Tech base to boost vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects mar­ket

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - Huangy­ing@chi­

More eyes are turn­ing from Hol­ly­wood to China’s film in­dus­try vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects, as the de­mand con­tin­ues to grow rapidly. Still, Chi­nese VFX teams are com­par­a­tively at an early stage of devel­op­ment.

Most Chi­nese big-bud­get movies rou­tinely hire over­seas teams or com­pa­nies to work on the VFX part rather than hire do­mes­tic coun­ter­parts. The Tak­ing of Tiger Moun­tain, a film by Hong Kong direc­tor Tsui Hark, re­leased in De­cem­ber, has been a suc­cess, tak­ing 881 mil­lion yuan ($143.9 mil­lion) in box of­fice re­ceipts. The pro­ducer, how­ever, hired a South Korean VFX team to work on the film’s tiger scenes.

“The movie vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects sec­tor is still in the ini­tial stage, where chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties co­ex­ist, as can be in­di­cated by the fast-grow­ing box of­fice re­ceipts in the coun­try,” said Zhang Ge­dong, vice-pres­i­dent of the School of An­i­ma­tion and Dig­i­tal Arts at the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Uni­ver­sity of China.

China’s na­tional box of­fice surged by 36.15 per­cent year-onyear to 29.6 bil­lion yuan last year, ac­cord­ing to the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Press, Pub­li­ca­tion, Ra­dio, Film and Tele­vi­sion.

The rosy box of­fice per­for­mance of some Chi­nese movie pro­duc­tions with vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects in them in re­cent years also have pro­vided a shot in the arm for this sec­tor, said Zhang.

Driven by the de­mand to pro­duce higher qual­ity movies with ex­cel­lent VFX con­tent, dur­ing the fifth Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in April, a movie vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects industrial base was set up by CITIC Guoan In­vest­ment Co Ltd and New Bridge Me­dia USA. The base is aimed at cre­at­ing a plat­form where ex­cel­lent Hol­ly­wood VFX artists and lead­ing tech­nol­ogy are in­tro­duced to serve the fast-grow­ing Chi­nese film in­dus­try, as well as train­ing the in­ter-dis­ci­plinary VFX tal­ents that could do the part of the work that will be glob­ally ac­cepted and ad­mired.

Sev­eral renowned Hol­ly­wood VFX su­per­vi­sors and artists are in col­lab­o­ra­tion with this base, in­clud­ing Tom DeSanto, the writer and pro­ducer be­hind some of the big­gest fran­chises in movie his­tory, such as X-Men and Trans­form­ers; Joel Hynek, a vis­ual ef­fects artist in Hol­ly­wood who has been nom­i­nated for Best Vis­ual Ef­fects for the Academy Awards a cou­ple of times; and Jeff Kleiser, a well-known vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor in Hol­ly­wood, who has worked on Tron, X-Men, Fan­tas­tic Four and Jet Li’s The One.

Although they haven’t re­ally talked about the specifics, Hynek said, “I think my role would be to help or to teach Chi­nese stu­dents, pro­fes­sion­als how to ap­peal to an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, which is sim­i­lar to what I have done in In­dia, teach­ing them how to make their movies more West­ern, more global”.

Speak­ing of the dif­fer­ence be­tween West­ern and Asian movies, Hynek said, “In gen­eral, West­ern movies are more lin­ear — the way they tell a story, from start to end, it flows, while Asian movies seem to jump around a bit in how they tell the story, like dif­fer­ent the movie art, and it is get­ting more and more in­te­grated with the story struc­ture, film edit­ing and style of cine­frame, Zhang said.

Over the years, film­mak­ers’ in­ad­e­quate at­ten­tion to the post­pro­duc­tion of a film al­ways leads the work in vis­ual spe­cial ef­fects to be pretty hard and counter-pro­duc­tive, as they won’t take the VFX part into ac­count be­fore and while shoot­ing.

The suc­cess in both box of­fice and rep­u­ta­tion of The Tak­ing of Tiger Moun­tain had a lot to do with its direc­tor’s tak­ing VFX se­ri­ously.

Be­sides at­tach­ing enough im­por­tance to the VFX work for Chi­nese moviemak­ers, the tal­ent cul­ti­va­tion also holds a cru­cial spot for the whole in­dus­try.

“The pur­pose of us set­ting up this base is not limited to serve the film­mak­ing, as we hope that it could be a sup­ple­ment to the uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion in a prac­ti­cal way,” said Qu Jian­ping, pres­i­dent of Guoan New Bridge (Bei­jing) Me­dia In­vest­ment Co Ltd, who’s also vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor of Bei­jing Film Academy.

When the base has got film projects to work on, it will give pri­or­ity to se­lected stu­dents cho­sen by uni­ver­si­ties and the Hol­ly­wood ad­vi­sors to par­tic­i­pate in th­ese projects, giv­ing them the chance to prac­tice and im­prove in real movie projects, Qu said, adding that peo­ple who are tal­ented and skilled in this field but from out­side aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions also have the ac­cess.

The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Uni­ver­sity of China has also made some at­tempts in bet­ter sat­is­fy­ing the mar­ket de­mand for tal­ents.

“The largest para­dox in the ed­u­ca­tion is that VFX is a dy­namic con­cept, while the ma­jor is static. Prob­a­bly af­ter our stu­dents fin­ished the cour­ses, the re­lated con­cepts are al­ready ob­so­leted,” said Cui Yun­peng, direc­tor of dig­i­tal art at the School of An­i­ma­tion and Dig­i­tal Arts at the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Uni­ver­sity of China.

Qu added that part of the train­ing plan of the new base is to trans­port ex­cel­lent Chi­nese uni­ver­sity stu­dents who speak flu­ent English to stu­dios or uni­ver­si­ties in the US.

The op­por­tu­nity to get in­volved in a real movie project is pre­cious, not only for uni­ver­sity stu­dents, but for do­mes­tic VFX com­pa­nies as well. As a ma­jor­ity of do­mes­tic VFX stu­dios don’t have the chance to par­tic­i­pate in such projects, they just keep work­ing on low-end projects, thus be­ing beaten by over­seas teams eas­ily.

“The cost of me hir­ing peo­ple in the US is too high. If I can get the tal­ent in China to do the whole shot for me at a bet­ter price than I can do in the US, I can part­ner with them, and it only makes sense for me to do that,” said Kleiser.

“But the im­por­tant thing is that or­ga­ni­za­tions like this or other schools de­velop higher lev­els of ca­pa­bil­ity, so com­pa­nies like mine would say I want to work with the Chi­nese com­pany be­cause they have a higher skill set,” he added.

“Pro­grams like this base el­e­vate the level of the tal­ent on av­er­age. Chi­nese artists are ab­so­lutely go­ing to be ben­e­fi­cial both for the Chi­nese an­i­ma­tion vis­ual ef­fects mar­ket and the global mar­ket, be­cause we’re able to do more work of bet­ter qual­ity at a lower price, which is all pro­duc­ers look for,” said Kleiser.



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