 USC First Look Film Festival, is visually beautiful, with Zhou’s master skill in VFX making it possible for the figures to dance gracefully across the screen. Zhou’s minimalist style in “Last Dance” provides a lot of space for the viewer’s imagination. The dynamic fluidity of the characters, their bright colors– a key representation of the costumes in Peking Opera performances, and they way he structures the two characters, with the King coming across with a level of sharpness and the Concubine with smooth rounded edges, make “Last Dance” a rich expression of innovation and a homage to tradition at the same time.

Another key element to the film, one that helps create an emotional experience for the viewer, gives life to the characters and drives Zhou’s concept of blending the traditional with the modern is the accompanying music.

He says, “This kind of experimental work using motion capture and CG not only require a unique visual style, but they also need to be fully integrated with the music to achieve the best audio visual experience. I am so grateful to my composer Meizhen He for creating the music.”

Zhou, who’s originally from Qingdao, China, began his career a little over five years ago, and what he’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Lately Zhou has been pulling in award after award for his films, which for the most part, are either animated or created through motion visualization techniques. His seasoned skill as a VFX artist is definitely one of his most powerful assets, one that is matched only by his unique creativity and the stories he’s driven to tell.

Some of Zhou’s other films include the 2017 animated film “Karma,” which earned more than nine Best Animation Awards at festivals including the Los Angeles Film Awards and Asians on Film Festival, as well as the Award of Distinction at Greece’s Athens Animation Festival, the 2016 film “Spherical,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Melbourne International Animation Festival, the Adobe Design Achievement Awards and more, as well as “Reunion,” “Dancing Blue” and others.

Considering Zhou had already proven his strengths as a narrative storyteller through his previous work, and being someone who’s driven to push his personal creative boundaries, “Last Dance” was the perfect opportunity for the VFX artist and filmmaker to experiment with his craft and create something new.

“This time I wanted to try something new. I saw a lot of experimental works in the beginning. The ones I found most inspirational are the series of motion visualization films by Universal Everything in the UK and WOW studio in Japan,” explains Zhou. “Minimalism combined with surrealism, and integrated with the Chinese Opera is such an innovation. Being able to innovate and combine traditional art with modern technology has always been my pursuit.”

Thanks to his vast knowledge and experience with VFX, Zhou was able to translate an age old form of performance and storytelling into the experimental and wildly creative concept that he envisioned in his mind; and created something audiences across the globe could enjoy.

“It was such an amazing journey for me. My favorite part was transferring the design and concept to the final look through the way of VFX by using Houdini. I couldn’t imagine making this happen without VFX,” says Zhou, adding that, “motion visualization has never been easy but it has challenged me to move forward without fear.”