Tag Archives: Visual Effects

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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Staying Ahead of the Film Industry’s Technological Curve: VFX Artist Tati Leite

VFX Artist
Brazilian VFX Artist Tati Leite

For decades, the film industry has been waging an arms race with no end in sight. In the dark of the theater, ever more elaborate spectacles of cinematic magic shine upon the screen like portals to distant worlds and forgotten times. The popularity of cutting-edge effects among moviegoers has fueled the growth of their use, making them absolutely essential to the success of virtually every blockbuster in modern cinema history. As quickly as audiences are thrilled by the latest magnificent visual feat, however, the bar is raised for all films that follow. As technology and expectations grow exponentially, it falls on visual effects artists like Tati Leite to keep up with our hungry demand to not only see magic, but to believe our eyes when we do.

Leite’s story is one of dedication begetting success. For as long as she can remember she’s been enamored with the way movies use special effects to awe, amaze and inspire audiences to believe the unbelievable. That early fascination stayed with Leite during her time as a computer engineer, a field which demanded and sharpened complex technical skills that would prove invaluable to her career as a visual effects artist.

“I have always been passionate about movies and computer graphics, and visual effects is simply the perfect combination of both worlds,” Leite said. “Ever since I was young, I’ve never missed an opportunity to create videos, learn tools to modify them, create effects, and everything that could be done at the time. I paid attention to all the details of every movie I watched, and I’d watch it over and over to see the effects, the animation and all the aspects that had been introduced to the footage.”

Her years of schooling and experience as a computer engineer gave Leite more than just a leg up when she entered the field of visual effects. As a visual effects artist, most of what she does demands an expertise in computer operations and design that few without her computer science background possess.

“I love to use technology in service of a story,” she explained. “Being able to create visuals that take people’s breath away, even if only for a few seconds, is the most exciting thing about being a VFX artist.”

The spectacular effects Leite creates are never anything shy of breathtaking. Her credits to date are as impressive as they are fitting for an artist of her talent. She’s worked her VFX magic on blockbuster films including 2018’s “Mission Impossible: Fallout” starring Tom Cruise, Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man and The Wasp” starring Paul Rudd, and Disney’s upcoming live action remake of “The Lion King,” starring Donald Glover and coming to theaters in 2019. When it comes to productions like these, with big stars and bigger budgets, studios don’t take chances on unproven talent. Leite is consistently chosen for such high-stakes projects because she’s garnered a reputation for being an effects artist of the highest caliber.

“I think what excites me most about VFX is exactly that race. The challenge of doing something better, faster and differently is something that drives my passion for this industry. It’s not only about art, and not only about technology. It’s this thrilling mix of both that makes me want to become better and push the bar higher and higher,” Leite said, describing the thrill of being on the frontlines of the visual effects arms race. “Working for big budget productions [intensifies] the challenges because not only do we have to do our very best work to get it just right, but we also have to contend with tight deadlines and the pressure to deliver something even better than the last time.”

Grossly oversimplified, Leite’s job is to visualize, design and create the brilliant spectacles which astound ever-more discerning audiences. Her every keystroke is a meticulously calculated marriage between her unrivaled technical abilities and her unbridled imagination.

Her success has been guided every bit as much by her computer engineering experience as it has by her lifelong love of films, comics and games — and the ways they all use visual artistry to immerse their viewers, readers and players.

“My work on the movie ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ has special meaning to me because it was my first Marvel movie,” Leite explained excitedly. “As an old fan, I couldn’t be more glad to be a part of it.”

While her skill as a VFX artist has led her to be tapped to work on some of the year’s most highly anticipated films on a global scale, her love for her craft and her passion for film means Leite doesn’t choose her projects based merely on blockbuster status. She recently edited and led the VFX for the upcoming indie feature film “In Transit” from esteemed Brazilian director Julia Camara (“Open Road,” “Occupants”). Starring Oliver Rayon (“Workaholics”), award-winning actress Kim Burns (“Painless”) and Karina Federico (“Piel Salvaje”) “In Transit” tells the inspiring story of Olga and Daniel, two strangers whose chance encounter while waiting at an airport restaurant for flights to their respective countries change one another’s lives forever.

“In Transit” is yet another film where Leite’s finesse in post-production has proven to be crucial to the success of the production. Camara, who’s earned more than 25 awards for her work, including the Silver Telly Award and the Platinum Award from the European Independent Film Awards, needed a talented VFX artist and editor who spoke both English and Brazilian Portuguese for “In Transit,” and she found just the post-production superhero she was looking for in Leite.

“She was instrumental to the completion of the film… Not many others would have signed on to work on an experimental feature film… In an industry saturated with male editors, working with another woman was so refreshing. She brings her unique world view and sensibilities this industry desperately needs,” explains Camara. “The success of the film is largely due to her contribution to the project.”

With its festival run is just getting under way, “In Transit” has already been chosen as an Official Selection by the Glendale International Film Festival and is slated to screen between October 5 to 13 in Glendale, California.

There was a time when films had a monopoly on visual effects. But over the last two decades another multi-billion dollar industry has emerged, one which has fueled an explosion in demand for visual effects artists with talents like Leite’s. The rise of the video gaming industry seems to have no end in sight, and VFX has become as crucial to this growing field as it is to Hollywood. The largest video game development studios have already begun to compete with film production studios for VFX artists and other talent — as illustrated by Leite’s extensive VFX work within the gaming industry. As blockbuster video games continue to generate billions of dollars for the burgeoning industry, game developers increasingly realize the importance of visual effects artists.

In just a few short decades, the industry has evolved from a niche market of serious gamers to a cultural powerhouse with serious market control. Video and computer games today are far more than mindless entertainment, evidenced by their use in a vast array of educational settings. Working with the award-winning development company 7 Generation Games, Leite has helped create games that serve as interactive learning experiences for children.

This tactile approach to learning has come a long way since the days of iconic classroom games like “Oregon Trail.” Through games like “Aztech,” “Fish Lake” and “Making Camp,” Leite is helping to shape and grow the next generation of curious young minds. Her work has also earned 7 Generation Games the distinction of being named one of Homeschool.com’s Top Back to School Resources, a highly influential accolade in the world of education. The group is also the only U.S.-based firm to be a finalist at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India.

“It’s fantastic that 7 Generation Games has won so many awards, but for me personally, the best award is when I see the kids playing it without even blinking. 7 Generation Games creates educational games, and it’s kind of hard to keep children as interested in them compared to ‘regular’ games,” said Leite, describing the challenge of creating a product that is both informative and engaging to the young audience. “All the awards we won are very gratifying, but seeing kids playing over and over, even though they include math, social studies and learning, is priceless. It’s one of those moments you think, ‘Hm, I think we made something right.’”

In the field of visual effects, knowing the audience is key. Leite has an innate understanding of what audiences and players want to see; for all her immense technical know-how, she never treats the creative process as a formulaic affair. Just as each production is unique and wholly original, so too is her approach to every new challenge that comes her way. Whether she’s working alongside industry effects giants in the Marvel universe or helping young children discover a lifelong love of mathematics and science, Tati Leite is an unrivaled force within an industry that continues to fascinate and captivate imaginations of all ages.

 

China’s Aaron Wei on the importance of VFX and living his dream

Avatar, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings. It isn’t difficult for cinephiles to think of how visual effects broadened their minds, transforming their favorite films and making the impossible, possible. In modern entertainment, it is an essential part of the filmmaking process, often in the most unobvious ways, cleaning up blemishes that makeup cannot, or adding a pivotal piece into the background.

“VFX visualizes the idea and surreal environment the writer has in mind. It enables so many possibilities, empowering the film production. VFX is the most direct way to translate the idea to the viewers. It is just stunning, period,” said Aaron Wei, Senior Compositor.

Wei is celebrated in both his home country of China and the United States for his work in Visual Effects. Using his skills to help make projects like The Americans, Unbreakable Kimmy SchmidtShades of Blue, and Gypsy the successes they have become, millions around the world have seen Wei’s work, and often didn’t even know it. He strives to make his work unidentifiable and natural, knowing that it will help audiences feel fully immersed in the story.

“Aaron is a passionate and talented artist. His enthusiasm and perseverance was evident in his approach to each project,” said Eran Dinur, Visual Effects Supervisor.

In addition to movies and TV shows, Wei enjoys using his skills on commercials. Companies like Toyota and Smart Car have benefitted from his artistic knowledge, and he loves being able to see his work on a YouTube ad or national television screens, which is just what working on commercials offers on a regular basis.

In China, Wei has worked with industry leading companies, like Canon. In 2013, he worked on the camera company’s commercial. He knew that for such a popular company, he had to ensure every shot was perfect so not to damage their reputation and to draw consumers to the product.

“We needed to composite a Canon camera bag on the model’s shoulder. The work was done by another artist, but I found the shadow casted by the bag put on her was not convincing. Then I took over, looked very closely at the real shadow on her clothes and creatively painted the shadow for the bag. Because I was trained as a painter for a long time, this task was not very difficult for me, but could be very challenging for others,” said Wei.

Wei also worked on a unique project titled The Soul of Dance to promote the work of the Tang Hui Studio Department back in China. It was creative work for building the company’s image, like an experimental lab.

“It’s like there’s no limit of what we can do. No clients’ requirement and no official deadline, it’s like a dream position. This project was one of many I have done in the studio,” said Wei.

Rather than using video editing software, Wei worked in Photoshop, using filters to create each key frame for the video, and then did the final assembling in After Effects. This approach was unconventional, but it worked. Even years later HuiTu image showcases this video as their iconic work in the company’s history.

Undoubtedly, Wei has had an extraordinary career, with many exciting projects lined up. For those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers the following advice:

“Make sure you understand what the career you are heading into entails. I have seen people complaining about the job, saying things like ‘I don’t want to face the computer all day long in a dark room.’ Yes, that’s exactly what your life will end up being, so make sure you are okay with that. Understand your passion and personality. Before you pick up this job, do some research on the different departments in this industry. There are CG artists, producers, compositors, technical directors, creative directors, and so many more. You may excel better in one concentration than another,” he advised. “But most importantly, love what you do, and try harder. You may be asked to execute an idea that you do not necessarily agree with, and you may strongly believe your idea is better, but you have to give the higher-level executive what they want. You can certainly bring your idea up, but in the end, you are doing whatever your clients ask for, and they are always right.”

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.