China’s Youjia Qian sees herself as a very perceptual person. She has always been extremely immersed in music and words. As an art director and stylist, she has the ability to take those things and create a visual for them. Through her work, she combines her original style with the needs and wants of those she collaborates with, turning out masterpieces over and over again.
Qian is best known for her work on a number of acclaimed music videos. These include “Devil in California” by Burna Boy, “Death Wish” by DeathbyRomy, and several hits for Gab3, including “Talking to Me” and “Hollywood Angel” featuring BEXEY. She is one of the leaders in her industry in both her home country and abroad and has no plans on slowing down.
“I think being an art director enables me to effectively communicate what I want to express in my heart and show the more profound feelings in the form of a visual. I want to present what I have seen and what I have learned and experienced through my work,” she said.
Just last year, Qian collaborated with hip hop artist Roy Woods on one of her most renowned projects to date. The music video for the artist’s hit “Say Less” has amassed over four million views on YouTube alone since its debut in November. It was issued WMG (Warner Bros Label); UBEM, Sony ATV Publishing and CAMERA and four other brands.
“Roy Woods is an artist that I truly admire. I started hearing more about him in the music industry after he signed a contract with Drake. There are so many personal emotions in his music and I also feel that I could feel something that he wants to express in his music. Many of my young friends like his music,” said Qian.
Qian was brought onto the project thanks to her good professional relationship with Gab3, who directed the video. Qian has worked on several of Gab3’s music videos, and he knew she was just the right person to help make Roy Woods’ video a hit. The teamwork between the three artists led the video to enormous success.
“It is so exciting that everybody likes our work and I also hope to collaborate with all kinds of artists again in the future. I hope to continue to reach a wide range of audiences and have my work impact many people.,” said Qian.
As the song “Say Less” is filled with emotion, Qian used that to set the tone for the entire music video. To prepare for the shoot, she spent most of her time listening to the song and all of Roy Woods’ music, to understand just what type of artist he is and what he wanted to express in the song. She decided after her research on a color tone of red. The actors in the music video are filtered by this, and it creates a specific mood that fits right in with the song. Gab3 supported her decision and worked closely with Qian during the shoot.
“We had really good communication as a team. I understood what Roy Woods wanted to express in his music, so I could create what he wanted visually, including the color and the switching of lens,” Qian described. “I like his music, which helped me to have a better understanding of his direction in the project. The people that I worked with on this project were great and I felt very comfortable with, which made the work that much more enjoyable.”
Check out the video for “Say Less” and admire Qian’s outstanding work.
A Graphic Designer has to look at the world differently. If you’ve ever stopped to truly examine their work, you’ll recognize that they take what most of us see as mundane and are able to capture the excitement, beauty, and originality of almost any action or object. They “turn up the volume and color” in our world, often without sound or pigmentation. They allow us to see others and ourselves as we’d like to be seen. The Graphic Designers who practice their vocation in the film industry have a number of tasks and opportunities before them but essentially, they enable visionary filmmakers to manifest the beginning stages of their ideas. Whether by means of storyboards, posters, or any number of creations that the Graphic Designer brings forth, their perspective can be the first or the last images that the public and filmmakers themselves retain about a particular production. Jiping Liu has worked in a variety of genres and cultures as a Graphic Artist with resounding success and recognition. In particular, she is known for getting inside the productions she works on to see how the professionals in the film industry work in order to more accurately and artistically create the images she is praised for. When you know more about Jiping’s background, you begin to understand that her perspective and talent is the product of an artist who has always pursued something bigger.
Jiping always knew what she wanted in life, to be an artist. From the earliest days in her hometown of Shijiazhuang city, China and later when she moved to Beijing…it was always about art. Comics, cartoons, painting…all of these were valid artistic expressions to a young Liu. She recalls her first compulsion to direct her career path to graphic design stating, “I’m pretty sure I decided to become a graphic designer rather than a painter during the first summer holiday in Beijing Jiaotong University. I got an internship offer from an international company. I remember the company’s creative director was sick for two weeks, so I got a chance to work on company’s ongoing APP design called ‘Life Circle.’ I was so excited to work on real projects and they trusted me very much, letting me try to design the ICON and opening page for the APP. It was just a try, but I took it very seriously. To my surprise, the head of company picked my ICON design. In the end, this APP was available to come out on market and many people liked to download and install it. This was my first time feeling that graphic design is graceful and makes people’s life easier, even beautiful.” During Jiping’s third year at University she received an offer from Tencent (one of the largest Internet companies and largest gaming company in the world) to work as a graphic designer. Her work for Tencent included working on several big budget events, designing posters, books, and advertisements for each event. At that time, Liu opened her own personal design shop online. The artist she was already became fused with the modern day opportunities she was being given.
Realizing that her artistic talent and sensibilities could be utilized among a variety of formats, Jiping became interested in the opportunities which the film industry allowed. Serving as graphic designer for the horror film “Kumal”, Liu’s work became visible at such high profile events as the 70th Cannes Film Festival, the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, and many others. Writer and director Jun Xia had seen Jiping’s work in another film at a screening in Warner Bros Studio (She gives Me Sight) which was graphic designed by Liu. He hired her to be the graphic designer on his film “Emily” which became a multiple award winner
Creating the title design of “Sea of Mirrors”, Jiping chose to use mellow fonts to represent the delicate and beautiful female form of the film’s lead character juxtaposed against sharp edges and corners to represent the darker elements within the film’s story. “Sea of Mirrors” director Thomas Lim says, “Jiping Liu is a graphic designer with extraordinary creativity and skill. Her designs are amongst the best and most unique I’ve seen and her talents are right up there with the best.”
One of Liu’s favorite projects was the work she did for the film “Locked.” The film contains numerous gun battles. Liping used an illustrator style design poster for “Locked.” The colors of the characters on the poster are the same costume color they wore in the movie. She tells, “The size of the budget, big or small, for a film is not the most influential when it comes to design quality. Less can very often be more. More is not always a good thing, big budgets allow you to choose easier and work faster but I find that with a small budget I will spend time to find a way to get the art to work. If you have the skill, you can create quality. Whatever spurs your creativity and brings it out of you is the best.”
The future is not only bright for this graphic designer, it’s also busy. Liu is currently working on a number of projects for Alpha Pictures Inc. Frank Antonelli sought Jiping out and hired her to be the lead graphic designer on three very important upcoming productions; Bee, Armor Hero and Requiem Street. BEE, Armor Hero and Requiem Street were the top 3 popular comics and animations in China. Alpha Pictures Inc. is now developing and adapting these three animations to live-action/global feature films. BEE has 1 billion views on u17.com, a six-episode animated web series released in China and Japan and an action figure line released in 2015. The Requiem Street comic has been published since 2012 and has 2.2 billion views on U17.com. Number 1 Chinese comic in 2016 and twenty-four-episode animated web series released. Requiem Street also has a live-action TV series in production. Armor Hero is based on the top selling toys, Armor Hero is a series of characters on which more than 200 TV episodes and on which two feature films are based. In its eight-year history, Armor Hero has attracted 400 million fans and garnered a 4.8 billion accumulated viewership through video portals in China. The brand generates more than 600 million RMB in toy retail sales per year. The massive popularity and built in audience interest of these three sotrylines bodes extremely well for anticipated box office enthusiasm and returns.
Of all the talents that Liu possesses, the most beneficial may not be the most obvious. As someone who has spent time in both the US and China, as well as possessing an artist’s eye for the film industry, Liu is perfectly suited to further establish the bonds that have become mutually beneficial to both locations. The differences between these two cultures is something which Jiping has always found attractive. She enjoys the experience being caught between the two. She admits, “I received a very good job offer from China last year but I gave it up.
I believe the future of film and TV will be international and global. Nowadays, many Chinese production companies are opening branch offices in Hollywood; they want to corporate and step into Hollywood films. It’s a big trend for the modern film industry. Artists who have different cultural background, art style, and knowledge will be in need. People always say American films are top, to make these films keep shinning there needs to be different cultural elements. Movies play for everyone no matter where you located. That makes me interested in being a Chinese graphic designer in the US, because I want to contribute to this Chinese and American corporation.”
There have been many, many films about World War II. With subject matter as prolific as this it is difficult to find a new angle. The film All These Voices is one of the few films to achieve this goal. The film’s producer Beatrice von Schwerin understood this when the opportunity came her way. While history informs us about the events, the arts enable us to comprehend the lessons learned as well as to take on the emotional quotient of these events. It is often true that the perspective of a war is viewed differently based on your geography. It is this fact that helps to make von Schwerin the perfect person to oversee the making of All These Voices. In addition to her excellence as a producer, Beatrice hails from Europe; giving her an ideal perspective to produce this Hollywood film. A member of Swedish nobility and possessing a resume of celebrated European film work, this producer brings many obvious talents…as well as a few less obvious ones. All These Voices struck a resonant chord. The award-winning film was screened at a wide variety of festivals including; AFI Film Fest (Los Angeles, CA), Carmel Film Festival (Carmel, CA), American Film Festival (Wroclaw, Poland), LA Polish Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA) ICARO Festival International de Cine (Guatemala) Las Vegas Film Festival (Las Vegas, NV – Winner Best International Short), 24 FPS International Short Film Festival (Abilene, TX), Kino Otok Isola Cinema Festival (Izola and Ljubljana, Slovenia), LA Jewish Film Festival (Los Angeles, CA), Resistance Film Festival (Tehran, Iran), Southway Film Festival (Mykolaiyy, Ukraine), Centre Des Arts (Geneva, Switzerland – Special Screening and Lecture), European Student Film Festival (Geneva, Switzerland – Special Screening and Lecture), Newport Beach Film Festival (Newport, CA), FIC Autor Film Festival (Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico), Washington DC Jewish Film Festival (Washington DC, MA), Woods Hole Film Festival (Woods Hole, MA). It’s important to view this list as a whole to understand that All These Voices had such a major appeal to so many different sections of the world population. Based on the locations of these screenings, we can easily assume that regardless of cultural, economic, or religious affiliation, these audiences were intrigued and attentive to the film’s message. This is proof that films which don’t involve CGI or superheroes can have mass appeal to audiences with many varied lifestyles. The fact that Beatrice was able to produce this film on a minor fraction of the average Hollywood budget is a major achievement for any production these days.
All These Voices is highly unique in the way that the story is presented. The film takes place in the days following the end of World War II. A young SS officer has sought out refuge by hiding in an abandoned Polish theater. A theater troupe of survivors enters to celebrate the end of the war. Having camouflaged his identity, and remaining mute so as not to reveal his native German tongue, the soldier joins the survivors in a vibrant celebration. As he witnesses the expression of their painful past, he is forced to come to terms with his complicity in their grief. It’s an idea that seems quite possible to have occurred in post WWII Europe. Multiplying the ease with which the audience can accept the story is the location. Nothing could be as appropriate as watching a film in a theater while the action takes place in a theater. Of course, with the events taking place in 1945 Poland, the surroundings needed to reflect that era. Beatrice chose the Roxie Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. Hollywood continually proves that its ability to be malleable is one of its greatest assets. This attribute, in addition to the talented community, is what has interested von Schwerin in possibly pursuing a residency in LA even though she has already experienced great success as a producer in Europe. She concedes, “Hollywood has always been the center of film; I don’t think that that will ever change. The film industry has been active here for over 100 years. The major studios are still located in and around Hollywood. It falls naturally that once a center for any type of industry is built, it stays there. I am actually looking forward to the day when I am part of a movie that will shoot its full production days in Los Angeles; it would be wonderful, to be closer to home. I know that the shorter commute home would be nice [laughs].”
The production All These Voices took on some highly difficult tasks, not the least of which was the presentation of its theme. Making sure that the story was told in a proper and respectful way was the greatest challenge. The Holocaust and the effect that it has had on people is a very important story to tell. Beatrice reveals that she gained some new knowledge from her director and multiple-productions collaborator David Henry Gerson. She notes, “I had what I thought was good knowledge about the Holocaust and its effect on people. However, working with David Henry Gerson helped me to get a stronger sense of it. Seeing it from David’s point of view, he has family that lived through the holocaust, and hearing his stories together with their stories has opened my understanding. None of my direct family has ever lived through such a trauma, so this has definitely helped me understand in more detail what the survivors had gone through.” It is obvious that Gerson was appreciative of von Schwerin’s attention and care of the subject matter as well as her producing skills as he comments, “Beatrice cares deeply about protecting and supporting the creative vision of the film. Working with her on All These Voices made this more apparent to me than ever before. She is an utmost professional, who inspires greatness and action in her crews and those working with her. Everyone performs their best having Beatrice around as a producer. Regardless of whether it was with myself as the director of any other member of the cast and crew, she listened carefully, assessed scenarios swiftly and effectively, and always, always, always was 110% prepared. Her intelligence governs all of her decisions. She has a rare ability as a leader and is a great force of positivity, effectiveness, and inventiveness. Making this film without her would be inconceivable.” The film’s writer, Brennan Elisabeth Peters echoes this sentiment stating, “As the screenwriter on All These Voices, having a producer as capable as Beatrice supporting my vision was crucial to its development and execution. As an artist, an important part of my process is thinking in terms of possibilities rather than limitations, especially on the script level. Unfortunately, due to the nature of filmmaking as a particularly logistically challenging and collaborative art form, this is not always possible. On other projects, I frequently feel the need to hone my vision and rein in expectations based on the limitations of my collaborators. However, with Beatrice on All TheseVoices, I truly felt free and uninhibited to write a script that was ambitious, gratifying, and, ultimately, award-winning. That was due in large part to my faith and trust in Beatrice as a producer.” One of the most difficult obstacles for the film is probably unnoticed by the majority of American audiences. All These Voices is extremely detailed in its recreation of the era and location of the events taking place…even down to the language being spoken. As producer, von Schwerin had to be involved in just about every aspect of the film production. This meant making sure that the dialogue was spoken correctly and believably. Beatrice states, “The cast on ATV were a very special bunch. Seeing that the film is all in Polish and German, probably the hardest part was making sure that the dialogue and pronunciation was correct. Parts of our cast were born and raised in Poland and some were not. Our film was seen all over the world, including places where Polish and German are the native languages; this required us to be painstakingly critical of the language in order to be authentic. I’m really proud that we were able to achieve this goal so well.”
It’s hard to imagine a young Beatrice von Schwerin roaming the grounds of her family’s castle in Sweden and then maturing into this commanding presence on set. How many of us would leave a comfortable life of adulation and nobility in order to face challenges day after day on a production? Beatrice conveys this commitment best in her own words declaring, “Producing is never an easy job, if it were easy, I would probably not be working as a producer. I need a proper challenge and producing gives me that challenge. When I moved to LA I promised myself that once I stop smiling when I see the Hollywood sign, I would quit my job and move back to Scandinavia. I am still smiling.”
Nick Fulton has deftly parlayed his personal interest in pop music into a successful career as a professional writer. The New Zealand-born Fulton’s concise, insightful style, impeccable taste and natural affinity for his subject have enabled him to go, in a decade’s time, from startup blogger to internationally recognized voice. His groundbreaking Einstein Music Journal was one of the first web presences in the remote island nation and virtually introduced the music blog format there.
For Fulton, it came together almost by chance. “I started writing after a friend encouraged me to start a blog,” he said. “In 2004 very few people in New Zealand were blogging, so it was pretty exciting to enter that space. It also meant that the people I connected with online were mostly outside my local community. I made friends and connected with other writers in Sydney, Los Angeles and London.
“Around that time I tried to connect with a couple of print publications that were based in Auckland, which is where all the major publications in New Zealand are based,” Fulton said. “But I was living in Wellington and struggled to find my way in. As a result, I started writing more frequently on my blog, which later evolved into Einstein Music Journal (EMJ). I got another writer on board and used Myspace to reach out to bands and music blogs in other countries. Before long we had a steady readership, and when we eventually launched Einstein Music Journal in 2006 we were able to throw a massive party and sell out one of Auckland’s best live music venues.”
“We operated slightly differently to the traditional music media,” Fulton said. “We didn’t always go through conventional channels to secure a story. We quickly gained a reputation for being bold and enthusiastic, and many publicists and record labels responded well to us. On several occasions we managed to secure stories that much bigger publications and other established writers in New Zealand missed out on.”
From this somewhat cheeky Do-It-Yourself start, Fulton, thanks to a reputation which was gaining respect and admiration beyond New Zealand, found respectability being thrust upon him and soon eschewed such pop guerilla tactics.
“My biggest achievement is finding an audience for my writing outside of New Zealand,” Fulton said. “With EMJ, I had regular readers in New York. LA and Australia. More recently I’ve worked with influential writers like Jessica Hopper, Cuepoint’s Jonathan Shecter and co-authored a column with hip hop writer Michael ‘DJ’ Pizzo. Being personally asked by Shecter to contribute to his publication was such an honor, and one that I will never forget. He wrote to me after I self-published an article on Medium, asking if he could republish my story on Cuepoint and if I’d be willing to join him as a writer and editor there.”
This natural momentum has served the writer well, and Fulton’s aim is always true—his 2015 Pitchfork magazine editorial “It’s Time to Put Our Cameras Away” (which called for a cessation of fan cellphone recording at concerts) not only inspired a contrarian clickbait response from venerable NYC weekly the Village Voice, it coincided with the practical use at numerous music and comedy performances of a variety anti-cell phone technology, a practice that is steadily growing.
“I like writing about a potential trend, or an unusual observation,” Fulton said. “My Pitchfork Op-Ed started a healthy debate online and had an overwhelmingly positive response. Pitchfork‘s Facebook and Twitter received a lot of comments, mostly agreeing with me, which was good. The only real dissent was shown by that writer at the Voice, who penned a response telling people to keep doing whatever they wanted. I think he thought I was being too politically correct.”
With a kaleidoscopic range of subjects from world class pop superstars to offbeat independents like Italian noise rockers Father Murphy, offbeat New York hip-hop group Das Racist, New Zealand filmmaker-music video director Simon Ward or a behind the scenes piece of music studio production Fulton’s analytical easy going methodology always holds the reader
“Nick’s a great guy and a great writer,” broadcaster David Klein said. “EMJ was one of the key music blogs in the country, and one that was a real defining authority. We met when he was a guest on a radio show I hosted. It was awesome to have Nick onboard, he always presented interesting new music, and could speak about it with a good understanding of trends, composition, and just the way music appeals to you at an emotional level. I’d trust Nick’s taste, and the quality of his writing is what has made him so successful. And he is always expanding his range –I just read something about music studio production he’d written a few weeks ago, and it was great.”
Now an almost ubiquitous figure in the local music scene, Fulton’s achievements and variety of outlets continue to grow.
“Being viewed by the public as an expert in my field is one the highest honors,” Fulton said. “I’m proud of the times I was invited on to radio shows, to comment publicly about a trend in music or share my thoughts on a popular band. Now my goal is to become a trusted voice outside of New Zealand and Australia. I’d like to immerse myself in the American music scene for a while and soak up as much knowledge as possible. I got a taste of it all when I visited in 2012, but there’s still so much to discover and write about.”
Fulton’s elegant yet hard charging style has taken him far, but the writer is just now really coming into his own, and this success is very easily explained.
“Working with Nick was great,“ editor Katy Hall said. “He’s the kind of writer you hope will stumble into your inbox at some point but rarely does. He’s personable, professional, knows how to stick to a deadline, and most importantly, he always delivered really high-quality work. It was engaging, tailored to the publication’s tone and needed no editing. I don’t want this to sound cheesy or overhyped; it was just the reality of working with a great writer.”
Professional photographer and videographer Cristina Tomás Rovira has worked alongside with some of the greats of the entertainment industry, capturing moments via still photography and film for more than half a decade.
Originally from Barcelona, Rovira’s awareness of the arts was sparked at a young age. “I’ve been interested in this world since I was little,” Rovira said. “Every time I watched a movie or a TV show, I could picture myself working on one of them. I was, and still am, addicted to watching behind the scenes videos.”
After obtaining her first camera around the age of 10 and receiving praise for her photographs, Rovira explained that, “something just clicked. I loved the feeling of people telling me that my talents were special and that they liked my pictures. So, I kept going to continue to get the same reactions from them.”
Rovira began working professionally while attending The Centre de la Imatge i la Tecnologia Multimèdia (Barcelona) in 2010.
“My first job as a photographer was at a music festival in Barcelona. I was 19 years old at the time, and it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Rovira described. At the time, Rovira’s pictures from the festival were used for press, ultimately gaining her work recognition around the city of Barcelona.
It was also during college when Rovira picked up her first DSLR camera in an attempt to figure out the basics of videography. “I was working on a fashion assignment for one of my classes and noted a lack of videographers surrounding me. DSLR cameras were increasing in popularity, so I decided to try the whole video thing for myself. I ended up capturing the making of that fashion project, and from that day forward my life was forever changed,” said Rovira.
Since 2010, Rovira has been in charge of all filmmaking at Padilla Rigau, a leading, Barcelona-based Wedding Photography and Videography company. The company is known for capturing some of lives most precious moments with a unique, modern and fresh twist.
“I truly believe that our work as photographers and videographers is based on feelings – to create them, and to capture them,” said Rovira. “Attending weddings has provided me with a greater sensitivity towards what is in front of the camera, and I now use that sensitivity always, whether I’m shooting a wedding, a commercial or a fashion film.”
In Rovira’s opinion, two of the most powerful qualities a good photographer can have are that of speed and affectivity. One must be fast, humble and approachable, and the same goes for videographers. “If you shoot the same look or seen a thousand times, the subject will get the impression that it is his or her fault. If you have something specific in mind, you need to explain your idea when everyone’s around, so that everything translates, including your excitement regarding the prospective shot,” Rovira explained.
When it comes to her own work and creative tendencies, Rovira tends to enjoy capturing the details that are often overlooked. “I consider myself an adventurer,” said Rovira. “I have always been on the hunt of new perspectives. I like telling stories from a different outlook. I’m really observant. I’ve always been that way, and that fact about my personality has given me an extreme sense of what people like to see in my work.”
The work of a photographer entails so much more than a simple point and click. It is a job that requires an excellent aesthetic eye, and both creative and technical aptitude. For example, when it comes to the different types of lighting she’s worked with, Rovira provided, “You have to be like a chameleon and adapt to the lighting that has been given to you. Sometimes, I’m shooting something that’s happening under one kind of light, and when I turn around to film something else, the light is completely different, so I have a very small window of time to reset my camera to shoot the second scene. I have to be fast and prepared so I don’t lose the moment.”
Rovira developed her own photographic style upon moving to Los Angeles for a year, where she collaborated and refined her camera skills with the internationally renowned photographer, Joseph Llanes. Llanes’ work has been published in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin, New York magazine and L.A. Weekly. His wide range of clients includes talents like Rihanna, Justin Bieber, The Black Keys, Katy Perry and Gavin Rossdale, to name a few.
“Everything that surrounded me was invigorating and I felt a constant need to capture most of the people and things that I came in contact with,” Rovira explained of her introduction to the entertainment industry of Los Angeles. “Being a foreigner gave me the chance to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.”
Alongside mentor Llanes, Rovira assisted with multiple photo shoots with top clients, where she ultimately acquired an intense understanding of the building blocks of professional photography. “I always learn something from Joseph in every photo shoot or project that we collaborate on. He taught me the importance of creating a good environment at work, and to always be two steps ahead of yourself with every project. Have a plan B, C and D, so you’re prepared to quickly solve any problem that might occur during the shoot, without the client noticing that there was even a problem to begin with,” Rovira said.
Since this experience, Rovira has photographed and assisted with shoots involving many top tier musicians, bands and musical events, her framework including talent such as Quincy Jones, Phoenix and Els Catarres. In 2013, Rovira assisted Llanes at the world famous annual music festival, Coachella. She has also photographed leading music events in Los Angeles with Llanes such as Hard Summer and the Hard Day of the Dead Festival, where Rovira worked in photographing such famed talents as the Grammy winning DJs Calvin Harris, Skrillex and Zedd.
During the Aokify America Tour’s November, 2013 Los Angeles show for Steve Aoki, a Grammy nominee and Billboard Award winning EDM musician, Rovira photographed Aoki as well as music superstars Iggy Azalea, Linkin Park, Travis Barker and Kid Cudi.
As a videographer, Rovira has engaged her outstanding talents for companies Brownie Spain and Padilla-Rigau, for several years. As an innovative team member, Rovira has, and currently, films and photographs weddings and fashion events. “Nowadays, we are amongst the top ten wedding photographers and videographers in Spain,” Rovira said. “I love doing weddings because I work with two of my best friends. We have built a really strong company together.”
When it comes to fashion, Rovira has created fashion films with some of the most well known brands in all of Spain. Some of Rovira’s clients include Shana, Swarovski, Codigo Basico, Estel Alcaraz and Pompeii Brand, among others. Regarding her work, Rovira commented, “Working with [these brands] on a regular basis allows me to improve and try new things with each video. I love capturing what’s going on around me.”
With industrial designer Estel Alcaraz, Rovira has acted as her, “right-hand person,” as quoted by Alcaraz, since the beginning of Alcaraz’s career. “Cristina is a part of my team. I was lucky enough to know her when we were both starting our professional careers and we helped each other as much as we could. She works with me on every project I start. She’s exceptionally sensitive to detail and puts my ideas on paper or on video. Either way, she always gets what I want because she has the ability to capture the emotion and passion that I put into my products through her work.”
The pair worked closely with one another on one of Alcaraz’s most important projects, The Sardines Boots. The Sardines Boots are bright yellow, light, flexible rain boots that are designed to easily fold and compress to a backpack size. With the motto, “Don’t let wet socks give you cold feet,” the campaign was published worldwide.
“Cristina knows how to showcase the essence of my products and it was great to be known inside the world of industrial design with her work, as she is one of the people who believed in me from the very beginning,” Alcaraz said. “Working with Cristina is great because she always wants to go one step further and is always thinking about starting new projects. Sometimes, she even encourages me to design so that can she make a new video. She has this contagious positive energy that makes you believe that you can make everything come true.”
Rovira has also applied her profound camera skills for a TV commercial with professional Spanish footballer, Andres Iniesta. “I showed my footage and pictures to the director of that shoot and his reaction was priceless. He liked how I captured moments that he didn’t realize happened, and commented that the composition of my work was extremely beautiful.”
Jordi Egea, owner of the Spanish production company Smilefilms, directed the commercial shoot. Previously, Egea and Rovira have collaborated on several projects with the brand Dormity. Regarding Rovira’s sought-after skills, Egea said, “We hire her because she is great at doing her work, she gives you what you and your client ask for, and goes above and beyond what is needed of her. She understands her clients and what they want and captures the essence of every brand while still maintaining her personal style. Plus, people feel comfortable around her, and that’s key when you work with people who are not necessarily used to being in front of a camera.”
We recently had the opportunity to sit down and visit with Zi Li, a revered game designer and producer who has helped deliver award-winning titles including “Dissonance,” “Paralect,” “MiraLab,” “Dungeon Crash” and “Epic Knights.” Shining in both PC and mobile platforms, Li has also engaged her talents for the award-winning “Leviathan” virtual reality project and for the short films, “The Birthday Girl” and “Fly.”
Li, a Guangdong, China native, has a well-founded background for the field. She received a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Digital Media from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Interactive Media & Games from the University of Southern California.
Dispatching her design brilliance, Li has been instrumental in the development, design and execution of cognitive puzzle games, fantasy RPGs and adventure games. She works with Firefly Games Inc., that operates offices in both Shanghai and Los Angeles, and had prior stints with Digital Domain 3.0 Inc., Floor 84 Game Studio and Ericsson Communications.
Li has constructed a standout career with a formula comprised of artistic creativity, engineering ingenuity and a command of computer programming and design principals. We are excited to share her story below in our exclusive interview!
What was it like to grow up and live in Guangdong?
ZL: To be honest it was kind of boring. I grew up in a middle city. Its economy is okay to maintain people’s basic needs. But we don’t have much to do. People are very chilled and always have morning tea, afternoon tea and night tea. Being chilled and relaxed is not in my nature. I always want to go to other places and see what is exciting and creative. I guess that’s why I am here making games.
What games did you grow up playing?
ZL: I did not grow up playing games. My parents were very strict when I was young. They don’t allow me to access to anything that could make me feel addictive. I was learning painting and into manga when I was a child. I always wanted to do art.
Unlike a lot of game developers, I didn’t fall in love with games first. I have particular types of games I like. I love visual art and engineer first and then found games that express meanings and allow me to feel smart when I am playing are very attractive. That’s why I get into game industry.
What drove you to pursue a career in game design?
ZL: I would say I’m driven by the idea of communicating thoughts through art pieces. For me game is art. Game designers are the same as other artists.
I was good at science related fields when I was a kid. I thought my ability is enough support me to become an engineer in the future. On the other hand, I spent more than 6 years studying paintings until high school. I always thought I could become a part time artist. I did an animation later. I found that doesn’t satisfy my needs of expressing my engineering mindset.
Later, I got clearer that in the field that science intersects with art is what I’m really passionate about.
For me, games is a media that allows both science and art collapse together.
What is your favorite game genre?
ZL: Puzzle. I like games that can make me think and use my logic.
What are your top three favorite games all-time?
ZL: Braid, Machinarium, Windosill.
How would you describe your job as a game designer and producer?
ZL: My job includes a wide range of tasks. As a producer, I work with different teams and communicate with each team about their perspective of the game. Also, because I’m a game designer, I also work on game design decisions and help with correcting the game development direction.
What does it take to be a successful game designer?
ZL: I think a good game designer should be innovative, open-minded, and passionate. Other skills will come along as long as the game designer knows what he or she wants.
How did your academic career help shape your professional career?
ZL: I got an engineering degree in Digital Media. We learned lots of basic knowledge about films, animation and games. I learned how to program and work on cinematic pieces during my study in the Digital Media Department. I found my passion in films and games by trying out various media.
Then I went to graduate school for Interactive Media and Games. I was majoring in game design. I knew that this program is not only limited in traditional games. It matches what I want out of games. So I started as a game design student in the industry and gradually figured out my strength. I was involved in various games projects and learned different skills, like design methodology, cinematic expression and so on. They definitely help me to become a game designer and producer.
“Dissonance,” for PC, won the Indie Prize and the Experimental Game Showcase at the Out of Index Festival. Tell us a little bit about it.
ZL: Dissonance is a puzzle-adventure game developed by Team Dissonance. I created Dissonance as a bridge between puzzle games and a psychology concept cognitive dissonance. It started as my personal project. With six months development, the team has expanded to over 10 people. The developers transmitted the psychological concept cognitive dissonance into the core mechanics of game to make it more than just a puzzle game.
What place do puzzle and psychology games have in today’s gaming market?
ZL: Puzzle games are always popular. But I don’t see many games combining puzzle and psychology together. I think as one of the art media, comparing to other media, video games are still new and have lots of potential. Hopefully it will be growing and explored the usage in different areas.
The fantasy RPG – “Dungeon Crash” – has over one million downloads for Android and Apple. How would you describe the game and what’s made it such a success?
ZL: Dungeon Crash is a fun and adorable game which has playful battles accompanied by strategic role-playing elements.
The gameplay is deep and fun. Players always have the next goal in the game. The main goal of the game is to collect the best team of warriors, mages and healers. When a player is trying to work towards the main goal, he or she can balances other elements like gear, upgrade system, guild and so on. There are numerous things a player can do. Each person has their unique way to get close to the goal. Also they can show off their progress through fight against other players to get to the top position on the leaderboard.
Share with us a little on your background in art and how that’s helped shape you as a game designer.
ZL: At the place I grew up, my life contains 3 major activities: taking regular classes, painting and notebook shopping in bookstores (I collected notebooks when I was younger). Like I mentioned earlier, I spent 6 years studying painting. Also, my dad loves poets and calligraphy. He loves sharing them with me. I think this type of environment helps to build my aesthetic standards, creativity and cultivates my passion in arts.
I do think game design is a pretty flexible area. A lot of times, game designers need to make decisions with their aesthetic and design sense. Those things are very abstract and hard to grow in a short term. I’m glad that I grew up with practicing my aesthetic consciousness.
You contributed to the art that’s featured in the PC game, “Paralect.” What is the premise of “Paralect” and how did you enjoy working as an artist for the game?
ZL: Paralect is a 2D platformer that uses gameplay, visuals and narrative to tell a personal story of cultural un-rooting. It explores the paradigm shifts caused by culture shock and adaptation and investigates how those transformations affect one’s vision of people, their environment, the place you initially came from and, most importantly, the place you wish to call home. It is a story and a world inspired by the creative director Loan Verneau.
I had great time working Paralect. I like the concept a lot. I think the protagonist reminds me a lot of myself. I feel attached to the character. The game is programmed with C++, so all the art asset needs to be designed carefully. Loan and I spent time together figuring out how to interpret the design through programmed visual elements. It is great that I got to apply what I know into the game and learning new ways to express ideas in games at the same time. It also helps me to grow and build up experience to make my independent games.
“MiraLab” went on to win the Gold Award in the Education Category at the Serious Play Conference. Was the educational aspect a motivator for the Miralab team in creating the “MiraLab” concept?
ZL: The world in Miralab is a media arts world and accompanying design methodology that emerged out of a multi-faceted exploration of a naturally occurring biological process: the lifecycle of Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish. The biological structure acts as a contextual framing, research prompt, and unifying theme that generates multiple interdisciplinary arts and science media explorations. It foregrounds knowledge and outcomes associated with arts and design practice experimentation within the realm of interdisciplinary arts science research. It asserts how the unique potential arts practice engagement contributes to interdisciplinary learning. This abstract briefly describes each mode of exploration and contextualizes it within a larger poetic science methodology. It considers this methodology’s contribution to a new understanding of interdisciplinary arts science research centered in transmedia design principles.
That said, the “Leviathan” project you worked on implements some VR along with other components. What’s “Leviathan” all about?
ZL: The Leviathan project, based on Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy, takes place in 1895, 20 years prior to the source material. In Westerfeld’s story, World War I is reimagined with bioengineered fabricated animals replacing technology and facing off against large mechanical robots. While the books focus on the tension of war, the Leviathan Project emphasizes the experimental exploration in the concept of fabrication. By taking place earlier than the series, the project builds a world of wonder and amazement for the unknown and the unexpected possibilities that can suddenly arise.
“Leviathan” received the New Frontier Project award at the Sundance Film Festival and was featured at CES in Las Vegas. What were the responses and feedback you guys got on the project?
ZL: Players are amazed by what Leviathan offers. In the Leviathan project, we adapt the techniques that can track the player position in a room. So what players need to do is put on the headset and walk around in the room. It is simple and intuitive.
They love that they can walk around in the Leviathan world and observe the world and the stories as an officer. They can get immersive experience while creating their own version of story.
What opportunities does your role as producer allow for at Firefly Games?
ZL: As a producer, I get the chance of communicating with each team and overseeing the project I’m responsible for. Also, I have been communicating with other producers from other projects to share our experiences and tools. I have lots of practice in project management, negotiation and various problem-solving skills.
What can gamers expect to get from Firefly releases?
ZL: Firefly Games focuses on the games that are intuitive and fun for mobile gamers. We have three games out there and are developing more games. Hopefully players can find that our games are fun and relaxing.
What are some of your hobbies outside of the gaming realm?
ZL: I like reading books and watching animated films. These two media can always offer me endless inspiration. Currently, I’m reading a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
What types of games are you looking forward to designing and producing in the future?
ZL: As an artist, I hope one day I can make a game that offers players a unique experience in a way that they reach part of the mind they have never explored before. I always have fun knowing myself and learning about myself. I find it fascinating that a lot of us don’t know ourselves very well. And a lot of art pieces help us. For example, the pilot in The Little Prince does help me to see that I’m just like him. He wants to be a painter, not a pilot. And I’m a person who always wants to be an artist instead of an engineer. I hope people can try the game and then say ‘This game is affecting me. I never knew that I’m a person like that.’
Tom Penpark has been at it since he was 6 years old.
“I was inspired by my father to become a photographer,” he said. “He carried his camera with him all the time. His main subject was my mom. One day, he handed me my first camera, and I’ve enjoyed taking pictures ever since.”
And since that initiation, it’s been a pattern of success, recognition, accolades and honors stemming from Penpark’s world-class photographic brilliance.
His outstanding work has been published with The Huffington Post, The Telegraph: UK, Discovery Channel, SF Chronicles: San Francisco, Amazon.cn, Photographer’s Forum Magazine, Popular Photography Magazine China, Chicago Metropolitan Association for Education of Young Children, and American Photographic Artists (APA) San Francisco, to name a few.
His photography clients have consisted of well-known brands like Adidas, Google, Crossroad Trading, Monster Products, and Rodeo Realty Beverly Hills. Additionally, Penpark has demonstrated his retouching skills with clients such as Men’s Warehouse, Levi’s, Old Navy, Peet’s Coffee, T-Mobile, Charlotte Russe, Airbnb, Adobe, Nike, See’s Candies, and Gillette.
Originally from Bangkok, Penpark was used to photographing communities where the scenery around him was all quite similar. Exploring America allowed Penpark to expand his photographic imagination and immerse himself into the realm of panoramic photography. “My first trip to the U.S. started with Yosemite National Park in 2007. I had my old Canon Rebel with me. I learned that I could not capture what I saw in one frame and I couldn’t show what I actually saw through my pictures. That’s when I began learning about panoramic photography and started shooting panorama in order to get exactly what I saw,” Penpark said.
While panorama remains one of Penpark’s highest interests, he thoroughly enjoys photographing many different subjects. From architecture, electronics to food, people and objects, and natural landscapes, his photography spans a wide range of topics.
Regarding his versatile style of capturing, Penpark commented, “If I had to pick a favorite subject, it would have to be either landscape photography or people in landscapes. I enjoy traveling to places I’ve never been and conversing with and learning from new people. I love capturing people’s emotions and the perfections made visible in still life through my photography. Having to hike up to new destinations and dedicate copious amounts of time in order to ensure I get the perfect landscape photography always inspires me and constantly pushes me to work beyond my limits.”
Over the past ten years, Penpark has dedicated his time to exploring the different avenues of photography. “At the moment, I think my photography goes in two directions,” Penpark explained. When he has the time, Penpark continues to pursue his love of landscape photography through various road trips. “When it comes to my personal photography, I think the beauty of my photographs is the perfect of the imperfection. However, for my commercial photography, I focus specifically on perfection and what my clients are looking for.”
Early on in his career, Penpark worked as an Assistant Photographer to some of the biggest names in the business. For several years, he assisted talents such as Shalom Ormsby, Trinette Reed, Chris Gramly and David Fischer.
“I have learned all of my skills from others,” said Penpark. “My processes of planning, shooting, post-processing, and printing are all of general knowledge, the same as other photographers. Personally, I plan all of my shoots when I can. Long preparation and a short execution are always better than no plan at all for me. I will go the extra mile to find the best times and locations that will allow me to obtain the best final images as a result.”
Penpark has collaborated since 2008 with John Lund, a stock photography phenomenon, founding member of Blend Images and current APA SF Board Member.
“Tom’s background in art direction and design is apparent in his work, his Photoshop abilities are deep and professional, and his understanding of Lightroom and digital capture is extensive. Tom is more than just a talented photographer; he is a problem solver as well,” Lund said of Penpark’s many talents.
After earning recurring awards and recognition as a remarkable photographer by the American Photography Association (APA) early on in his career, Penpark was selected as a member and actively participates as leading voice in their events.
The APA is a non-profit organization built by photographers for photographers. It exists to provide business tools and creative inspiration in order to aid artists in the artistic process of photography and maintaining a stable, profitable business.
Over the years, many of Penpark’s images have been accepted by APA judges and exhibited throughout several selective shows such as the APA SF Something Personal Exhibition and the APA SF Selected Works Exhibition. In 2011, Penpark was awarded a Judges’ Fourth Place Award from the APA San Francisco Something Personal Exhibition.
“APA is a well-respected community for professional photographers. It was an honor to be selected for the APA Judges’ Fourth Place Award in their exhibition that took place in 2011,” Penpark said. In 2012, he acted as APA’s guest speaker at the Apple Store in San Francisco for their Creative Professional Series.
“After that,” Penpark continued, “my pictures were selected for their exhibitions almost every year.” In 2015, he was selected to be an APA judge. “As a professional photographer, this is a great honor.”
National Board Member of the APA and Chairman of the Board APA of San Francisco Chapter, Christian Peacock, commented of Penpark’s valued skills, “His talents and dedication to the excellence of his craft were evident in his examples of imagery that cannot be seen with the naked eye. I highly endorse Tom Penpark as an outstanding member of the APA and am looking forward to seeing his future accomplishments in our industry.”
Photography is a profession that requires both creative and technical abilities. Throughout the years, Penpark’s spent proving himself as an esteemed photographer. His work clearly showcases his mastery of having acquired both.
“Being a professional photographer requires a lot of investment in technical and artistic education,” Penpark said. “Having a solid foundation of the arts, painting and the history of photography are necessary qualities. However, at the same time, having excellent camera and lighting skills, knowing how to retouch images, and being knowledgeable of digital printing and digital assets management is important, too. Digital photography is half art and half tech. As a photographer, I can never stop learning and exploring.”
For the 2014-15 and 2016-17 editions, Penpark was selected and published as one of the Best Ad photographer’s for Leuzer’s Archive Magazine, a leading magazine for innovative ideas, photography and illustration. The honor is among the best in professional photography.
“The photos in Archive Magazine inspired me to become a full time photographer,” Penpark said. “I am proud and honored to be part of the selected group of photographers from around the world.”
In 2011, Penpark first initiated his role as a Contributing Stock Photographer at Getty Images and Blend Images.
Based out of Seattle Washington, Getty Images is a stock photography agency that is known for supplying business and consumers with an archive of over 80 million still, stock images and illustrations, and more than 50,000 hours of stock film footage. Similarly, Blend Images is an international commercial stock agency, founded by some of the world’s most successful photographers and industry veterans.
Penpark continues to successfully contribute his work to these stock agencies to this day and is now a Photoshop Production Artist with Schawk! on-site at Apple Headquarter in Cupertino.
Penpark formerly worked as the Digital Media Group Manager and Lead Photographer for Monster Cable Products, Inc., a company known for it’s manufacturing of audio and video cable products. The photographer fondly remembers one of his most recent shoots with the company – a concert at CES in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“It was a Michael Jackson Tribute Concert,” Penpark said. “I was given the opportunity to take pictures of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Christina Milian, and the Jacksons. I was their official photographer at that event. One of the best moments was when my prints were signed by Jermaine Jackson, one of my idols.”
At Monster Cable Products Inc., Penpark worked under Ryan Notch, the Former Digital Media Group Manager of the company. “Tom is the real deal,” Notch said. “Not only is he an incredibly skilled technician at his craft, but he is amazing at concept and creative as well. I have been extremely fortunate to have Tom as the rock on my team here at Monster. He is very hardworking, dependable, and self-driven. Best of all, Tom is truly a pleasure to be around. His thoughtful and eager-to-help attitude has always made him an integral team player within our department. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Tom. I would, without hesitation, recommend him for any and all opportunities that come his way.”
In 2013, Penpark had the opportunity to meet Hossein Farmani, the founder and president of the legendary “The Lucie Awards,” Co-Founder of the Palm Springs Photo Festival and an all-around icon of photography. “I showed my prints to Hossein and they were selected to be a part of the 180th Anniversary of Thai – U.S. Exhibition,” Penpark said.
Penpark’s photos were showcased in the same exhibition as other world-class famous photographers such as James Nochtwey, Steve McCurry, Greg Gorman, Colin Finlay, Benya Hegenbarth and Douglas Kirkland.
Penpark’s photographs have also been featured in a solo exhibition at Google Headquarters and recognized as an award winner in the Travel Category of the Top 50 Sony World Photography Awards of 2015.