Tag Archives: Chinese Talent

China’s Ranran Meng uses VFX to take audiences to dystopian future in ‘Fahrenheit 451’

When Ranran Meng was just a young, artistic child growing up in China, she became enthralled by the possibilities of the movies. She would sit in front of the screen in awe, blown away by the infinite possibilities that the medium offered, taking audiences to different places in time, and making the impossible, possible. The more films she watched, the more she began to wonder just how every element was made, and she found herself intrigued by the idea of creating something that wasn’t there during shooting and making it very real for viewers.

“The world has no limit, we can produce an image from the past or from the future, from down the road or other galaxies. Films present these worlds that are so real to us and show us something we would not experience in our day-to-day, or even our lifetime. I told myself as a child that I would one day be a part of creating these new worlds,” said Meng.

Meng now is living her childhood dream. As a compositor, Meng uses advanced visual effects techniques to create the impossible, which she has done for revolutionary projects like The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR Experience, making the world of Harry Potter accessible to fans through virtual reality. She has also vastly contributed to the success of many award-winning and critically acclaimed productions, from HBO’s hit show The Deuce to Showtime’s Golden Globe winning mini-series Escape at Dannemora.

Another career highlight for Meng was working on the award-winning film Fahrenheit 451. Starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, the film is based off the dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury, a story that Meng was a big fan of before the film was even announced.In a terrifying care-free future, a young man, Guy Montag, whose job as a fireman is to burn all books, questions his actions after meeting a young woman, and begins to rebel against society.

“The story talks about a future American society where books are outlawed and ‘firemen’ burn any that are found, focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. I like this story because it satirizes the society that tries to control and restrain people’s minds. This society phenomena actually still exists in our world, and it is important to present this to the audience and make them think and do something,” said Meng.

Fahrenheit 451 premiered at the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and aired on HBO on May 19th, 2018. Not only did it captivate audiences, but it wildly impressed critics, and went on to receive several award nominations, including five Emmy nominations. Such success makes Meng very proud, who worked tirelessly to make the film the success it became.

Rather than using VFX to create the impossible, for Fahrenheit 451, Meng used various software to refine every shot, creating an immersive experience for the audience. For this work, the goal is for viewers to not even realize she touched up a scene at all, removing background images that would take away from a shot or inserting important elements into the background to maintain consistency. For example, for the full view of the city shots, there were a lot of lighting boards on the top of the buildings; Meng removed the boards and created new building tops. Also, they shot the film during Christmas time, but that is not when the actual story takes place. Therefore, Meng had to go through every shot and eliminate any Christmas decoration or element that would imply it was the holiday season. It takes a refined eye to catch every detail, but Meng was more than up for the task.

“I like stories that are based in the future and have a science-fiction theme. This is new to me, as it was my first time working in the genre. The images are different and fun to watch or work on. They have a lot of effects in it,” said Meng. “I like the creative work in this project, I needed to change the environment from Christmas period to just a regular time of year, so I used elements in the footage to erase or fill out the scene. It was interesting for me, kind of like creating a whole new environment.”

Meng’s work for Fahrenheit 451 allowed audiences to travel from modern day to the future, just what she envisioned doing when she was a little girl. Creating a clean and complete environment for the film was pivotal to its success, and Meng was more than happy to be a part of such a moving and inspiring cinematic work of art.

“I am very happy to see this film presented to the audiences. To show this satirical story to more people and introduce such a good novel to a larger audience, it’s great. Maybe it can make people think about how knowledge is important. I think this movie is a good influence on the world and shows people what a free world should be. I am proud that I could be a part of it,” she concluded.

 

Written by Sean Desouza

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Mozhi Li on storytelling through fashion and new film ‘Where Dreams Rest’

In her teenage years, China’s Mozhi (Leila) Li was obsessed with Broadway shows and historical films. She was transfixed by what she saw on screen, with characters in elaborate costumes reflecting their personalities. Li instantly was fascinated by how fashion could be presented through the screen and on stage, and she knew she was meant to pursue a career in costume design.

“I use my gift and knowledge to help my clients pull their characters from the script to reality. Through communications and understanding of the story, I also use my aesthetic gift along with design principles to work as a team member with other visual departments, together to create a perfect frame in film. It’s more of a team job than individual success but that’s what makes me so determined with my job,” she said.

Throughout her career, Li has proven time and time again why she is such an in-demand costume designer and wardrobe stylist. Millions have seen her work in music videos for Jason Zhang and Yitai Wang and the films ZeroUnder Heart, and Where Dreams Rest. The last of which is one of the highlights of Li’s esteemed career.

Where Dreams Restfollows a young Chinese woman who crosses the US-Mexico border to chase after her American dream. It was an Official Selection at the Lady Filmmakers Festival, where many connected with the timely and dramatic story.

“The film talks about a strong feminine figure, who has this devoted love to her partner, which is touching. There are other immigrants with different races and characters in this film. Even though some of them are non-speaking roles, I love the details of the story given for each character, it gave some vulnerable feelings when I went through these supporting roles,” said Li.

Li was touched by the script and knew instantly she wanted to be a part of the film. The story is based on a working-class background. This created a unique challenge with choosing and aging costumes for the main character, while still ensuring her presentation would work well on cameras with all the colors balanced with the scene.

“Costumes can reflect large amount of details and stories behind each character. Especially for this project, the background is very realistic. It’s important to deliver the real-life texture to each costume by distressing and aging them professionally,” Li described.

The best part of the experience for the costume designer was the team she worked with. She thought the director was thoughtful and gifted, and the actors were passionate. She enjoyed her interactions with the art department, discussing ideas of color and fabrications.

“The story was touching, and all the characters have colorful personalities. I really enjoyed exchanging ideas and thoughts when I first met the director and production designer, they are talented and passionate young filmmakers. Everybody is devoted and played a great part in a team, that’s always the project you look forward to working with. All these factors made me feel it would be a project worth my time,” Li concluded.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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

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Zanda Tang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by John Moore

Zekun Mao uses editing to create a thrill for audiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Colorist and Editor Cynthia Chen artistically portrays grief and loss in ‘The Last Page’

“To me, filmmaking is like making a delicious meal. The process of shooting is like gathering the ingredients for the food, whereas post editing is like cooking. Editors reorder the different materials, and create different dishes through proper dressing and seasoning,” she said.

Chen is recognized around the world for what she does. Having edited highly successful films such as Slingshot Prince, Offsprung, and most recently, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, Chen is an industry leading editor in China with her work celebrated both there and abroad.

Chen is also a celebrated colorist, often combining her roles on many films. She has enhanced many films through color with her work, including Maskand The Last Page. The latter was a motivational project for the Chinese native, as she was telling a true story about another artist.

The Last Page is a short film that follows the story of a once famed comic book writer Emanuel Delgado. After a long career of award winning comics, and a mega fan base, it’s been nearly a decade since Emanuel abruptly ended his career because of the death of his brother. He is living in a house littered by the drunken debris of his depression until one of his fans show up who is the same age as his brother and encourages him to restart drawing comic books.

“I like this film because it carries positive energy and is both motivating and encouraging. It’s a story about a person coping after the big mental trauma of losing everything to picking himself up and changing his miserable life. It encourages people to never give up on their dreams, reminding them there are always other people supporting and caring about them. We need to cherish our own lives and do more meaningful things in the limited time that we have. I was totally touched when I finished watching this film. It is not only about remembering the people we’ve lost, but also encourages those people who lost their hope from losing the one they love to get out of the deep sorrow and tell them that there is always somebody else supporting and caring about them,” said Chen.

The film premiered at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards 2017, where it took home the top prize. Chen was both happy and surprised when she heard that The Last Page was an award-winning film, knowing that it touched audiences the same way it touched her.

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“I remembered those countless nights that I was talking with the director about the color grading ideas and how we could make this film into a better piece of art. And right now, we can all be proud of ourselves that we made it to the end, although it was just a small step on a long road ahead of me, I will keep up and be more creative as a filmmaker,” she said.

Chen was in charge of all the color grading for this project. The director described what kind of color effects he wanted for each scene after showing her the editing. Chen marked down every detail he mentioned and spent weeks turning his vision into a reality.

There are a lot of scenes in the film that express a decadence and hopeless feeling, and Chen used color to enhance these emotions. She used a heavy yellow and green color tune for showing the messy house environment. After the character’s internal emotion changed, she used some bright and clean color tunes to represent the delightful changes in his life. The whole color tune changed from cold to warm. Her color grading works highlighted the transitions of the moods and echoed the arc of the story, different color rhythms made this whole film vivid and lifelike. Her work took the film to a new level.

“The film had a big creative space for me to do the color grading, through the discussion with the director, I understood what he wanted and started to do the individual color design. Throughout the whole process I had a chance to use the color analyse from other different film types and apply them to this film project. I like the color tunes from Fight Club very much, and I was always trying to get a chance to apply them into my film projects. This short film fulfilled the wish for me by using the Fight Club dirty color tunes to highlight the messy house when the main character was at his lowest point. Also, it created a big comparison later when the main character was back into his normal life,” she said.

Be sure to watch The Last Page to see Chen’s outstanding work and be moved by Emanuel Delgado’s story.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

Character Technical Director Qiao Wang revolutionizes animation tech for Lexus commercials

When watching the animated 2011 hit Rango, inspiration struck Qiao Wang. At the time, he was a graphic designer, creating still images, but when watching the film, he was transfixed by the technology used to create such realistic computer animation. Always a fast learner, Wang began to study new styles of mathematics and computer science to combine with his artistic background, wanting to create similar films to that which so motivated him.

“The visual effects industry in filmmaking was still fresh and new to the world, and not a lot of people knew what it was in my country. I enjoyed what I did as a designer and artist, but I would have definitely changed my career path earlier if I knew what VFX was,” said Wang.

Since that time, the Chinese-native has gone on to become an internationally sought-after Character Technical Director and Character Effects Artist. Using his skills in both mathematics and design, Wang helps to conceptualize some of the most beloved characters in many recent popular films, including Rocket the Racoon and Groot in the mega blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War. Not limiting himself to just one medium, Wang has collaborated with Justin Timberlake on his latest music video, “Filthy”, and worked with world renowned companies, like Target, on national commercial campaigns.

“Qiao is both technical and artistic, he contributed to the team and film’s success in many aspects, including troubleshooting and solving technical issues on hero characters, and developing aesthetics for character cloth and hair simulation and skin deformation,” said Fabrice Ceugniet, Creature Pipeline Technical Director at Method Studios.

Ceugniet and Qiao worked together at Walt Disney Animation Studios on the upcoming film Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 and Godzilla: King of Monsters. The two had previously worked together many times, and recently worked on a commercial series for the leading automotive company Lexus. The commercials, such as “2018 Lexus Golden Opportunity Sales Event: Lap the Planet” provided a unique and fun challenge for Wang, who delivered both technical and art direction to the digital Lexus vehicles. He took on many responsibilities for the commercial, working closely with the Character Supervisor, CG Supervisor, VFX Supervisor, Producer, Art Director, Model Maker, and Animators.

“Vehicles are like characters, they have characteristics. Especially Lexus vehicles; they are not only transportation tools, but also a work of art to me. To be able to help build extremely realistic CG Lexus cars sounds very cool, especially as they are the best-selling luxury cars in the United States. I’ve done human characters, cartoon characters, spaceship vehicles, utility vehicles in feature films, and more, but this was a type of project I’ve never done before. I always love to experience new challenges,” said Wang.

The goal was to create realistic CG Lexus cars to express their high performance. This meant that everything had to be exactly the same as the real cars. Wang was up to the task, so he first started doing research and development on rigging setup for cars, watching many videos to find out the details of movement of a race car’s wheels, suspensions, etc. He also had a few meetings with animators to ask them about what needed to be provided. After all that, Wang did not use the auto mastic vehicle setup tool to rig the cars. Instead, he scripted his own procedural Lexus cars rigging tool to provide animators with only a few very intuitive custom controls. He was also able to widely use the ‘Piston’ rigging system that he personally developed previously to fix bugs and improve features to make it a very powerful component in our character technology pipeline. These systems require less setup time and provide institutive and realistic controls for improving the motion of vehicles and many auto parts. On top of all this, Wang also solved wheel spinning motion blur issues to achieve the realistic yet artistic wheel effects. It requires a lot less rig rebuild time when there are model updates for over 10 vehicles. Undoubtedly, the vast technological improvements that Wang implemented saved not only him, but the entire team time, money, and effort.

“I really like the fast pace of this type of project, and the final results are fantastic. The whole production process went super smooth. I also like the different ways of logical thinking to explore and solve various fully mechanical rigging challenges for the vehicle parts,” said Wang.

The commercial series was to promote the 2018 Golden Opportunity Sales event for Lexus. Wang’s work was pivotal to the commercials’ success, and ultimately that of the sale. The company knew they needed someone with his talent, which is why they reached out to him in the first place to take the task. Wang did not take this honor lightly and is extremely happy with the outcome.

“It always feels great to know that our work is helping clients to make more money. I was amazed at how real those cars look, and how beautiful. Even though I work in the industry, if no one told me, I wouldn’t know those were computer generated cars,” he concluded.

Watch the other commercials in the series, “2018 Lexus Golden Opportunity Sales Event: Always in Your Element” and “2018 Lexus Golden Opportunity Sales Event: Higher Standard”.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee
Photo by Shino Tang

Art Director Youjia Qian envisions visual spectacle for viral Roy Woods music video

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Youjia Qian

China’s Youjia Qian sees herself as a very perceptual person. She has always been extremely immersed in music and words. As an art director and stylist, she has the ability to take those things and create a visual for them. Through her work, she combines her original style with the needs and wants of those she collaborates with, turning out masterpieces over and over again.

Qian is best known for her work on a number of acclaimed music videos. These include “Devil in California” by Burna Boy, “Death Wish” by DeathbyRomy, and several hits for Gab3, including “Talking to Me” and “Hollywood Angel” featuring BEXEY. She is one of the leaders in her industry in both her home country and abroad and has no plans on slowing down.

“I think being an art director enables me to effectively communicate what I want to express in my heart and show the more profound feelings in the form of a visual. I want to present what I have seen and what I have learned and experienced through my work,” she said.

Just last year, Qian collaborated with hip hop artist Roy Woods on one of her most renowned projects to date. The music video for the artist’s hit “Say Less” has amassed over four million views on YouTube alone since its debut in November. It was issued WMG (Warner Bros Label); UBEM, Sony ATV Publishing and CAMERA and four other brands.

“Roy Woods is an artist that I truly admire. I started hearing more about him in the music industry after he signed a contract with Drake. There are so many personal emotions in his music and I also feel that I could feel something that he wants to express in his music. Many of my young friends like his music,” said Qian.

Qian was brought onto the project thanks to her good professional relationship with Gab3, who directed the video. Qian has worked on several of Gab3’s music videos, and he knew she was just the right person to help make Roy Woods’ video a hit. The teamwork between the three artists led the video to enormous success.

“It is so exciting that everybody likes our work and I also hope to collaborate with all kinds of artists again in the future. I hope to continue to reach a wide range of audiences and have my work impact many people.,” said Qian.

As the song “Say Less” is filled with emotion, Qian used that to set the tone for the entire music video. To prepare for the shoot, she spent most of her time listening to the song and all of Roy Woods’ music, to understand just what type of artist he is and what he wanted to express in the song. She decided after her research on a color tone of red. The actors in the music video are filtered by this, and it creates a specific mood that fits right in with the song. Gab3 supported her decision and worked closely with Qian during the shoot.

“We had really good communication as a team. I understood what Roy Woods wanted to express in his music, so I could create what he wanted visually, including the color and the switching of lens,” Qian described. “I like his music, which helped me to have a better understanding of his direction in the project. The people that I worked with on this project were great and I felt very comfortable with, which made the work that much more enjoyable.”

Check out the video for “Say Less” and admire Qian’s outstanding work.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee