It’s More Than Good Looks that Make Renan Pacheco a Top Digital Influencer

Digital Influencer Renan Pacheco

The global rise of instagram as a storytelling and sharing platform has given users a unique peek into the lives of people they know off screen, as well as into those they wish they knew– and from the latter, we’ve seen the global rise of the ‘digital influencer.’ 

Whether it be the products they use, the places they travel or the food they eat, everyday people look to the budding world of digital influencers for inspiration that they can bring into their own lives. Not only have the lives of digital influencers become similar to ‘fantasy’ worlds many viewers dream of living, but they’ve helped lead brands to make millions of dollars in profits. 

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and raised in Paris, Renan Pacheco is among the most recognizable French digital influencers in the world today, and it’s not hard to see why. In fact, earlier this year he was handpicked to be included in Kolsquare’s select group of six Influencers Under 30 to Follow in 2019.

Renan explains, “I help fashion brands tell a story. Through posts and IG stories, I tell stories to my community to promote new products and trends. I’m always happy to interact with my 650,000-plus followers when they comment or send me a direct message.”

With a continually growing Instagram following of more than 650K users, Pacheco’s heart-stopping good looks and magnetism in front of the camera coupled with his ability to help brands tell engaging stories has made him a hot commodity in the social media world. 

Pacheco has been so successful in his work as a digital influencer that he was nominated for a prestigious People’s Choice Award in 2018 in the French Pop Culture Influencer category. He has also been nominated in both the Travel and Fashion categories for the Influencer Award Monaco at the 2019 Monaco Digital Influencer Awards, which will take place this October.

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Prior to moving into his now 24/7 job as a digital influencer, Pacheco made a name for himself back home in Paris as a highly sought after actor and model. Earlier in his career, he was the featured actor in commercials for the massive French multinational food company Danone’s popular Danao beverage, and TF1’s hit series “Nos Chers Voisin,” as well as played the critical role of Stefano Cobalt in the film “Cobalt” directed by multi-award winner David Tomaszewski for Dolce and Gabbana. Though Pacheco’s looks and charisma have undoubtedly helped him along the way, he has far more going for him than simply being a good looking face. He is an extremely talented content creator, and thanks to his experience in front of the camera as both a model and an actor, he knows how to embody the perfect emotional vibe within every image captured. Simply, he knows how to tell you a story without even speaking

Though the career of a digital influencer appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, in reality it’s not all that different from those of the flocked to figures, such as actors, entertainers and athletes over the past century, who have gained sponsorships from brands to promote what they have to offer. The biggest difference is arguably the fact that the digital influencer IS a brand in itself. Everything from the way they look off camera and the way they live their lives to the content they curate has to be methodical and purposeful. Digital influencers don’t take random photos and throw them into the digital world with their fingers crossed. The best, like Pacheco, know they will make waves when they post.

We needn’t look further than Pacheco’s instagram profile for proof this. Individually each of his photos grab our attention with clean composition, an engaging subject (himself) and more often than not, the beautifully exotic and breathtaking background of a foreign country. When looking at Pacheco’s page, the tonal continuity of his collection of images immediately apparent, you can tell that he knows better than anyone that seamless continuity is integral to visual appeal. There is nothing random about what he chooses to post.

“Companies leverage us Influencers for our media exposure as well as for our creativity. My pictures must thus take both criteria into account… Often, the picture is what will satisfy the follower, and the caption is what will satisfy the storytelling” explains Pacheco. says, “Every picture immortalises a moment. When looking back 50 years from now, I know I can trust that these pictures show how things really were. I feel a responsibility to present the moment faithfully and accurately to my fans.” 

From the outside it may look like pure glitz and glamour, but at the end of the day, it is still an important job in the branding and advertising industries, albeit one that comes with more perks than most.

Pacheco admits,“Some days when your personal life takes a hit, you have to focus on your followers and make sure you’re still creating value in an up-beat, positive way. They follow you for entertainment, not for negativity, which is often inevitable in the long term.”

Pacheco’s abounding success as a digital influencer has put him in the spotlight as the star of countless digital campaigns, including those for the fragrance “Zadig et Voltaire” and the “Police Sunglasses” from @Policelifestyle. Both of these shoots were photographed by famous fashion photographer Florian Saez, who has quite a bit to say about what makes Pacheco such a uniquely powerful figure amongst the world’s top digital influencers.

“Renan has the paradoxical mix of possessing a high follower count as well as a high engagement ratio… when Influencers grow in follower count, they naturally experience a decline in engagement ratio. This is to be expected since the more followers one gets, the further form their inner circle these followers tend to be. These unknown followers tend to engage very little, decreasing the total percentage of likes and comments for posts and stories,” Saez explains confidently. 

“Despite this macro phenomenon seen across all sectors of Influencer marketing, Renan has remained in his 3 to 5 percent engagement ratio window despite consistently adding around 200,000 new followers every year. This is a characteristic unseen with other influencers and the projects he chooses to work with definitely benefit from this signature feature.” 

Over the years Renan Pacheco has not only become a digitally influential icon in the eyes of brands and Instagram users alike, but he has also been requested to shoot numerous feature editorials for magazines including Bello Mag, where he had a 10-page spread last year and Pakistan’s Good Times magazine, where he had a 4-page spread earlier this year. His international fame has also put him in the spotlight as a featured celebrity at brand events for the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Diesel, Messika, Berluti, Bvlgari and more.

 

At the end of the day, Pacheco says, “ I get to travel and meet people from around the world. An Influencer is no more, no less, than a storyteller. That being said, most often I find myself listening to stories, life lessons and can’t help but wonder how much more there is to learn.”

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Multi-Award Winning Actor Hugo Diego Garcia Dazzles International Audiences

Hugo Diego Garcia
Actor Hugo Diego Garcia at the Beverly Hills Film Festival

Actor Hugo Diego Garcia possesses a talent that is exceedingly rare among even the most seasoned of his peers. He’s able to transition between wildly different characters and roles with the effortlessness that others might walk from one room to the next. A great deal of his uncanny ability to embody virtually anybody onscreen is no doubt due to his upbringing, immersed in three distinct cultures.

“I was born in Oyonnax, France, a small city lost in the mountains,” Garcia described, “to a Spaniard father and a mother of Italian descent.”

His upbringing in that idyllic, yet isolated, town didn’t initially afford Garcia the opportunity to see as many films as he might have had he grown up in a big city. The collection of movies he did have, however, included some of the most influential and universally-acclaimed works in the history of film. Once he’d devoured the classic films he had at home, Garcia developed an insatiable need to watch every movie he could get his hands on.

“We didn’t have many films at home, but we had some of the best. The first VHS tapes and then DVDs we had were from Cimino, Leone, Scorsese and Coppola,” Garcia recalled.

“I then watched most of the American movies that were screened on TV, I would go every week to the French version of Blockbuster and rent plenty of DVDs. Together with my best friend we’d see every movie at the local cinema in my little city. And somehow, I got lucky enough to watch some of the best cinematic works ever at a very young age.”

That early exposure to such a vast number of films and filmmakers left an indelible mark on Garcia. As he entered adulthood, he became certain his calling lay on the silver screen. For Garcia, living in such a remote part of the world was an obstacle he was determined to overcome. With unbridled determination, he began studying every book and taking every class he could find to learn and master the actors’ craft.

“It was so far from our world, both geographically and metaphorically, that I couldn’t envision it,” he said. “I bought books from masters, studied and read just about everything, tried classes everywhere, and ultimately moved to Paris where I studied full-time in three schools — including one where I was offered free tuition after several rounds of auditions.”

After years of tireless dedication to improving his craft and growing as an actor, Garcia has achieved his dream. He’s deftly honed and refined his unique style with years of devoted practice, study, and insights gained from a lifetime spent observing the greats. As a result, Garcia’s become a commanding onscreen figure, delivering powerful performances in an ever-growing number of roles.

Among Garcia’s most definitive roles to date is the forthcoming film “Cagnolino.” Beautifully written and performed, the tragic drama tells a story of loyalty, violence, and deferred dreams.

“‘Cagnolino’ is about appearances and social determinism. It talks about the fascination for violence, particularly in the ‘hoods, through the music, pop culture, cinema, TV, and other media,” he described. “It is the story of a bad encounter, based on multiple true stories.”

The film follows the young members of a small-time criminal group as their egos and hotheadedness inevitably lead them toward the tragic consequences of a fateful mistake. Garcia stars in the leading role of Dario, a member of the family torn between his familial loyalty and his desire to escape this life and build a real future.

“My character wants to emancipate himself and get a better life for himself. He wants to do what’s right and leave the family business to pursue his own life and dreams, as well as being motivated by his girlfriend,” Garcia explained. “He struggles to leave because of the weight of the family ties and the love and admiration he has for his family, including his cousin. He has this life in his blood.”

Its story unflinchingly honest and its actors’ performances unequivocally human, “Cagnolino” captures the raw and universal truth of the struggles between right and wrong, power and weakness, and loyalty and self-determination. Garcia’s performance as Dario is masterful and moving, a testament to his strength and versatility. Further illustrating his commitment to his craft are the lengths to which he went to ensure a perfect performance in the film.

“In the sequence where my character gets beat up, we were shooting by night and at 6 a.m. I had to finish the night on the floor being kicked by the other characters,” he recalled. “I got bruises all over my body, but the adrenaline and pleasure of filming got us through it.”

With filming and post-production completed this year, “Cagnolino” will begin screening at festivals soon. Also set for release in the coming year is “Death Before Mourning,” a profound film which examines the often-silent and stigmatized effects of mental illness. Impressed by Garcia’s exceptional work in other roles, “Death Before Mourning” director Ruperto Luis Sanchez handpicked Garcia for the lead role in the film.

“After seeing his work and collaborating with Hugo on several projects, I had no doubt he would be the best fit for the lead role in my movie, Death Before Mourning. Ayala, his character, is complex and dark and Hugo possessed every quality required to play such a tortured role,” Sanchez said, explaining his deliberate choice to cast Garcia.

“His charisma, rugged good looks and ability to speak perfect English and Spanish made him my first choice directly. Ayala is also a boxer and so is Hugo, which made it even more interesting.”

The film takes an appropriately dark approach to its subject matter. With mental illness becoming a more and more prevalent topic in today’s news and culture, “Death Before Mourning” is a timely film that accurately portrays both the effects and stigmas facing those who suffer from invisible diseases like depression. Garcia, a trained boxer himself, disappears into his role as a boxer fighting against a different kind of opponent within his own mind.

“‘Death Before Mourning’ is a complex, ambitious black-and-white movie about PTSD, depression and the cycle of life,” Garcia described. “I play Rene Ayala, a great prospect in boxing, who sees his dreams destroyed when he loses a fight he was supposed to win, destroying his self esteem, future and all-time dream.”

Garcia’s performance in “Death Before Mourning” is undoubtedly one of his most powerful to date. As he steps out of himself and into the character of Rene Ayala, he brings such life to the role that it becomes nearly impossible to say for sure that the struggling boxer onscreen is a work of fiction rather than a living, breathing man in his own right. That is precisely where Garcia’s greatest strength lies. Much more than an ability to become somebody else, Garcia is able to persuade audiences that his characters are alive and that he was never really there at all.

“Acting, for me, is pure pleasure. It might be cliche, but I have a passion for storytelling,” said Garcia, explaining what draws him to acting and what makes him such a superb onscreen presence. “To quote De Niro, acting is ‘living someone else’s life, without paying the price.’ It’s using part of yourself that you wouldn’t or couldn’t explore in society for any number of reasons.”

Precious few actors in cinema today can hold a candle to Garcia. Fluent in three languages, a professionally-trained boxer, and unmatched in his onscreen versatility and range, Hugo Diego Garcia is among the most talented and devoted actors to grace the screen in years. Just as he’s spent his life studying the greats who came before him, there will be a day when a new generation of actors do the same — and they will undoubtedly turn to the iconic performances of Hugo Diego Garcia.

A talk with renowned cinematographer Feixue Tang

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 presetWhen Feixue Tang thinks back to growing up in Beijing, China, she recalls her middle school and high school years as being extremely dull and oppressive. The school system only cared about high grades, and students are then rated, ranked, and sorted based on academic performances. As an escape, the young Tang started watching a lot of films in her own time. She felt her life expand through immersing herself in all those different movies around the world.

“When I was in high school, I watched Elephantby Gus Van Sant. I was very impressed by the film as it showed me the great possibilities of what film as an art form could be like. I really loved how Elephantplayed with narrative structure and perspectives to tell the story artfully and creatively and how it utilized the form to serve the best of its content. While watching behind the scenes of the film it fascinated me seeing all these different crafts and creative minds going into the making of a film,” said Tang.

As a young teenager, Tang knew she wanted to one day go on to making movies. She wanted to tell stories and share a part of herself with the world through her work. Now, she has achieved all that and more. She is an award-winning cinematographer, internationally in-demand with a series of decorated projects highlighting her resume.

Throughout her career, Tang has shown what she is capable of as a cinematographer. Earlier this year, she made headlines with the multiple awards she took home for her outstanding cinematography on the film Here & Beyond. The experience of making the film, for Tang, was one of the best of her career, and the awards and recognition are secondary to simply loving what she does.

“I would say the highlights of my career are the moments when as a cinematographer, you meet a director that you can communicate so well with and with whom your collaboration is so spontaneous, fluid, inspiring and creative,” said Tang. “The collaboration with director Colin West on Here & Beyond was definitely one of my highlights. We talked day after day in pre-production discussing how to create the visual world for his film Here & Beyond. That collaboration, the continuously mutual inspiring experience was definitely why I chose and love this job.”

Here & Beyond is just one of Tang’s many success stories. She was also recently nominated for Best Cinematography of a Documentary Short Film at the Asian Cinematography Awards for her work on Lumpkin, GA, which dives into the issues surrounding America’s immigration policies by documenting the stories of a small town with a huge immigration detention center right next to it.

Lumpkin, GA’s praise is hardly Tang’s first success story in the documentary genre. Her film Who We Are, a film that starts in the midst of America’s Opioid Epidemic when a Southern California family searches for meaning in the wake of their son’s death, received critical acclaim at many international film festivals.

Undoubtedly, Tang is a force to be reckoned with as a cinematographer, and she understands the intricacies of the artform more than most. She did not always know this would be her path, but she knows she is just where she is meant to be and worked hard to get there. For those who are pursuing a similar dream, she offers the following advice:

“I think in general to work in film you need to be really passionate about what you do. It’s working long hours, it’s challenging physically and intellectually, and compared to other jobs it has so many turbulences and unknowns. I think feeling that you honestly love the job and enjoy being emerged in it is very important. And then just continue learning and never stop,” she advised.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Tang’s future projects. She is about to begin work on a new feature length documentary, as well as a fictional movie. You can stay up-to-date with her work by checking out her website here.

 

By John Michael

Otavio Rabelo talks passion for graphic design and working with ‘TheWrap’

IMG_0565As an industry-leading Editorial and Marketing Designer with Deadline Hollywood, Otavio Rabelo works with typography, colors, images and other design elements to create unique graphic layouts that are printed or used digitally. He designs conceptual layouts to all sections of a magazine using all the mentioned elements on computer software, and he is responsible for checking and sending final files to printers and making sure that everything is going to be printed correctly. It is a pivotal role in the success of each issue of a magazine he touches, and he knows this well. He remains dedicated to his craft at all times, a true perfectionist.

“Publications are always trending around the most well-known people in all fields. People love to read about who is on top of the world. I work creating printed and digital content to announce nominees and winners. It’s fun to get to know before everybody else what the editorial team is thinking,” said Rabelo.

Prior to his work with Deadline, Rabelo worked with other renowned magazines, including FourTwoNine and TheWrap, the latter of which truly allowed his work to be seen by Hollywood’s elite on a regular basis.

TheWrap is a well-known entertainment magazine in Hollywood/Los Angeles. When the opportunity presented itself to me, I was excited to grow as an Editorial Designer and show my design skills to such a great audience. The magazines that I design are only distributed to the most well-known people in the industry,” he said. “TheWrapis a small company but very well- known in the entertainment industry. Working there I was able to use my own design skills as an outlet for the projects.”

Working at TheWrap presented several new and unique challenges for Rabelo, who had previously never designed for the entertainment industry. It was his first time working with Oscar and Emmy Seasons, and he had no idea how the entertainment world worked. There are always new films and TV shows being released, as well as nominations and awards, the Oscars and Emmys are extremely important and he had no idea how complex the film industry was, with new festivals always coming up that he needed to stay on top of. He loved the challenge and knew understanding the industry was extremely important in knowing the design, as he had to understand his target market. Now, he feels like a seasoned professional, and the learning curve was well worth it.

“Getting to know the inside of the entertainment industry for the first time was very new to me. I got to see the world’s most famous actors, actresses and directors in person. It was the first time that I realized that my work was important and respected by those professionals,” he said.

Rabelo was responsible for designing and creating layouts for different sections of each publication. He was also in charge of checking and sending advertisements with final editorial files to the printer. He made sure to always have a perfect copy, as if something was incorrect after the final approval, there was no way to fix it. During his time at the magazine, there was never a single mistake to be fixed.

“Since it was such a small company, everybody at TheWrap was always very connected with me and my work. People would often ask my opinions about multiple projects based on my skills. Once the magazine was out everybody would be very nice and compliment me a lot about the issues,” he said.

By Annabelle Lee

VFX Producer Julia Kerguelen Nails it Big Time on Madonna’s new “Dark Ballet” Music Video

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Art Director Julia Kerguelen shot by Lenoir Studio

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Madonna’s new music video for “Dark Ballet,” which dropped on June 6, then you are definitely missing out. The video for the song “Dark Ballet,” a single off her upcoming album, “Madame X,” pulls inspiration from French Catholic saint Joan of Arc, who’s played by African American rapper and activist Mykki Blanco in the video.

Madonna, the fourth best selling music artist in the world, is known for her ability to push the envelope and continually shock viewers with her music videos; and she does not disappoint with “Dark Ballet.” Set in a monastery, the video is symbolic of the cruel persecution of minorities at the hands of the patriarchy, with Mykki, as Joan of Arc, being jailed and burned at the stake. Madonna, who only works with the best in the industry, has a solid reputation for delivering strikingly powerful and highly cinematic music videos, and it was no different for “Dark Ballet.”

Internationally known art director and post-production supervisor Julia Kerguelen, who hails from France, is one of the key figures behind some of the video’s striking visual effects. Coming on board the music video as the post-producer in charge of VFX production, Julia, who was surrounded by an amazing team of VFX artists, oversaw the creation of many of the video’s key visual effects, such as the smoke, flying particles and flames that envelope Mykki’s body while he’s bound to the stake.

For the video, which already has upwards of 2 million views on YouTube, Julia worked through Mathematic Studio, a Paris-based animation, VFX and motion design studio that is known for other high-profile projects such as the music videos for Snoop Dog’s “So Many Pros” and Brodinski’s “Can’t Help Myself,” as well as projects for Cartier, Nike, Hennessey, Dom Perignon, Peugeot and more.

Julia, who was also the post-production supervisor on upcoming commercials for Armani and Van Cleef & Arpels, brings a pretty impressive skill set to the table so it makes perfect sense that Mathematic Studio chose her as the post-producer in charge of VFX on “Dark Ballet.”

“I think I have a good creative eye and I understand quickly where the creatives and the client want to go. Also I know exactly what we need in order to do something and I can anticipate and give advice on how to avoid tricky situations… I can check every media we receive, I can review what’s wrong in our work, etc. I know how to make tough decisions and work in a fast-paced environment and keep the pressure on myself so my team can work in good conditions and have great artistic results.”

Though Julia has undoubtedly proven herself to be an exemplary leader and skillful creator in her work as a VFX producer and post-production supervisor, she is first and foremost, an art director. Over the years she has been sought out as an art director on a slew of illustrious projects, such as Renault’s 2012 International convention of Renault business owners at the Geneva Car Show, the Airbus Pavillion at the 2015 and 2017 Paris Air Show, Valeo’s immersive exhibition at the 2016 GreenBox eXperience in Berlin, Michelin’s exhibition at the 2010 BIB Worldwide Exhibition, L’oréal’s exhibit at the 2007 International Hair Fair and many more.

Julia Kerguelen
Julia Kerguelen’s designs for Michelin

The connecting theme in much of Julia’s collective body of work is that many of the project she leads as an art director exist in the sphere of events and live shows; and there’s a reason she’s continually tapped for such high pressure projects.

She says “I used to work and prefer events because of the stage and the ‘one shot’ thing. You can’t fail, everything should be perfect ‘cause you don’t have a second chance.”

Julia’s finesse and affinity for art directing massive events stems from her early years on stage. At the age of 14 Julia began performing as a comedian on stage in a small town in the Brittany region of France where she grew up.

She recalls, “It was like a revelation to me! I felt that I had a lot to express, on stage as a dancer and a comedian. When I am on stage I cannot hide myself and I don’t need to… I can share my emotions, my stories, my colours, my way of seeing the world… I guess arts became obvious to me when I started being on stage.”

It didn’t take long before Julia relocated to the metropolitan city of Paris where she continued performing on stage as a comedian, actress and dancer; however, while in search of a more stable career, she discovered her passion for graphic design. Creating a strong foundation and reputation for herself as a graphic designer, Julia quickly moved up the ranks and was soon being called in as an art director.

“I start by analyzing the needs of the client, what is the brand, what they have to say, why they want to communicate this way or not, what are their products and what is the purpose, etc. Then when I have all this information and can see the big picture, I will write a story,” explains Julia. “Something to inject meaning, to give birth to the product as something with a soul and a purpose, to give emotions to the audience. I like to think I’m like a storyteller but with images.”

Considering Julia’s background on stage combined with her unparalleled vision when it comes to branding, she was the perfect art director to lead projects for well-known theatre company, Broadway in Paris, led by director Michael Pereira.

Michael says, “I have had the pleasure of working with Julia on a few things. She is the creator of my brand logo Broadway in Paris™. She and I collaborated on the idea and she made it come to life. I am so happy with the outcome. Later when I was searching for a project manager for my next big project, the French version of Pippin, she was the only person I wanted.”

Julia Kerguelen
Julia Kerguelen’s designs for Broadway in Paris

Knowing her history of top-notch work, Michael hired Julia to serve as the supervisor on set, art director and editor on the promo video for Broadway in Paris’s productions of  “Pippin” which use vaudevillian numbers to tell the story of a man in search of fulfillment.

“As I am very familiar with dance and I know post-production, [Michael Pereira] asked me to help him with the editing,” explains Julia. “I reached out to the cameraman, sent him some examples of framing I imagined for the edit and I tried to supervise the shooting on set to have enough material as dance is complicated to film. As I know some of the choreography it was easier for me to tell him what he should record. After that, I did the transcodes, watched all the footage and did the editing in a very short period of time.”

Julia’s personal history on stage combined with her extensive skill set as an art director, which requires her to have a comprehensive grasp over editing, graphic design, motion graphics, film editing and more, was exactly what Michael needed to create a powerful visual story on film for the company.

Michael says, “What Julia brings is an amazing global idea to this project.  I have never directed live singing and dancing for the camera before and Julia put me at ease and helped me envision angles, cuts and ideas for the camera. Also, her knowledge of movement was priceless to me.  Furthermore, when we went into the editing room her vast knowledge aided us tremendously and the result is a completely wonderful sizzle reel.”

Whether she is working as an art director or in the film and commercial world as VFX producer and post-production supervisor, Julia Kerguelen is a rare creative force who always nails her mark with innovative and seamless designs.

Julia says, “I think that because I am a dreamer I can bring some magic! I mean, there are plenty of artistic directors out there and probably better than I am but I think what makes my vision unique is the ‘vision.’ I am not here just to do some technical stuff or a beautiful image I want to create joy, hope, light, and dreams in the heart and eyes of the audience. I am a multidisciplinary artist and I’ve learned so much about the technical side that I can create everything I want. I am able to find creative solutions even with tight deadlines, short budget and high technical constraints. It’s like a giant playground to me, I know the rules, I just have to enjoy the game and make it count! ”

 

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

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Jackson Williams is from Peterborough, England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anton Engel at the BBC Music Awards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can buy tickets to Magic Mike Live here.

Canadian actor Philip Moran stars in feature film Adam’s Testament

Adam's Testament
Film poster for Adam’s Testament

Starring in a movie is every actor’s dream. To see their name in the lights and roll past their eyes at the top of the credits at the end of the movie, is often the end goal. However, it is easy to picture the end without the challenges of getting there. Actor Philip Moran had a challenge like no other.

Moran is the star of the film Adam’s Testament. The film is about an out of work ex-detective named Joseph Gable, played by Moran, who loses his wife to a fatal accident.  His son also goes his own path, which turns out to be the wrong one. One day, Joseph decides he is going to make good out of all the bad he has done. He is confronted with many obstacles and demons, but simultaneously he has the support of angels. Joseph seeks absolution and allows himself to receive God.  Through all this, Joseph contemplates suicide, has a heart attack, dies and resurrects.

The film is Moran’s first lead in a film, and quite a lead it was, as he alone had to memorize 65 per cent of the script.

“This film also pushed me in ways I have never experienced and made me a better actor. Being the star of this movie has been the greatest achievement to this day in my film world. I did my best and it worked effectively. I realized that I could be trusted with a big role responsibility and when faced with the obligation, I decided and conquered, something I never even fathomed before the time,” described Moran. “I am expecting bigger projects and success, and fear and doubt has left. I have the maximum 5000 friends on Facebook with people interested in following me and telling me how my success has inspired them to go after their dreams.”

This month, it was announced that Adam’s Testament has become an official selection for the Kingdom Film Festival, which has hosted films such as War Room and Miracles from Heaven. The film also had private TIFF Theater Screening in October of last year, and acquired a distributor in December. The film is expected to be screened to the public this November.

This is hardly Moran’s first venture to success. He was cast in the blockbuster film Total Recall in 2012, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel. His work in Total Recall allowed him to connect with studio-head Rafael Kalamat, who is the producer of Adam’s Testament. 

“As a director, it’s ‘safe’ to work with friends. However, it’s never easy. You can work with them and ‘get away with it’ because they possibly know you will always make them look good. But with Philip it was a pleasurable and professional relationship. He had an Olympic work ethic and was more focused then some of the top talent in Canada that I have worked with. It can be very intimidating working with ‘real actors’ because they start asking difficult questions. What’s my character’s spine? Where is the arc in the scene? What is my emotional state when delivering these lines? Scene intention?
Although the cliché, ‘what’s my motivation’ sounds like actor nonsense, it’s certainly not with Philip Moran,” said Kalamat. “Trained actors like Philip desperately need this information to create a competent performance. His role in Adam’s Testament as Detective Joseph Gable is complex to say the least. As an alcoholic-faith-driven-father that dies and is resurrected, takes a lot out of you, lol. Not to mention he was on sixty-two of the one hundred-plus pages of the screenplay. He gave myself and co-director Jason Barbeck his 100 per cent every day, even on an off day. Now that says a lot about Philip as an actor and as a person.”

Moran impressed so many of the people on the set of the film, including executive producer Todd Yuill, and the writer, director, and producer Jason Barbeck

“Philip Moran was an extraordinary actor to be around while he was acting and most of all it was amazing, but he was able to stay in character for the entire time the movie was shot,” said executive producer Todd Yuill. Yuill shared the role of executive producer with his mother Elva Yuill, who passed away just after the film was completed.

“Philip was very dedicated to the role of Joseph and came to set each day ready and willing to work,” said Barbeck. “He was diligent with the script and the enormous amount of lines he had to memorize, being that he was the lead and was in pretty much every day of the shoot. Many people try to speculate as to what makes a good actor. In today’s world it seems that the audience dictates what that is. In my opinion a good actor is someone who is emotionally available and willing to go places most people would rather not. It’s the willingness to be uncomfortable and still keep going. To trust the directors vision and go with him on that journey until the end.  There are of course many degrees of this and it is a lifelong pursuit and a marathon but Philip was able to see the role of Joseph through to the end. For his first leading role I would say he did an outstanding job.”

For Moran, one of the best parts about being in the film was the people he got to work alongside with. These include Nick Mancuso, Art Hindle, Sebastian Mclean, Zoe De Grand Maison from Orphan Black, and Degrassi’s Luke Bilyk,

Adam’s Testament provided me the opportunity to work with other great actors in a much bigger capacity than other projects I worked on previously,” said Moran. “I learned so much from these actors, having done over 100 movies. They led me to grow and push boundaries unlike what I have ever done. The directors allowed for the actors’ input. We all worked in harmony to finish effectively”

Despite the success that is expected to come for the film, Moran still believes the film was a learning experience, and a great achievement.

“I learned that it’s just practice and planning your journey, and in a short while a person can live their dreams,” he concluded. “I definitely learned that I am becoming lead-actor ready.”

 

 

Canadian actress Tara Yelland hits The Target in short film

Every little girl dreams of being a princess. From watching the Disney classics at a young age, to twirling around pretending you are in a gown with a crown, it crossed many minds. Not many people get to experience the feeling, if only for a short time. Actress Tara Yelland is one of the lucky ones.

Yelland stars in the short film The Target and plays Princess Gwendolyn, a headstrong princess who refuses to marry. A challenge is arranged for the hand of Princess Gwendolyn and she finds an unlikely suitor in a poet who wishes to abolish the monarchy. The film recently premiered on June 25, at the Royal Cinema in Toronto and had an extremely positive response.

“I think being such a confident, self-possessed woman was a bit infectious. Gwen knows exactly who she is and what she wants and when you’re living in that head-space, you can’t help but take on some of those characteristics as well,” said Yelland. “It’s a really nice place to be in and I try to remember that feeling.”

The short-film was directed by Felix Gray, who has ample experience in this genre after working on the shows Reign and Beauty and the Beast, but also known for his work on the Oscar-winning film Chicago. It stars Jon Rhys (Reign, Young Badlands), Cliff Saunders (Chicago, Outlander), and Amy Lockwood (The Amy Lockwood Project).

“Tara is spectacular to work with. Not only is she a lovely woman with a stellar sense of humor, but she’s very giving as an actress. She is always prepared and enjoys rehearsing and making a connection with the other actors in the scene. I am very impressed with Tara’s ability to connect with others both onscreen and off,” said Lockwood. “Tara is fascinating to watch on set. I learned a lot from her. She takes direction very well. When she is given a direction she is able to adjust quickly and elegantly. There is a great depth and strength to her character in The Target.”

Gray agreed, saying that working with Yelland is quite a pleasure.

“Her manner going into a production is very inclusive, sharing her ideas freely and responding to the other actors as they work through a scene. She manages to put a part of herself in every part she plays. It has the unmistakable result of giving her characters have a very real base. She is responsive to direction and makes the set a Joy to come to. And she shines on camera. Her image on screen brings a glow that is hard to teach,” he said. “I love working with Tara and can’t wait for the next time we can work together.”

Gray had been impressed with Yelland’s work in the past and approached her with the script for the short film, wanting her to play the lead in the film he wrote with his father.

“I was touched that he thought of me and was happy to be involved with this family affair,” said Yelland. “Felix was very open to ideas and collaborative and I’ve known him for years, so there was an easy short-hand between us. Also, Amy played my lady in waiting and we became instant friends on set. Our sense of humors just gelled easily and we spent the whole time giggling.”

The set is regarded as beautiful, and Yelland said the costumes were one of the best parts of filming, talking about the several gowns she got to wear on set

“I couldn’t help but feel like a princess. Those corsets though, not so much fun,” she joked.

Princess Gwendolyn gave Yelland the chance to learn some new skills. The character and Yelland have many similarities, such as how she and the princess have no interest in settling in life or love, and they both direct and say what we’re thinking and feeling. However, there was an element to the character that was a learning curve for the actress.

“Gwen is an excellent archer in the film and I had zero experience with archery, so that was a bit of a challenge,” said Yelland, laughing.

Yelland had to take several lessons to make her character truly believable, and eventually got the hang of the sport.

“I nearly ruined a take when I shot an arrow and it actually hit the bulls-eye. I wanted to scream, but instead I had to pass it off like it was ‘no biggie, I do this all the time’,” she said.

The role exemplified the actress’s versatility and commitment, and The Target is expected to be selected for several film festivals next year.

“Besides, who doesn’t want to be a princess,” she said.

We couldn’t agree with her more.

Adrian Puan is first Malaysian songwriter to be signed to U.S. label

Some people are born with talent that they don’t realize right away. With no training, they can master something that someone else has spent their life studying. That is certainly the case with Adrian Puan.

Puan was born in a small town in a state called Melaka and moved to the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur when he was 8. Now, he is recognized internationally as a songwriter and composer.

“To be honest, growing up, I never knew that one day I’d be involved in music or anything related to it, simply because I never had the interest in music, much less play it,” he said. “I guess it all started when I began organizing events in the university I studied in.”

Puan used to be an organizer during his studies, which required him to network with local musicians and constantly keep a lookout for upcoming talents to perform in my events.

“That was when I got to know the band Beat The System and we all became best friends. It wasn’t until in 2012 when Gerald, the drummer of Beat The System, asked for my assistance in writing some lyrics for a song the band was working on and he realized that I had the talent in songwriting. Gerald then began to push me to come up with melodies for a chorus, or a bridge, and subsequently a full song.”

The songs that Puan had co-written with the band went on to win multiple awards in the Asian region. “Shine” won Song of the Year, Best Genre Bender, and Best Collaboration at the Asian Voice Independent Music Awards in 2012, and another song titled “Hero” went on to win Song of the Year at the Asian Bite My Music Global Awards in 2013. Puan also won third place for a song that he submitted to the Malaysian Revival Songwriting Competition (MRSC) in 2013.

“That reassured me that I could actually write songs,” he said. “I didn’t have any sort of training. I used to write tons and tons of poems when I was younger and that’s the closest thing I did to songwriting at the time.”

Now, it is evident to everyone that works with Puan that he was meant to be a songwriter.

“Adrian has the ability to compose songs that are very relevant to the listeners now, he writes melodies that are catchy and it resonates with the listeners,” said Amelia Tan, director of Malaysian Revival Songwriting Competition.

“Working with Adrian was a great experience, he surely portrayed a very professional working attitude and took his craft very seriously,” said Mokhtaza Ahmad, head of A&R Warner Music Malaysia.

Songwriting allows Puan to write stories, to express his deepest feelings, and to channel his creative senses in melodically designed tunes that transport him to a place and time of familiarity or to a place that only he can imagine.

“It gives me no greater joy when the songs I create elicit strong emotional responses from those who heard them,” he said. “I always believe that music is an agent of cure to the human soul and I’m just glad that I get to be a part of it.”

However, the craft does not come without its challenges. Every writer experience a creative block every once in a while.

“As I don’t play the piano or guitar or any other music instruments, unlike most songwriters I can’t play some random chords and create melodies based off them. Melodies come to me by inspiration and imagination. It may happen at any time of the day like how ideas would. It comes when I’m sleeping or when I go for a walk outside or sometimes even when I’m taking a shower. There are times when I’d be able to write a few songs in a day, but there are also times when I won’t get a single song-worthy melody for months on end,” he described. “I also face certain challenges while songwriting especially when I can’t find the right words or a right tune to accurately describe what it is I want to convey. In writing lyrics, it’s particularly frustrating when the word you want doesn’t fit into what I’d call ‘a melody pocket’ whereby the sound of a syllable doesn’t pair well with a particular music note.”

He certainly overcomes all obstacles, being the very first Malaysian songwriter to get signed to a U.S. record label.

“My inspiration comes from many places. I’d say the love I have for God, my family and friends is the main inspiration for me to write music. Coming to learn of other people’s life stories and experiences inspire me to write as well. Having gone through much heartache and disappointment in my own life’s journey certainly do inspire me to write music that other people can relate to,” he said. “It’s funny how much less lonely we feel when we realize that we’re not the only ones feeling whatever it is we’re feeling and that somewhere in the world someone’s feeling the exact same thing as we are, and I believe music does that, it tells a story about the human life, its ups and downs, assuring its listeners that they’re not alone.”

Puan is now located in New York City, working with Beat The System on their upcoming album. He is officially a band member, coming a long way from being their “number one fan.” He says the music industry in American has many more possibilities for him as a songwriter.

“Coming from a small town in Malaysia where music is not as widely celebrated as it is here, my goal has always been to further my career in America as I know the people here deeply value the art of music. Back home, the English music market is too small and it’s saturated with delusional musicians who refuse to transcend the already low music standards. Instead of being supportive of one another and building each other up, they’d tear you down just to get ahead in the music scene. On the other hand, the music community that I’ve gotten to know in New York has been nothing but supportive and one can sense their genuine joy and pride whenever a musician they know has achieved something significant,” he said. “The music environment that the U.S. has created is unbelievably conducive and it is no wonder why every musician from any parts of Asia aspires to make music here. From music facilities to opportunities, no other country compares to the U.S. Like people always say, if you want to make it big in the global music scene, you’d have to make it big in America.”

Puan wants to continue to be the best songwriter he can be, and write for a variety of different artists across all genres.

“Despite pop being my absolute favorite music genre, I’ve had melodies recorded that lean toward rock, R&B, and even country music. There are also songs that I’ve written which I believe would be a perfect fit for certain artists that I look forward to working with and my goal is to make that happen,” he concluded.

Ishita Srivastava Uses Humour to Help Audiences Connect on Polarizing Topics

 

As a population we are bombarded with an influx of content and information on a daily basis, so much so that it becomes challenging to sift through the over saturated media and find stories that really matter. Regardless of whether someone wants to spread a message about an upcoming event, groundbreaking discovery, or just wants to make a YouTube video with the possibility of going viral, knowing how to produce the message in a way that will reach the most diverse audience and actually have an impact is the most fundamental building block; and, digital content producer Ishita Srivastava knows exactly how to do that.

Some of the projects she has spearheaded and produced digital content for include the “Deport the Statue” campaign that reached over 20 million people in 2013, and the “Be That Guy” campaign, which aired on the Jumbotron at the NASCAR Miami Speedway Championship in 2013 as well as every other NASCAR race across the nation over the course of 2013 and 2014.

What is even more impressive than the reach and effectiveness of the digital content Srivastava has produced to date is the fact that she uses her brilliant skill to create work that spreads awareness and mobilizes people to take a stand against injustice. The issues she focuses on in her work, such as immigration reform, violence against women and racial injustice, notoriously elicit a wide spectrum of opinions. Naturally, you are probably wondering how Srivastava has managed to create content that diverse audiences with clashing beliefs can connect with when it comes to polarizing human rights issues; and the answer is– humour!

As the Producer and Deputy Director of the U.S. branch of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization that she has worked with for the last six years, Srivastava has continually used humour and storytelling as a tool to magically transform issues like gender equality, immigration and race into topics we can come together and see as “human” issues that affect us all.

For the first video of the “Be That Guy” campaign, Srivastava was charged with the hefty task of creating content that would inspire audiences at NASCAR races across the U.S. (an event that notoriously draws a large group of beer drinking race fans, most of whom are men) to stand up against sexual harassment and violence towards women when they see it happening.

Instead of creating a PSA that vilified men (which would immediately turn off a vast majority of the audience), Srivastava created an animated short film that portrayed the sexual harasser in the video as someone we all probably know or have met in our personal lives. The video in no way tried to make us hate him, instead it made us feel a bit sorry for his ignorance, and called on audiences step up and intervene, letting him know “hands are for beer and high fives, to imply, “hey man, that’s not right.”

 

 

Over the years, Srivastava, who has directed and produced countless films including the powerful documentaries “Desigirls,” “Inside- Out: Expressions of Gender and Sexuality,” “Checkpoint Nation” and “Mansimran,” has proven herself to be a master storyteller. So, it’s not surprising that when she was asked to transform the initial NASCAR-fan targeted “Be That Guy” video into a video that would effectively spread the message to audiences at a Green Bay Packers’ tailgate party, she was up to the challenge. Set in an animated version of the Packers’ beloved Lambeau field, the video portrays a crude fan in the stands shaking a hot dog as he makes lewd sexual innuendos at the stadium waitress.

The overall message of these videos is that if an action promotes violence or sexual harassment against women, regardless of how small an act it is, then it is up to us to take a stand and let others know that it’s unacceptable.

About creating the “Be That Guy” campaign and producing videos that would make an impression on these audiences, Srivastava explains, “they were great challenge because they were totally outside of my comfort zone in every possible way.”

While using humour appears to be a seemingly simple approach that helps those with opposing views see eye to eye over issues that under normal circumstances are known to cause arguments, there are few other digital content producers, and even fewer human rights activists, who have been as effective as Srivastava in transforming the way we see many of these polarizing topics.

One of Ishita Srivastava’s most recent projects for Breakthrough is THE G WORD, a global storytelling platform that is transforming our perception of gender norms by inviting people to submit their personal stories and experiences with the subject. After launching in December, the platform has received hundreds of powerful story submissions from people of all ages all over the world, many of them are available on The G Word website: http://us.breakthrough.tv/thegword/

 

G Word homepage

 

In an interview with Sue Ding for Docubase, Srivastava explained, “We invited people, not just women but everybody, to share their story with the invitation that we all have a gender story. They range from everyday experiences of norms to really dramatic stories of discrimination and violence.”

THE G WORD brings together a collection of stories that span a wide range of subtopics such as consent, masculinity, dating violence, the women’s movement, greek life and many others, all of which are connected through the issue of gender. Besides giving people all over the world a platform to share their stories, THE G WORD has made it apparent that many issues that we might not think of as being gender related, actually are. The Chore Challenge, one of the many story categories Srivastava created for The G Word, asks audiences to contemplate what household chores they have taken on and whether they are rooted in gender roles. Simple examples such as young girls being taught to do the laundry, whereas their brothers are tasked with such things as fixing things around the house or mowing the lawn show how gender norms have been woven into the fabric of each and every one of our lives; and that these issues connects us all, whether we realize it or not.

“THE G WORD has been a dream project for me—it is characterized by all the things that I love, the things that get me to work in the morning, Some of the stories we get can be hard to read, but they’re honest and nuanced, and work so well to inspire empathy and make complex and intersectional issues relatable.”

THE G WORD  platform and the impressive collection of ‘videos for change’ that Srivastava has produced to date have not only been astonishingly effective in spreading messages about globally relevant issues, but her unique and thoughtful approach to digital content has made it possible for her work to break through the cultural and perceptual barriers that separate us, in turn providing us with a common ground where we can stand together.

Haisu Wang: From China’s Base-FX to Becoming a Leading Art Director in the U.S.

 

Tian-ran QIn
Art Director Haisu Wang shot by Tian-ran Qin

No matter how skilled the cast and director are, how polished the script is or how astronomical the budget may be, a film will never reach its full potential without an art director capable of bringing its visual essence to life. Haisu Wang has dedicated years to becoming one of the best in the industry, and has an incredible list of credits under his belt earned while working at some of the most prestigious firms in the world.

Wang, while in China, was an integral part of the Emmy award-winning BASE-FX visual effects production company. BASE-FX has worked with every major studio in the U.S. to produce some of the most stunning and revolutionary CGI effects in 21st century film and television. Wang worked on two of the three projects for which BASE-FX earned Emmy wins. The first was HBO’s gripping World War II series The Pacific, produced by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Best Actor – Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) and Steven Spielberg (Best Director – Saving Private Ryan, Best Picture – Schindler’s List). The Pacific won eight Primetime Emmys; the effects work done by Wang and the BASE-FX team was recognized with the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Miniseries.

The second, Boardwalk Empire, is the critically-acclaimed HBO crime drama starring Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski). Boardwalk Empire was nominated for 57 Primetime Emmys and won a total of 20 in an array of categories between 2011 and 2015. For its visual production work on the series, BASE-FX won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Series.

After two immensely successful years at BASE-FX, Wang moved to Los Angeles and was accepted into the prestigious Production Design program at the world renowned American Film Institute. It was there that he further honed his already sharp talent for visual production and established his reputation as an extraordinary art director.

In 2014, he was the art director for two films – Contrapelo and Day One – which were both honored with a long list of accolades and critical praise. Both Contrapelo and Day One also caught the attention of Academy Awards judges and were on the top-10 shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Best Live Action Short Film award.

Thanks in no small part to Wang’s position as art director, Contrapelo has taken the festival circuit by storm. It won the Phoenix Film Festival’s award for Best Live Action Short Film and was nominated for Best Overall Short Film at both the Calgary International and Oldenburg Film Festivals. At its core, Contrapelo is a philosophical film about the gray areas of morality. When he discovers that the man in his chair is a cartel boss, a Mexican barber grapples with his desire and opportunity to kill the vile man responsible for innumerable deaths and heinous crimes.

“Because the story is set in a small town in Mexico in the 1990s, the main challenge was recreating the Mexican barbershop interior and the abandoned travel agent office – the hideout used by the leader of the drug cartel – in a soundstage in L.A.,” Wang said. “My personal challenge was designing these two main sets in a short amount of time, and also quickly gathering a really effective construction team to build them in one-and-a-half weeks.”

With his extensive 3D computer design skills, Wang was quickly able to create a digital mock-up of the sets. This enabled the director to visualize blocking and plan shots in earnest, and allowed the crew to prepare camera and rigging placements to meet those demands. Construction crews used Wang’s designs to begin building the sets while all of the planning was being done simultaneously using the same shared computer layouts. Rather than having to wait until the sets were completed, Wang’s quick thinking shaved weeks off of the tight production schedule.

Day One, the emotional true story of an American interpreter in Afghanistan, was also a top-10 Academy Award contender for Best Live Action Short Film. Though the film was set in the Afghan desert, it was filmed in the desert outside Los Angeles. The terrain proved a significant hurdle for the production, but once again Wang was able to apply his high-tech know-how to navigate the situation with ease.

“One of the main challenges of this set build was the uneven ground condition in the desert,” Wang said, describing another instance where his technical expertise proved essential to a production’s success. “I was able to use my digital skills to analyze the topography of the desert location, and I created a 3D model of the real location. I then helped the designer create the set in my 3D replica model.”

A huge critical success, Day One centers around a recently divorced woman joins the military and is deployed to Afghanistan as an interpreter. On her first day in the country she encounters a terrorist bomb-maker and his wife, who has just gone into labor. Her life is forever changed when she must help the woman deliver the child. At the 2015 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences College Television Awards, Day One received Emmys for both Best Drama and Best Directing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA/LA) also awarded the film’s director, Henry Hughes, with the 2015 award for Best Director.

Hughes says, “Haisu’s vision and rare skill using digital software to create some of the most challenging sets for ‘Day One’ was invaluable to our production, especially considering the geographic challenges of the location. Without his contributions it would have been nearly impossible to construct these sets in the amount of time and within the allotted budget. He is definitely a huge asset to the film industry.”

Wang’s skill, experience and qualifications put him in the same class as many lifelong industry veterans. A person with Wang’s talent and drive is a rare and precious asset in this business, and his awe-inspiring list of credits and accolades continues to grow every day. He is a master of the craft, gifted with an instinctive ability to visualize and execute both the subtle and the overt artistic and creative nuances of a film. A film is only as good as its art director, and when a film calls for the very best Haisu Wang is will be there to surpass even the highest expectations.

Q & A with Leading Canadian Actor Ian Fisher

Fans of the hour-long action-packed crime series Covert Affairs will probably recognize Canadian actor Ian Fisher immediately from his recurring role as Patrick on the fifth and final season of the Golden Globe nominated series, which aired internationally on USA Network last year.

While Fisher undoubtedly displays his capacity for drama in the fast-paced series, an aspect of his craft that he has shown through his performances in multiple other high-profile productions as well, the actor is also equipped with an unparalleled sense of humor and incredible comedic timing—something that easily shines through the text over the course of the interview below.

Last year Fisher both co-wrote and starred in the acclaimed production of “World Pride and Prejudice,” which ran during the 2014 World Pride Festival in Toronto at The Second City. He also recently wrapped production on the film Glory River directed by Black McWilliam, who produced the film The Little Deputy, which was nominated for awards at the Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival earlier this year.

Fisher’s unique upbringing, which he reveals in the interview, has allowed him to understand some of the most challenging characters and bring them to life on both the stage and screen with seamless precision. To find out more about this dazzling star, make sure to read below!

You can also find out more about his work through his IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3965339/?ref_=fn_al_nm_2

 

Where are you from? When and how did you get into acting?

IF: I’m originally from Vernon, a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. I’ve lived in Toronto for the last six years though.

I was always a pretty big dreamer. When I was a kid, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, a spy, even being a jewel thief looked pretty intriguing. I was pretty disheartened when I learned that even in a best-case scenario I’d likely have to pick only one of those things to dedicate my life to, since pursuing any of them would take so much time. So I decided if I wouldn’t be alive long enough to do everything, why not just pretend to do everything. Plus I didn’t really know what any of those jobs really entailed outside of what I saw on TV, so I guess the answer was in front of my face the whole time.

My father died when I was three. He was this local legend in terms of athletics; he was one of those guys who was good at any sport he played. We had tons of photos of him skateboarding, surfing, skiing, playing baseball, and that’s pretty much all we knew of him, so growing up, my younger brother and I had this desire to become that in a way. And my brother was, he was the best natural athlete I’d ever seen but unfortunately for me, I wasn’t. I really had to work hard to get good at things. Eventually, by persistently practicing I got decent enough at most of them that I could compete but on the way up I was on a lot of losing teams, if I even made the teams at all. In university, during a pick up game of basketball or something, I heard someone describe me as a natural athlete–I kind of scoffed at that. None of it was “natural.” It was all hard work. I was never really a natural anything until I started acting.

I’d always done voices and accents for as long as I can remember, and once I started doing plays, it started to all come together. I finally knew what it felt like to stand out in something. I quit the high school basketball team to do a play and since I’m not 6’8, I haven’t really looked back.

I booked my first paid job in 2009, the first TV audition I ever went to, and within a few years I was working consistently, so I guess that’s when I became a professional technically.

Can you tell me a little bit about the film and television projects you’ve done?

IF: My most prominent role was a recurring role on the fifth and final season of Covert Affairs where I played a young CIA agent named Patrick who was the personal assistant of the director of the Domestic Protection Division, Calder Michaels (played by Hill Harper from CSI: New York, Limitless.) At first I approached the role with the mentality, and I stole this line from Ocean’s Eleven, but it stuck with me: “you want him to like you, but forget you.” So I’d always enter the room with that in mind. Since there are so many classified conversations in a CIA office, I wanted to get in, and get out before I heard something above my pay grade. My main job on the show was to show up and deliver bad news.

During the later episodes, since my character was so involved in his boss’s life, I was one of the few characters who knew that Calder was having an affair with an escort. So in addition to managing a CIA director’s professional life, I was also juggling his personal one. Since so many characters get killed on that show, I was always nervous that I would get a script and it would say that my office would get blown up or a stray bullet would come through a window. Unfortunately for everyone, the show ended on a cliffhanger so we’ll never really know the fate of Patrick. But I like to think he’s out there in an alternate universe, stressed out and delivering bad news perpetually.

I’m very excited about a film I did recently called Glory River, which is about a small town obsessed with its hockey team. It’s kind of along the same lines of what Friday Night Lights did with football. The film, which is actually intended to expand into a series after the festival circuit, shows that even if you’ve been the best on your team your entire life, the odds are still so small at actually making it professionally. I play Noah Gallagher, the town’s star player who, for as long as he’s been able to walk, has been told he’s destined to make the NHL. He has the entire community’s hopes and dreams on his shoulders, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out after all.

As good as he is, he’s still not good enough. It’s tough since there’s never been a back up plan for him, if he fails at this then he feels he’ll have nothing else left, which is a lot of pressure for a teenager. My character has a working class single mother whose played by Rachel Hayward, who’s sacrificed her entire life for this goal for him by working a brutal job on the oil rigs up in northern Alberta, so if he fails, he also feels like he’s failing her. She’s a drunk who’s relentless in the pressure she puts on him to succeed, so there’s also that weighing on him on top of everything else.

I had worked with the film’s director, Blake McWilliam, on another film called Camp about a year ago, and when I heard about this project I was really interested. I never actually played hockey myself, nor did I really follow it, but it’s still such a part of Canadian culture that it’s impossible to be completely removed. The fictional town, Glory River, for which the film is named after, for me that was my hometown of Vernon. I knew these people, I knew this world, even if I wasn’t directly involved in it.

I was also very interested in Noah’s relationship with his mother, since I was raised by a single mother myself, this really resonated with me. Initially there was a concern about casting me since they wanted someone who had actually played hockey, since there would also be a lot of in-game footage. Because I had this relationship with the director from our last film, I was lucky enough to have a line to talk to him. So as I was testing for the part, I was also able to talk to him about the story, and I was able to share with him my personal experience with my mom. I think that really helped me get the role, because even though hockey had never been a part of my life, I knew this character better then anyone. What he was going through was similar to what I had gone through in my own life in a way. Hockey can be learned, what it feels like to be raised with one parent cannot.

A lot of my training has been method based, and I always like to draw from my own life for my characters. This character and I shared so many similarities that I already had a head start, and I was really dying to bring him to life. After I booked the part, I actually hired an All College Hockey America player to work with me privately on my own hockey skills. I knew I’d never really be able to become a great skater or hockey player in only a few weeks, however I wanted to be able to cheat it enough in between stunt double footage that I didn’t look like a complete idiot. So I got her to make sure I was never holding a stick in a way that looked awkward, or doing things that they would never actually do. I still have a little scar on my ankle from skating in brand new skates as much as I did during those prep weeks. I’m very proud of this film and excited to see what happens with it, and if it does become a series, I would love to remain involved with it in some capacity. It’s currently playing at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sept 29th and Oct 4th.

The Epitaph is a film I co-wrote and produced with funding from the BravoFACT foundation and Bell Media. It’s directed by Kris Holden-Ried (The Tudors, Lost Girl) and will air on Bravo. The main concept of the film is: “What would you do if you knew the day you were going to die, but not the year.”

It’s a unique twist on a story about fate. This was a very cool experience because it was the first time that something I had written, was being produced and will air on a major network. Plato Fountindakis, who was an executive producer on the SyFy series Lost Girl for five seasons, came onboard early as our executive producer and was a really great mentor for me. I had produced small films and web series’ before however this was the first time I was involved in something this big.

I initially had the idea for the concept while bored at a bar one night and I turned to my friend and asked “If you could know the day you are going to die, but not the year, would you want to know?” It all grew from there. My co-writers Jason Gosbee, Scott Cavalheiro and I really started exploring that concept. Since we use a 365-day calendar, I’m fascinated by the fact that every year we pass the day that will eventually be our last without giving it a second thought. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, all these days with so much meaning, but the one that will have the most effect on us and our loved ones, remains a mystery –until it happens. Your kids or friends or family will be aware of a day that you pass blindly every year, that right now means nothing to you, but they’ll never forget. So in the universe we’ve created with our film, this day is no longer a mystery. We get to see the effect that knowledge of your own fate has on the world. Ideally, we want to expand it into a full-length feature or TV series. I do also make a cameo in the film. My own little ode to Hitchcock.

You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?

IF: I’m often excited to play all kinds of characters, and I’m confidant playing a range of different people. What’s harder for me is putting my ego aside and turning things down when I’m not right for it. I think as young actors we sometimes just want to be working or we feel like we can do anything, even if the character is not right for us. So sometimes I have to reevaluate a script, or a project and say, “No, I’m just not the guy,” even if I really want to be. It’s way more beneficial than trying to force something that isn’t working. A great script or a great director can be a game changer too. After Glory River, I’ll do anything Blake McWilliam wants me for. He’s truly an actor’s director and I did some my proudest work on that film because of the freedom and environment he created on set.

Can you list some of the theatre projects you’ve participated in up until now, and the roles you’ve played?

IF: The last live show I did outside of comedy clubs was a sketch show called “World Pride and Prejudice” at The Second City. We wrote and performed it over the course of a year through the Second City’s signature style of writing through improv. It ran during the World Pride festival in Toronto in 2014. That was lots of fun. Being on the same stage that John Candy, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, all these great comic actors have been on, that was really an honor.

For the most part, outside of comedy, I stopped doing live theatre a few years ago. I’m such a big fan of film as a medium and the spontaneity of doing it authentically or differently take to take. Once you do it once, you don’t have to try to recreate anything, the camera’s already captured that moment, so you have room to play and try new things. I find that happens in the rehearsal process of a play, but is often lost in the performance since you might find something great once, but then you try to hit that again 8 times a week for 3 months. Too many actors make the mistake of trying to get it right again, instead of just working moment to moment. There are actors who can pull it off and love doing it but for now, I want to work with the camera.

What has been your favorite role so far and why?

IF: That’s tough. I don’t know about a favorite but right now my top 3 would be, Covert Affairs, Glory River, and Reign. All for different reasons. Playing Patrick on Covert Affairs gave me an opportunity to work with some great actors who really knew their characters. I came into that show for the final season so by the time I was there some of them had been playing these characters for four or five years, so it was really valuable to see how they would talk things over with the writers or directors. Because the nature of episodic TV, almost all of the episodes have a different director, so that gave me an opportunity to see a range of styles and work with a variety of different people. Even though we were the same characters, on the same sets, each director had their own take and vision for their episode. It was also cool because by the time I got there the crew had been making this show for five seasons so it was such a well-oiled machine. They already had a system in place, I was coming into their world and they really made me feel welcome.

I loved playing Noah in Glory River because of the personal connection I felt to him, we came from very similar worlds. We were both raised by single mothers, both from small towns and both have big goals. I knew I could do him and that story justice. It’s a story that is so engrained in the lives of Canadians, and I was really excited to be able to bring it to the screen. That was a really great set experience and it gave me a chance to see parts of the country that I had never been too before. We shot it in Red Deer, and Edmonton Alberta, two cities I had never been too prior to doing this film. It was great to work with these local crews and seeing Alberta’s film industry first hand. Working with the director Blake McWilliam and the Director of Photography Mike McLaughlin is always a lot of fun. Because we’d already done one film together in the past, it was like being on set with your friends. Both of those guys are so good at what they do; it was really great to not only have respect for them as filmmakers, but to also enjoy being around them as well. Because we know each other, and each other’s work, we already have a trust built in. We never have to doubt what the end product might look like, so it’s one less thing on the mind. That gave us all the freedom to take some risks and find some really nice stuff for this film.

Reign was a great experience because that was the first time I got to play a character from a different time period, so even on the level of costumes and accents it was unique to me. It’s not everyday that you show up to work and there are horses and castles everywhere, at least it’s not for me. I’m a big history fan and this show allowed me to go back in time for a little bit, or as close as I’ll ever get to being able to actually do that. Director Jeff Renfroe was really easy to work with, he really trusted what I prepared with for the character, which gave me the confidence to just go to work.

What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?

IF: Drama and comedy are my favorites; I’m lucky enough that I happen to be a strong dramatic actor, who is also funny. In a perfect world I’d love to do what Jamie Foxx or Robin William’s can do and have done. These guys are Oscar Award winning actors, who are also great stand ups and have done great comedies. You’re telling me Ray is that funny in Horrible Bosses? The fact that that’s the same guy is very impressive. Two very different skill sets and to be a master of both is incredible. I love making dramatic movies. I’m a big fan of subtlety and working with people who live as truthfully as possible under the circumstances. But comedies are also great, and they seem to stay in people’s consciousness in such a lasting way. I love going to the movies in the fall when all the Best Picture nominees are coming out, those are my favorite type of movies to watch, but comedies touch people in a different way. People from my generation still quote Anchorman, Mean Girls, or Superbad. Those are the movies people watch over and over again. So I’d love to be able to have a career in both. I’d love to be in the kind of films Paul Thomas Anderson or Wes Anderson make…maybe I just have a thing for Anderson’s…

What separates you from other actors?

IF: I’m not afraid to work for it. A lot of actors I know sit around and wait for the phone to ring. Which is so deadly. I did that for about 2 months after I got my first agent and I started to go crazy. That’s when I first started taking classes. Now I’m always training because whether or not I’ll get auditions or offers is out of my control, but if I’m always practicing, then I’m always getting better, and when those opportunities do come up, I’m even better and more prepared then I would have been. Actors are often entitled and they feel like they don’t need to work for it. If a musician never worked on their strings or a basketball player never took shots outside of games they would be awful, but often actors think they’re an exception. If I’m not shooting anything then I’m taking a class, writing or doing stand up, or producing my own stuff; but I’m never sitting around. I don’t want to look back in ten years and think that I could have done more or blame anyone else for how my career went. If I’m up against someone for a part, they better have done their homework, because I definitely did. I’m also in a smaller boat because I’m not a comic actor who also does drama, or a dramatic actor who also does comedy. It would be hard to box me into one category. It’s two separate stands for me and I’m lucky enough, or have practiced enough to be exceling at both at the moment. In a dream world, I’d love to have careers like Marlon Brando & Dave Chappelle. I guess Jamie Foxx pretty much did that…and he also sings right…that guy’s a talent.

What would you say your strongest qualities as an actor are?

IF: I’ve been told that it’s interesting watching me think. Which I think is a great compliment for an actor– that there’s lot happening behind my eyes. Whether we’re doing a comedy or a drama, if we’re doing a scene together I’m going to really be listening to you. I’m also an experienced improviser, which allows us to go off script and improvise dialogue or situations if desired. Comedy and drama are obviously different but at the same time, they aren’t, so much of it is about good listening.

What projects do you have coming up?

IF: The Netflix original series Between has been picked up for a second season, I guest starred in one of the last episodes of the first season and it looks like my character is potentially coming back for season 2. I play John, a devout Mennonite who finds out one of the lead characters, Gord (Ryan Allen) has been having an affair with my wife Hanna. (Rebecca Liddard.) My character shows up and creates quite a conflict and we haven’t seen how it’s resolved yet. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m very curious about what happens next and am excited about the possibility of coming back and exploring that further.

A new episode of my series The Party Show will be coming out soon. We’re always in a state of making one of those when we can.

What are your plans for the future?

IF: Planning to move to L.A for 2016, in addition to TV & films, I’d like to take some UCB classes and to start doing stand up regularly in L.A. And also surf a few times a week. It’s been awhile since I’ve surfed without a wetsuit. In-N-Out Burger, that’s on the list.

What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?

IF: I have some big goals, but at the end of the day I want to make the kind of movies or TV that I like watching. When I was a little kid my mom used to dress up to watch the Oscars. I would love to be able to take her there someday.

Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?

IF: Being funny is like having a super power. I was never the bravest, best looking, fastest or strongest, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. That separated me and gave me something special. I attribute so many of the good things in my life to my sense of humor. Most of my friends or my relationships, professional and personal, wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for that. I don’t want to just be a really funny stockbroker, or the funniest guy at the party. If I don’t do something with this it seems like it’s such a waste. Quite simply, I’m good at this, I love doing it and I work very hard to be better and better. I truly believe I’m not suited better for anything else. Oh and the money.

Q & A with Genius VFX Artist & Motion Graphics Designer Vitaly Verlov

Eric Roberts
Actor Eric Roberts (Left) and Filmmaker Vitaly Verlov (Right) shot by Maria Artos

Living in the modern age we are bombarded by hundreds of commercials per day. As viewers when most of these ads hit the screen we often tune out in order to deal with the overwhelming overload of these messages.

So what does it take for a commercial to stand out and strike the interest of an audience in a world oversaturated with visual sales pitches?

Well, having a seasoned motion graphics designer like Vitaly Verlov behind the screen has proven to be an integral factor in the success of campaigns for global companies like Max Factor, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Nokia, Samsung and countless others.

Over the years Verlov has amassed prodigious knowledge in terms of the technical methods involved in creating everything from multi-layered motion graphics to seamless visual effects. Beyond his technical skills though, his creative vision has made him a highly sought after talent in the industry. In fact, earlier this year he handled all of the visual effects on the upcoming film Redux, a sci-fi film starring Oscar nominee Eric Roberts from the films Inherent Vice, The Dark Knight, The Cable Guy and many more. What is even more astonishing is the fact that Verlov also wrote and directed the highly anticipated film.

His prowess as a motion graphics designer and visual effects artist have allowed him to take on projects that others in the industry who are only skilled in one of these two areas could not.

While you may not know the face of Vitaly Verlov, if you’ve ever tuned into MTV, VH1, Friday! Or Russia’s RUTV, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen his work more than once over the last decade.

To find out more about Vitaly Verlov’s captivating work make sure to check out our interview below!

You can also see some of his work through his website: http://primevalues.ru/

 

IFR: Where are you from?

VV: My name is Vitaly Verlov and I was born in the city of Novosibirsk, Russia. After graduating in 2007 I moved to Moscow to work as a motion graphics designer and visual effect artist for television and film.

IFR: How and when did you first get into doing visual effects work?

VV: In high school and university I did a lot of computer programming because I was a computer geek back then, and even before that I came across an international computer art subculture called Demoscene. Essentially it’s a community where young programmers, artists and musicians get together – for fun – to make demos: computer programs that produce audio-visual presentations in real-time. The visual side of creating a demo implies that you actually program algorithms to achieve a certain artistic effects on screen. To put it short, it’s awesome. As soon as my programming skills got up to speed, I started making graphical demos with some cool looking visual effects and showcasing them on so called “demoparties.” As a matter of fact, my thesis work was focused on developing a toolset for real-time motion graphics and visual effects production.

Later on I became more interested in non real-time photorealistic imaging and switched from computer graphics programming to producing visual effects, design and animation in a more traditional industry-applicable form and started doing broadcast motion graphics for television.

IFR: What inspired you to pursue this profession?

VV: After seeing some television channels that were neatly designed from a graphical standpoint or motion pictures packed with great visual effects, I really wanted to become a part of it.

IFR: Are there any particular artists that inspire you?

VV: In my early days I was fascinated with some of the broadcast design graphics on TV and dreamed about getting to this level of quality and impression. That’s what basically inspired me to learn, more than personalities. However after moving to Moscow, I had an opportunity to meet with some of the great guys behind those outstanding designs and work with them.

IFR: What kind of training was involved in order to become a VFX artist? How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?

VV: I personally don’t have any special VFX related training. Nor do most of the other artists I know. Basically, to become a VFX artist or motion designer, it’s important to have a natural artistic sense and a good eye plus the ability to efficiently handle technical tools and software. On the other hand, it’s also a matter of specialty in the industry, for instance: environmental concept artists or matte painters often have a background in fine arts. One thing is true for everyone working in VFX: you don’t stop learning, no matter what your specialty is.

IFR: What is that you love about being a VFX artist?

VV: The ability to create something impressive out of nothing; and the ability to impress girls at parties, of course.

IFR: What is your specialty in the field?

VV: As a VFX artist, I consider myself a generalist which means that I can pull off a wide variety of tasks myself, including modeling, texturing, animating, rendering, compositing. There are fields that I prefer more, and there are fields I’m not involved in at all – like character modeling and rigging.

As a motion/broadcast graphics designer and art director, again, I can do a lot, starting from initial creative concept to final delivery.

IFR: What is your typical workflow like in terms of collaborating with other artists on a film?

VV: It depends on a project and/or studio. Sometimes workflow is precise, broken down into stages and compartmentalized with strict deadlines, sometimes it’s a complete mess and overnight hell. The most positive experience is of course when you focus on something specific you really like and are good at. This way of collaborating is very efficient and creative at the same time.

IFR: You also work as a motion graphics designer, can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?

VV: Sure. Essentially motion graphics design is an animation-oriented subset of graphic design. Graphic design is just a single picture. Motion design is graphic design in sequence, in motion, and you see it pretty much everywhere: opening sequences for TV shows, film titles, game console menus, or photo-realistic 3D smartphone magically spinning in mid-air in a smartphone TV or Web commercial, or even user interface animation within that smartphone. In other words, any animated piece in visual medium is a subject of motion design.

That’s what I’ve been doing for various television channels including MTV, VH1, Friday!, and others. Sometimes there is client input on the initial concept of what we’re trying to achieve, sometimes there is no input. When there is no input, I also work as a copywriter where I suggest different ideas or scripts on how an end result might look and what meanings/themes it might have behind it. When the concept is approved, we move on to actual motion design.

IFR: How does being a motion graphics editor differ from working as a VFX artist?

VV: Motion graphics is a general term. It’s something that visually can be executed in different ways and styles. It can be two-dimensional, flat design-ish/illustrated looking as well as filmic three-dimensional. I think my direction is more filmic/three-dimensional oriented, that’s why it depends substantially on the visual effects techniques. For example, for a commercial spot for Peugeot the idea was to make a realistic car driving along a stylized miniature street – stuff like that directly relies on VFX techniques because it requires 3D modeling, rendering and compositing as a part of the workflow. In a sense, for such projects VFX is a way to implement the creative idea. That’s where motion graphics and VFX come together.

On the other hand, there are motion graphics projects where VFX techniques are not required for natural reasons. For instance, I have experience making on-screen graphics as a part of graphics package for several television stations where the task was to design the look and feel of info graphic elements that pop up during a broadcast. While these elements look pretty minimalistic, they should have a thought-out motion behavior and structure that keeps the integrity of the overall design. Sometimes the way these elements pop up on screen, interact with the viewer, and disappear is hard to conceptualize. That’s where “design” in the “motion graphics design” title comes to the forefront.

IFR: How has having skills as both a VFX artist and a motion graphics designer separated you from others in the industry?

VV: I think VFX and motion graphics are storytelling devices, and I always try to approach projects from the storytelling perspective. So for me the primary task is not making a neat looking animation or effect but supporting and enhancing the context it is a part of. Motion graphics is about guiding the viewer’s attention and it’s also very important for visual effects shots. What separates me is a good understanding of these aspects which, in real life, means that a client is usually happy with the timing, pace and accents I put into designs during the early stages of production, which is cool because it eliminates the need to reiterate on that so I can spend more time perfecting the visuals.

IFR: What companies have you worked with in the industry?

VV: Since I consider myself motion graphics oriented, I have more experience working on commercials and on-air broadcast design.

As a lead designer and VFX artist, I worked for the Russian branch of MTV and VH1 Networks and nation-wide entertainment television channel Friday! As an art director and motion graphics designer, I’ve done quite a few projects for a major music television channel, RUTV. Specifically, I created motion graphics and the overall design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony, and some pieces for its 2015 installment.

As a freelance designer and VFX artist, I’ve done a bunch of commercials for international brands, including Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Nokia, Samsung, Eurovision, Sensation, plus a variety of Russian brands like Beeline (a major mobile operator in Russia).

As a lead VFX artist, I have several projects done for the US-based boutique postproduction company Coat of Arms. Also, I have great experience working for the international visual effects company Pixomondo (Game of Thrones) as a lead 2D effects artist.

Working for various international companies and clients gives a pretty solid understanding of how the global industry works as well as flexibility in the way you approach projects in terms of planning and workflow because the process makes the result.

IFR: Can you tell us a little bit about the television and film projects you’ve worked on; and the specific contributions you made?

VV: I’ve done a lot of TV show openers and channel idents, in a team of designers and by myself, including works for MTV Networks, nation-wide channels Friday!, and RUTV.

While working for Friday! I had a positive interaction with the broadcast design department of Les télécréateurs (Paris) who designed overall on-air look of this station. I’ve made a few show openers and extra identity pieces based on the existing visual style of the station. And for RUTV I created motion graphics and design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony which was a pretty huge amount of work (a show opener, a set of nominees, promo spots, press materials) on a tight schedule – that’s where the ability to sit focused for 18 hours came in handy.

Also, recently I had a chance to work as a lead 2D VFX artist on a Chinese big budget sci-fi feature film called Impossible, which is scheduled to hit the market sometime this year. I came in when the postproduction was in full swing, and my job was to complete a bunch of VFX shots, mostly energy fields and portal effects.

I should mention that I’m a filmmaker myself with two sci-fi live action films already under my belt. The latest one, Redux, features the well-known Hollywood actor Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, The Expendables). It’s a short character-driven story with the ’80s/retro-futuristic vibe to it. I wrote, directed and edited this film and did visual effects.

IFR: Why is motion graphics design important to modern filmmaking?

VV: In its pure form, motion graphics design is critical for television and Internet – that’s for sure. Filmmaking also takes advantage of it, particularly big budget sci-fi & fantasy films and movie trailers, which are a marketing device. Film credits or sleek futuristic computer interfaces you see in a sci-fi flick is a product of motion graphics design. Sometimes it enhances the narrative story of a film, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s in there. Moreover, since motion design and VFX are somewhat interrelated fields, motion graphics can be essentially found in any film featuring visual effects. That’s also a good way to save some time and money during production, which is important, especially for independent narrative filmmakers like myself. Can a modern live action film be done with no VFX and motion design? Probably yes. But if it’s a mainstream (commercial) film, there should be a marketing/ad campaign involved and that’s where motion graphics comes for you again.

IFR: What has been your favorite project so far and why? What projects do you have coming up?

VV: Not sure about all-time favorites, but I can name a couple of recent ones. I was a part of a team who made a STRAFE® promotional spot for a successful Kickstarter compaign. STRAFE® is an independent old school first-person shooter video game. On this commercial, I worked as a lead VFX/motion design artist.

And of course I loved working on my second film Redux because I think it looks pretty neat, has a coherent story and stars well-known Hollywood actors.

As to the projects to come, some of my past TV clients have a brand new music channel in the works, and while there’s not much info available at this point it looks like I will be creating an onscreen design and several VFX heavy idents shot on green screen.

IFR: Do you have a passion for working on a specific kind of film or project, if so what kind of project and why?

VV: In the TV world, I would say, a show opener. When making a TV show opener, you’re actually making a focused 10-15 second piece which tells a story visually, and that’s what attracted me to the visual medium in the first place.

In film, I have a passion for working on my own films.

IFR: What would you say was your first foot in the door to the industry, and what advice would you give to aspiring artists?

VV: In 2006 I believe, I started making what I called the daily images: the goal was to make one new artistic image every day, just for fun and training, and post it on the Internet into a corresponding design community. I ended up making just a couple of images a week, but after a year of this marathon I was invited to work full-time at a prominent postproduction studio in Moscow, N3, because they liked my pictures. That’s basically how I got into this industry. So I guess my advice would be, stop being aspiring and start actually making something just for the sake of it, start the process and watch how everything unfolds.

Alexander Davis: A Child Actor That Needs to Be On Everyone’s Radar

Alexander Davis
Alexander Davis shot by Denise Grant

To find one’s calling can take a lifetime, but Canadian actor Alexander Davis found his in acting when he was just three years old.

Since then, the eight-year-old prodigy has already played lead roles on stage (A Christmas Story, The Little Mermaid) and in film (The Closet, Volition).

Davis portrayed the lead character of Randy Parker in A Christmas Story, which ran for 48 shows in just six weeks at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Davis’ portrayal of the quirky Parker was so well done that it earned him a 2015 Young Artist Award for Best Performance in Live Theatre.

Though Davis’ work in A Christmas Story was a resounding success, it was not without its challenges. Just before intermission of one of the shows, Davis fell on the set’s stairs and hurt his leg. He was bleeding, in pain, and his next stage direction was to walk out the door. That’s when he learned the meaning of “the show must go on.”

“My acting mom was amazing. She just carried on with the show and picked me up to carry me out the door,” Davis said. “I don’t know if the audience knew what had happened was real or not. During intermission, I put ice on my leg and went back out and finished the show. Now that’s show business.”

Despite working through injury, Davis was hungry to act again when the show’s run ended. On the flight home from Halifax, he asked his mother if he could go back for more.

“I feel like I was born to perform,” Davis said. “I loved performing to sold out audiences and making the crowd laugh. I think my role at the Neptune Theatre really prepared me well.”

But Davis’s budding brilliance has not been confined to just the stage. He played the lead character in The Closet, a film in which he flawlessly executed the difficult proposition of playing his own twin.

“I had to be exact with where I stood to make sure the shot worked with both of us in the scene,” Davis said. “They edited it or layered the scene to make it look like there were two of me. You learn a lot being an actor.”

Davis’s rapidly expanding reservoir of acting knowledge continued to expand when he played the lead character in Volition, a film about a terrorist who saw the world through a different lens after he met Davis’ character on a train.

The film’s production schedule forced Davis to adapt, which he did with flying colors.

“We filmed late every night on the train, so I had to change the time I went to bed,” Davis said. “It was worth it and so much fun.”

Volition co-star Romaine Waite (Antisocial, One Night a Stranger) liked Davis’ performance so much that he asked the emerging star to be in a music video for rapper Pas Da’ Millz that Waite would later direct.

From stage to film, Davis has achieved more before his ninth birthday than many actors do in a lifetime. But the young Canadian has barely scratched the surface of his brilliance, and is already taking his career to the next level.

While in L.A. to receive his Young Artist Award earlier this year, Davis caught the attention of veteran Hollywood executive producer Irene Dreayer (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Suite Life on Deck, Smart Guy).

Dreayer’s known as an honest-but-tough executive producer who’s often told parents of young actors that L.A.’s not a starting point for a growing career, but rather an end result of a successful career. She’s usually recommended to families they go home, but that was not the case for Davis, according to the young actor’s parents.

Instead, Dreayer spent a lot of time convincing Davis’ parents that L.A. was where the sought after actor should be, according to Davis.

Most recently, the young thespian used his voiceover chops to portray the characters Brownie and Checkers in the animated TV series Super Why!, a popular, animated kids show about the magical adventures of reading-powered superheroes on PBS.

Whether on stage, film or television, Alexander Davis has proven himself to be a talented, reliable and dedicated actor who will no doubt make his presence felt in Hollywood and beyond for many years to come.

One of Canada’s Hottest Stars: Actress Jessica Huras

Over the last decade Canadian actress Jessica Huras has established herself as a sought after talent for high profile theater productions, TV shows and award-winning films. While her versatility and capacity for seamlessly tapping into even the most challenging roles have definitely helped her create the dazzling reputation she has today, it doesn’t hurt that she is undeniably beautiful as well.

Early on in her career Huras appeared on the two-time Gemini Award winning series This Is Wonderland. Shortly after she went on to guest star on the Lifetime TV series Missing alongside multi-award winning actress Vivica A. Fox. An investigative crime series that focuses on finding missing persons, Huras played the roles of Caroline Dunn and Luke Thompson, two characters who at first appear to be separate and unrelated, but over the course of the episode are revealed to be one in the same.

When it comes to choosing one role over another, Huras says, “I look for smart scripts that feel original in some way and that have interesting and complex roles for women.”

In Missing, Huras gives a heart wrenching performance as a transgendered college student who struggles to find his identity as a man born in a woman’s body, a challenging role that only further proves the actress’s affinity for tapping into complex characters.

Audiences across the world will also recognize Huras as Leandra from the first season of the hit television show Being Erica, where she starred alongside Erin Karpluk (Rookie Blue, Reasonable Doubt, Supernatural, Saving Hope, Flashpoint) and Reagan Pasternak (Masters of Sex, Heartland, Cake).

“This was a very theatrical role, allowing me to tap into my darker side and channel my inner Goth,” explains Huras about her character on the three-time Gemini Award and Leo Award winning series.

Similar to the way that Jamie Lee Curtis has become synonymous with the horror genre through her role as Laurie Strode in Halloween, Huras has also become something of a notable “scream queen” on film.

Through films like The Deadly Pledge where she played the role of Nikki Evans alongside Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester, James Isaac’s action packed 2006 horror film Skinwalkers, and NYC: Tornado Terror, Huras has displayed a rare talent for evoking fear within audiences through her believable performances.

Although she has carved out her place as an actress in film and television productions starring alongside some of the best in the industry, the silver screen has by no means taken away from her work as a dedicated performer in the theatre.

In 2009 Huras starred alongside Sebastien Heins from the TV series The Listener, Cracked and Darknet, and Mikaela Dyke from the films Blood Boars and Sight Unseen, in the production of David Levine’s “Reflections On Giving Birth to a Squid.” The production, which opened in Montreal and toured across Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton as part of the Fringe Festival, received the Centaur Award for Outstanding Production from the Montreal Fringe Festival.

In 2010 the actress also founded Heart in Hand Theater company in Toronto – a revolving collective producing rare plays in need of a comeback, as well as developing new works of their own. Through Heart in Hand, Huras has produced “The Commune,” “Cowboy Mouth” where she played the starring role of Cavale alongside Broken Social Scene member Jason Collett, and “Trout Stanley” where she played the role of Grace Ducharme.

About what drives her to perform, Huras says, “I love telling stories and sharing the human experience. I think it’s the most palpable way of connecting and it’s never dull, not for a second. I’m forever challenged and inspired in this field.”

With each of her characters being completely different from the next, Huras’s dedication to continually pushing herself beyond her comfort zone as an actress has allowed her to amass a wide range of roles on both the stage and screen.

With an astonishing career already under her belt and several productions being released this year, it is clear that we will be seeing a whole lot more of Jessica Huras for years to come. Currently, you can check Huras out in the role of Natalie on the History Channel series Gangland Undercover, which began airing in February. She also wrapped production on the films Anxietyville and Teeth earlier this year, both of which are set to debut later this year.

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho Pulls Us In with Powerful Imagery

Cinematographer Johanna Coelho
                 Cinematographer Johanna Coelho

French cinematographer Johanna Coelho is not only a phenomenal director of photography who has a background working with an array of different genres, but she is capable of shooting on any format, a feature that sets her apart from the masses.

“Film and digital have the same purpose: create images for telling a story. There’s a lot of discussion going on about what is best between shooting on film or digital. For me in a sense, it’s like having a discussion about which lense to use. It’s a decision that concerns one’s choice, taste and style,” explained Coelho.

With the global technological advancements we have experienced over the last two decades, the most noticeable shift when it comes to the film industry can be found in the format in which films are shot.

For instance, feature films that were once shot on 35mm filmstrips are now predominantly shot on digital, the reason being that digital technology is cheaper to reproduce, and easily transferrable.

The question of whether to shoot on digital or 35mm will always come down to the aim of the director and what the film’s director of photography (DP) feels is the most viable option for producing the director’s vision. However, for the DP to even consider taking one of these two routes they must first be capable of shooting on both formats, a skill Johanna Coelho can accomplish in her sleep.

“I think it’s amazing to want and know how to shoot both, because today we still have a choice, ” said Coelho. “I pick one over another depending on the project, story, shooting conditions, and visual style. There is a sharpness to digital that is really appreciated nowadays, and film will always give you this beautiful grainy image that gives a really cinematic aspect to your film. They do not look the same, and that’s the great thing about it.”

Coelho’s talent as a cinematographer and her ability to choose whether to shoot on film or digital depending on what will be the most compelling for the overall project, has allowed her to be far more creative than most in the craft.

The film Broken Leaves, which was directed by award-winning director Sasa Numic, follows two teenage best friends, Lana and Annie, as they go on a picnic with three boys in the woods. The film focuses on Lana’s jealousy over the attention Annie is receiving from the boys, a feeling that quickly turns to anger and leads her to do something that she immediately regrets.

Coelho worked her magic as the director of photography for the film, which was shot solely in the woods using 35mm film. Coelho’s use of the perfect filter and film, in addition to the way she captured the sunlight breaking through the trees creates a hazy, almost dreamlike feeling, one that visually supports the film’s storyline of Lana’s rash actions being grounded somewhere outside of reality.

Broken Leaves is a story that is supposed to feel like it was shot in the 70’s, so I felt shooting on film was appropriate in order to give a realistic and beautiful grain to the images,” explained Coelho.

“Also, there is a really nice warm look created with the filter I used in the camera throughout the whole film. This particular color created with the filter worked because of the type of film I chose to use, Kodak Vision 3 5213, 200T. So it wasn’t only about the grain, but also about the choice of emulsion. Colors on film can be truly amazing if you know how to use them.”

As the director of photography for the film The Black Room, which was also shot on 35mm film and follows a convicted woman who dances away the reality of her jail sentence by imagining she is a cabaret dancer, Johanna Coelho shows her finesse and versatility with the camera. Because The Black Room was based on the incredible camera tricks invented by French illusionists and cinema genius Georges Méliès, Ms. Coelho chose to shoot on film in order to remain authentic to Méliès’ discoveries.

Creating a mesmerizing sequence of imagery using double and triple exposures on film, Coelho draws audiences in with the way she captures the character’s movements to a place where they too forget that the woman they are watching is in jail.

Concerning the use of double and triple exposure, Coelho admits, “We can do that with digital now, but it’s not as challenging or as fun! Making all of your effects happen in the camera is an incredible experience that shows you the real power of shooting on film.”

While the up and coming generations will most likely switch to shooting solely digital, there are elements of 35mm that continue to be widely cherished throughout the film industry today, and Johanna Coelho’s films serve as a testament to the importance of cinematographers having the capacity to work with both.

“Film is the very first format of cinema, and I think there is something really special about that,” said Coelho.

Sound Editor Jingjue Zhou works with Narval Films on impactful new film ‘Pier Las Vegas’

Sound. It is 50 per cent of the movie watching experience. A simple rain drop to a massive explosion would not be made possible without the hard work of the sound editors behind-the-scenes that work tirelessly to create an authentic sound that allows audiences to be immersed by what they are taking in on screen. China’s Jingjue Zhou knows this better than most. This celebrated sound editor has worked on all genres of movies and television shows and is always refining her talents. She is a true storyteller, using sound to subtly enhance a script, creating drama and emotion through the sense in a beautiful and natural way.

Whether taking in her work at SeaWorld Orlando’s “Sesame Street Land” interactive game plays, or through award-winning films such as Spring Flower, millions around the world have appreciated Zhou’s extraordinary sound work. Her versatility and commitment to storytelling through sound make her a force to be reckoned with in the industry, and despite her success, she remains committed to her craft, simply enjoying what she does.

The highlight of her esteemed career came when working with Narval Films LLC. She has worked on several films for the renowned production company, including the documentary Road to Olympia, which tells the story of a Chinese bodybuilding athlete. Long Wu is a celebrity athlete with millions of fans on social media. He is the first Chinese IFBB pro card holder and first Chinese to compete professionally in Olympia.  It’s a story about his career journey over the past 10 years. The film was broadcast on China Central Television, the biggest TV platform in China, and the social media platform Weibo, achieving 1.5M views and 6.9K likes.

“From this film, I got to learn all the hardships Long Wu has been through and the essence of success in one’s career. Long Wu, though successful, is still very humble, hardworking and extremely self-disciplined. I am proud to be on the team telling this story so more people can get to know such a cool person and sport,” said Zhou.

Zhou’s favorite project with the production company, however, is the film Pier Las Vegas. The story is about Gao Xing, a hearing-disabled and vocally impaired person from a small town in China, who works as an ordinary housekeeper at a Las Vegas casino hotel, and always rummages through the guests’ luggage secretly while cleaning the room to search for clues about his sister who was adopted by an American family long ago. However, Gao’s life changes one afternoon when a massive shooting occurs at the music festival outside of the hotel.

“This fictional story takes place during the real life event of the tragic Las Vegas mass shooting. The people killed are not numbers. They have their own life stories and families. The movie is a portrait of one of them. It’s a powerful story that helps people remember those who die in these events and reflects on our society,” said Zhou. “What’s the problem and how can we change it? This film evokes those questions.”

Pier Las Vegas is a drama with an experimental storytelling style. It is directed by Yun Xie, a talented Chinese director. Her award-winning movie Truth or Dare has had a very successful theatrical release all over China. Zhou was happy to work with her on such an important film as Pier Las Vegas.

The sound editing in the film is very heavy and challenging as the main character is constantly in and out of a dream state. Zhou had the chance to play with lots of interesting plug ins and synthesizers to generate her own sound palette.

“It’s fun and challenging when it comes to sound editing for dreamy sequences. The director always said to me that it was my moment to shine. We wanted to create a feeling of being out of place in these dream sequences. We were really happy that all the sound came organically to make the audience feel the same way the character feels,” said Zhou.

Zhou’s hard work more than paid off as Pier Las Vegas has seen immense success all over the world. The film premiered in China’s top art house film festival earlier this year and has been an Official Selection at six prestigious festivals so far. It was also nominated for several awards, and Zhou is thrilled to see where it will go next.

“I am so happy it got the recognition internationally, especially in my home country of China. It’s selected to be in the competition of First International Film Festival, taking place in Xining. Every year, all the top artists and first-class Asian film committees will attend this film festival. Some people tell me that my sound work helped them so much on understanding the style and story of the movie, and that couldn’t make me happier,” she concluded.

 

By John Michaels
Photo by Tianyi Wang

Xin Yi on finding her passion as 3D Artist

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Xin Yi

Growing up in China, Xin Yi always had a passion for drawing, but always considered it to be a hobby rather than a career. However, when she first saw the Pixar hit Up, everything began to change. She was instantly attracted to the stunning animation, with its fresh style, characters, and colors, with a beautiful story to tell. She immediately began envisioning creating similar content one day, combining her passion for the arts with her desire to tell stories. That was when she began considering a career in animation and visual effects, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yi is now a 3D Artist, creating beautiful effects, animations, and motion graphics that have been enjoyed by millions across the globe. A 3D Generalist does a little bit of everything, whether it’s making 3D objects, texturing, shading, lighting or rigging, which is like setting up the controls to prepare them for animation. However, Yi dedicates most of her time making 3D images look as realistic as she can using those skills and techniques.

“It is really exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with some amazing artists and use my skills to bring 3D to life. I also enjoy working with and learning from the best artists in the industry. I can learn a ton just by listening to them talk,” she said. “I really want to use my skills to tell stories and becoming a 3D Artist made my dream come true.”

Yi is known for a plethora of hit projects, including trailers for the video game Rocket League, the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship, NFL Redzone, Black Lightning, Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and Black Ops III, and many more. Every project she takes on is different, and no two days are the same.

“I face challenges almost every single day and that’s why I love what I do. It helps me learn something new every day and improve my skills. I enjoy the process of solving problems. Sometimes, of course, it can be frustrating, but just by thinking of the things that I am going to create makes it amazing. All the tiny learning pains go away, and all of the patience comes back. No matter how difficult I feel it is, I just keep in mind that I am going to make it,” she said.

Yi encourages anyone looking to get into visual effects to learn something new every day and set small goals. She used to write down her daily goals on stickers and in notebooks. This helped her maintain focus and continue to refine her skills, which she attributes to her quick growth in the industry.

“I’ve met many artists who are afraid to show people what they are doing. They think that they are not good enough or people are not going to like what they’ve created. Many times, I personally think their art is truly amazing. In my own opinion, I’ve never felt like I am super good at one thing either, but the goal is to be good at many things eventually. Everybody has different tastes; some people will like your work and others won’t. I often try to find many useful methods to improve myself so that next time when I am making a similar thing it will be even better. Just by imagining the next time, I am already happy,” she said.

Yi made it to where she is today by putting herself out there and listening to her mentors’ opinions and advice, even if she didn’t initially believe in it. Even when she doubted herself, the guidance of others pushed her to keep going. Everybody has different ways to feel motivated and finding what works for you is key.

“I originally realized that I wanted to get into art by reading and listening to fairy tales. All of the little creatures started to form in my brain, and I would just draw the little creature out or make some 3D models of them. I like to see a lot of stunning art from others, whether in the form of films, books, or paintings, etc. So, for me, I always like to check out other artists’ work and find it important in helping me grow as my own artist. There is so much amazing art in different mediums all around us. Just by looking at them I find motivation,” she concluded.
By Annabelle Lee

 

Producer Helena Sardinha recalls award-winning film ‘Pumpkin’ and finding filmmaking passion

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Helena Sardinha

Before pursuing her now prolific career in filmmaking, Helena Sardinha was a professional dancer. The more she danced, however, the more she realized it wasn’t what she wanted to spend her life doing. She had always been passionate about the various forms of artistic expression and found filmmaking to be one of the most complete art forms there is.

“If you breakdown a film, you find elements of every single art in it. In screenwriting, you have literature, poetry; in acting, theater; cinematography, painting, photography; in original scores, music; in set and costume design, architecture, sculpture, fashion; in the camera and actors movement, dance. To make films is to reproduce life the way you want it to be, and to be able to do that, I feel very privileged,” she says.

Now, Sardinha is a celebrated producer in her home country of Brazil and abroad, with many acclaimed projects on her decorated resume. Films like That Girl and Walter have gone on to win several awards at prestigious festivals around the world, a pattern that occurs with most projects she takes on. Her success as a producer is undisputed, and she believes that her experience in dance has allowed her to understand her role in filmmaking that much more.

“I believe that growing up in a dancer’s discipline environment and having an early start on my artistic endeavors was key for my development as a producer. Being connected to diverse content made me develop artistic skills and sensibility to art forms that accompanies me in my career,” she says.

One of Sardinha’s first major success stories after transitioning from dancer to producer came back in 2016 with her film Pumpkin. The film follows Alice and her best friend Dan, who lives in another country. When he tells her he’s been diagnosed with cancer, she faces the scary feeling of being away and powerless. So, Alice tries to show him support and love. Even if that means pushing away friends that are physically close to her.

Pumpkin is more than a project, it’s a life statement about love. But it’s also about pain during a time of our lives that is definitive for building our characters and notions of values. It’s not often we see teen films talking about those issues, about grief, dealing with pain. It’s important for other teens to watch this film and be able to feel a sense of belonging. To understand that pain is a part of life, and it’s healthy to talk about it. It’s a real story based on the director’s life and it really resonated with me. Losing a friend is not easy, and that was the way she found to cope with it,” says Sardinha.

The film was written and directed by Paula Neves, who was telling a true story based on events in her life. She knew she needed a talented producer to do her story justice, and reached out to Sardinha. They worked very well together, as Sardinha felt extremely close to the story and the project, knowing its background and the inspiration. Sardinha understood quickly what was fundamental to deliver Neves’ vision, and she put a crew together quickly and efficiently.

“It is always great to work with Helena, she is really pro-active and organized. Being on set with her or on a project produced by her is always an easy and fun experience. She is really responsible and smart-thinking. She always looks for a way of making things better without compromising time or money. Also, she is empathic to others, making sure everyone around her is well and in the best mindset. When she commits to something, you know she’ll be giving her ultimate best,” says Neves.

Pumpkin had its premiere at the world-famous Short Film Corner at Cannes in 2016, and went on to win awards and receive great praise at countless other festivals over the course of the year. Those rewards were secondary, however, for Sardinha and Neves, as they had a financial campaign to help kids with cancer through the project.

“I believe working on a project that generates awareness to any kind of issue and makes audiences move and try to change something is just a blessing. Pumpkin was one of those. Our goal as filmmakers is to be able to reach out to audiences and emotionally connect with people. Being able to receive so many notes and comments from people on the film, really pays off the entire journey of making a film,” Sardinha concludes.

 

By Annabelle Lee

Director John Wate lives childhood dream when making ‘Samurai Warrior Queens’

JW Samurai Warrior Queens
John Wade, Photo by Roberto Vivancos

Growing up in Berlin and Munich, Germany, John Wate found a passion in Manga comics at a young age. He was intrigued by the style of the Japanese graphic novels and began drawing his own at just ten years of age. Even then he knew he was meant to tell stories, but as he began transitioning away from drawing and into filmmaking, his innate drive to be a storyteller never wavered.

Now, Wate is a renowned director in his home country and abroad. Two of his past films, The Sword of the Samurai and The Samurai Bow, made it for 4 years into the top twenty of National Geographic Channel’s worldwide most popular documentaries. He is known for his unwavering dedication to his craft, and his work on projects like Epic Warrior Women, Samurai Headhunters, and Samurai Warrior Queens, projects that reminded him just why he got into filmmaking in the first place.

“One of the first manga stories I ever wrote when I was a teenager was that of a female samurai kicking ass. When I was sitting in the edit room watching Samurai Warrior Queens chasing inslow motion across a bridge towards the enemy with their blades drawn, I felt as though I was having my teenage wishes fulfilled,” said Wate.

The drama documentary Samurai Warrior Queens tells the real-life story of Samurai woman Takeko Nakano who in 1868 fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era. The legends of the Samurai seem to be an all-male affair; but contrary to popular belief, Samurai women stood their ground in countless battles and castle sieges. Takeko Nakano fights for her clans’ independence in a final battle that marks the end of the Samurai era.

“It is almost unknown that female samurai existed, let alone that they stood on the battlefield. Recent DNA from battlefields found that 30 percent of the sampled bones belonged to female fighters. However, for proud male samurai it was regarded as a shame if you had to rely on women to win your battle, so their presence was hardly ever recorded. The film can give them their place in history,” said Wate. “Takeko’s life provided a great arc and was pretty much a metaphor for the end of the samurai era as a whole. The role of female heroes has not received much attention until recent years, especially in Japan, and the story sheds a very different light on what in the West is often perceived as the general submissive and weak, moon gazing Japanese female persona.”

Wate enjoys strong female characters and had already come across different accounts of strong female samurai and wanted to show what their life was like. Their education, their ability to stand up against the more famous samurai in battle, it was all an intriguing topic that Wate wanted to really dig into.

Extensive background research of local folk tales and chronicles eventually led him to choose the life story of Takeko Nakano. She grew up in Aizu, a proud province in northern Japan where education, etiquette and martial arts were held in high esteem. Her father was a commander in a clan that understood itself as the protector of the Shogun. When the Shogun was threatened by other clans, supplied by Western firepower, the Aizu fought their last battles that eventually ended in the end of the samurai era. Takeko was very talented with the Naginata, a polearm or a samurai blade with a meter-long grip at the end. She was an instructor and took it on herself to recruit other female combatants to charge against the enemy but was eventually killed during the assault by a bullet.

To understand how she lived, how she might have seen her daily duties, why she refused to marry and fight instead, Wate traveled to her home province, went to research local archives, see their castle defenses, and really explore what her life would have been like. He then developed the script, cast the film, and got to shooting.

“I loved showing the world of the samurai, their attitude, ideals of honor and courage from a female perspective. In some ways they had to endure more than their male counterparts. Not only because they were often the pawns in the marriage game, but also because they had to fight and stand in for the actions of their husbands, their clan and the Shogun. I also found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time how they were taught to pursue grace even in death. Female samurai carried a dagger with them at all times once they reached womanhood to defend their honor. If they were in danger to be captured and raped, they would often have to commit suicide and were taught already as teenagers to tie their knees together with their belts, so that their legs would still look graceful after their death,” he described.

The film was distributed worldwide and nominated on the short list for the IMPACT Award, losing to the Academy-Award winning film Lincoln. It aired in the United States on the Smithsonian Network in 2015 where it still plays regularly, and is available to stream currently on various platforms, including Amazon and Hulu.

By Sean Desouza

Editor Haansol Rim’s Creativity Lights the Way

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Photo by Chiao Chen

The creative mind of the filmmaker requires a complex mixture of aesthetic vision, deep technical capability and a passionate devotion to the form itself. For New York-based editor-creative editor Haansol Rim, these are defining characteristics, a dynamic formula which constantly propels him forward.

A true international force—born in Germany to Korean parents—Rim came to cinema through a particularly rich background in the arts, which has ingrained a far reaching depth of knowledge that colors all of his endeavors. It’s been a lifelong pursuit for Rim and his mastery at multiple disciplines provides him a significant advantage.

“I was always an artsy kid, since I was really young,” Rim said. “I used to paint a lot, and I played cello professionally. I went to college for fine art. Simultaneously, I started to produce and compose music—I really enjoyed the two, and didn’t want to give up one over the other, so I found a medium that would allow me to pursue both—motion pictures. I decided to pursue film, since I could focus on both visual and sound art.”

The course was set; after completing training in editing, directing, cinematography and production design and earning a BFA at the Academy of Art University, Rim wasted no time in relocating to Manhattan. The ambitious young editor quickly landed a position at the prestigious creative agency-production company MATTE Projects, where a successive series of film and video assignments—each expertly complemented by the advantage of his sophisticated fine arts background—served as a very fertile proving ground.

Rim demonstrated impressive capabilities as a creative editor and editor on numerous productions, both at MATTE and well known international production company 37thdegree, but the driven young talent was also launching his own personal projects, and his work on Seoul-based electro-pop star Sailli’s 2018 music video “The Light” provides an insight into both Rim’s impeccable methodology and limitless ingenuity. While the project turned out to be far more arduous than anticipated, Rim rose to the challenge with verve and aplomb, creating a unique visual achievement that was chosen as an Official Selection of the famed San Francisco Film Festival.

 

“I knew Sailli from back when I was producing music,” Rim said. “We ran in the same circles and once I became a creative editor and director, he asked me to make his music video.”

“He explained that the song is about self–discovery—finding the inner light of one’s true self. I held onto that intention and started brainstorming.”

Rim’s invaluable blend of instinct and artistic simpatico—a rare intellectual and emotional proficiency—enabled him to really analyze and elevate Sailli’s concept, refining it to a strikingly impactful and collaborative creation. As editor on the video, Rim undertook a fascinating, less-is-more approach, one reliant on pure visual design, a fixed camera and a single, continuous shot.

“In this work, I wanted to express the sense of a motion picture,” he said. “I wanted to make the film feel literally like a single moving photograph, to encapsulate the idea of ‘a picture paints a thousand words.”

The simplicity and affect of this idiosyncratic, minimalistic work is arresting and heightened further by a very unusual graphic design element, one that broke some important new technological ground, another key aspect of Rim’s far-ranging skill and vision.

“The 2D collage effect was something completely new,” Rim said. “Even my team was hesitant of the feasibility of it, since it was something they hadn’t seen previously.”

While the finished product seems deceptively simple, for Rim it became a trial by fire.

“Pre-production was perfect, but the post-production creative editing was pure hell,” he said. “It was a very effect heavy edit, and as an editor with no experience in CGI, it was painstaking and miserable. I literally cried at one point.”

“Since this was a single take shot film, there wasn’t any room for trial and error–if I was unsatisfied with a frame, I couldn’t simply transition to another one. I had to be very intentional with the whole project and understand the confines of the footage.”

The dedicated auteur nonetheless saw it through, rising to meet each challenge head on and always refusing to accept anything but the full blown realization of his own perfected intention.

“It was very tough, and definitely different from my other works,” he said. “It was also such a memorable process, with lots of emotional ups and downs, efficiency and strain. There is no room for error, and no way to edit the flaws out. You just have to stick it through, and make sure that each frame is as great as could be. We worked on 5000 individual photographs that ended up making this great motion picture. Ultimately, it worked out and all these elements and challenges made this work enjoyable.”

Most importantly, he remained true to himself: “I was able to convey my vision as I had pictured it—which made it all the more satisfying. I made it work, and my first true baby was born into the world.”

Although still at the dawn of his career as an editor-creative editor, Rim has already established himself as a powerhouse force in New York’s highly competitive film and video arena, one whose ability to stand out—from the start—is his professional calling card. Rim’s winning combination of uncompromising creativity, technical knowledge, aggressive trouble-shooting skills and steadfast dedication to pure artistic expression places the editor in a league of his own and accounts for impressive, and his steadily rising, reputation.

“My personal creative philosophy is that there is no single right answer to anything,” Rim said. “The world isn’t black or white, its shades of grey—anything and everything can happen. I think good art is that which you can hear the artist’s unique voice, see the artist’s unique color and perspective. Most importantly, the artist must stay true to himself.”

 

Actress Elysia Rotaru on breaking into performance capture work

ELYSIA_7439My name is Elysia Rotaru and I have been working as a professional actress since 2008. You may recognize me from the hit show Arrow and the voice of Beatrice Villanova in FIFA 2018, FIFA 2019, and FIFA 2020, as well as countless other films and television series.

In 2010, I also began my voice over career. As a voice artist, I have lent my voice to over 1000 projects, ranging from, commercials, animations, video games, promo spots for TV Networks and selected shows, educational videos, phone systems, A.I technologies and operating systems and many more, working with clients in the USA and Canada on a global scale.

The world of voice over is vast, fast and a ton of fun, and is a great compliment to working on camera, if you can maintain the balance and stay open to the opportunities.

Performance capture work is a great way to expand your skill set as an actor. Remember Avatar? Or Gollum in Lord of the Rings? These performances used performance capture technology to blend real life and animation, allowing you to film someone live and transfer them into computerized form. If you are looking to branch out into this genre of the field, but don’t quite know how to get your foot in the door, I’ve included some helpful tips and insider information below.

How to prep

Well there are now classes you can take to get familiar with all the oddities of the performance capture world, and I recommend pairing that with acting classes and voice over classes, if you’re just starting out in the biz in general. Also any extraordinary skills like martial arts, sword work, stunting, dance etc. are a bonus in my eyes. This area is one of the most challenging ones to break into, so having a great voice and/or on-camera agent who is in-the-know about this work would be great. A voice over demo and video reel showcasing your physical skill sets is a huge step up as well and hopefully gets you through the door to an audition.

During the audition

With performance capture video games, they may not only be looking for “realistic, grounded and engaging ” voice performances, they are also looking to hire you for your aesthetic and physical portrayal of your character(s). This area of the voice over world is a unique blend of theater, on camera and perhaps stunt work. Therefore, the more training you have, especially in specific areas like sword work, dance, firearms etc. might give you an advantage.

When it comes time to audition, one must prepare the script to be off-book. They ask that you also show off as much physicality as possible from the given stage directions and if there are none, time to use your imagination to show off your range, creativity and commitment to the work. Also, wear form fitting clothes, as the casting director will usually have that noted in detail.

It’s important to remember the audition is usually a full-body frame, where all your physical life can be seen. I know they also appreciate facial expressions, as that is a huge element to performance capture.

Now also note: the projects are 99.9% of the time super confidential with strict NDA’s and the material you’re auditioning with may not be the actual script. So, it’s really up to you to do the best you can with your prep and bring it to life, fully articulated in voice and body and have fun!

The job

When you book the job and get on to a performance capture set, it’s a magical experience.

Your preparation must be amazing in regards to having the text memorized/off-book. Depending on the project, you can usually figure out what you’re prep work will entail.

However, you should be able to create character choices that support the story ahead of time and bring in your choices, an also be ready to let go of them too, if new direction is presented on the day.

Be ready to work in a Velcro bodysuit, covered in reflective balls with a tiny camera attached to headgear pointed at your face the whole time and dots marked on your face. This isn’t the on camera glam you can experience on a TV or film set so be ready to feel a little vulnerable and out of your comfort zone, that is until you get in the zone.

You will be working with a large group of people: a dev team, make-up artists, producers, a voice director, cinematic director, the rest of the cast, and more, so be ready to learn new rules that are particular to performance capture, that after repeating a few times, will become second nature in that environment.

The crew usually helps build you a basic set, but most often, your imagination and guidance from the directors are what you play by. In some cases, you might be given new lines to memorize on the day, like a soap opera and with a limited number of takes to execute the scenes.

The work takes place in what is normally called a “volume”, a large space with hundreds of cameras lining the walls and ceiling to capture every single movement the actors in the scenes will perform. From a grand gesture like walking and waving, to the tiniest movement, like a pinky finger twisting and the furrow of a brow. Having a great sense of spatial and physical awareness is a great asset, hence why I see a lot of actors with theater training booking work in the performance capture world. That is not to say you must have that as a background, as anyone with a desire to learn and the passion for the craft of acting and voice work can have great opportunities and a fulfilling career working in performance capture.

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