As demand for special effects for films and TV grows, Chinese studios gear up to give viewers a better experience, Xu Fan reports.
Chinese makers of special effects for films and TV have long struggled with quality issues, according to their critics, but some industry watchers now say positive changes are afoot.
At a recent event in Beijing to launch an unofficial report on the sector, the sponsors— Entgroup, an entertainment-research company, and Illumina, a leading special-effects company — pointed to the growing demand for special effects.
Statistics show that seven of the 10 highest-grossing films in the country’s box-office history were driven by special effects.
Take box-office champion Monster Hunt. Supported by a postproduction team of 600 members, the live-action animated title spent some 175 million yuan ($26.52 million), or 50 percent of its entire budget, on visual effects.
The tomb-digging blockbuster Mojin: The Lost Legend applied digital effects across 1,500 shots, or 90 percent of the 125-minute film, to re-create the magnificent underground world depicted in its namesake novel.
“China’s annual box office increased from 17 billion yuan in 2012 to 44.1 billion yuan in 2015, which provides a ripe financial ground for the development of special effects,” says Xu Fei, co-founder of Illumina.
The Beijing-based company is behind a series of blockbusters with heavy digital effects, such as Tsui Hark’s Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon and Jean-Jacques Annaud’sWolf Totem.
Hou Tao, vice-president of Entgroup, says the fast rise of domestic sci-fi titles will need more local talent. While more than 80 titles in the genre are expected to begin filming this year, the number was insignificant even two years ago.
LiRuigang, chairman of the Statebacked investment firm China Media Capital, says special effects will be widely used by domestic filmmakers in the future.
“Even for non-fantasy films, visual effects are needed to raise the overall picture quality and save costs,” Li told media last week, when announcing CMC’s purchase of a stake in Base FX, a leading studio credited with 20 percent of the visual effects for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Though the sector has come a long way in China in the past few years, an overwhelming number of TV series and films are still under criticism for “50 percent” special effects.
The term, coined by Chinese Internet users, refers to half-baked creative attempts and low-cost postproduction that lead to jarring images on screen.
Xu suggests that Chinese studios should improve their knowledge of special effects.
Usually it takes between 12 and 18 months for work on special effects in Hollywood related to fantasy epics or sci-fi thrillers.
But in China, studios leave relatively lesser time for postproduction, including for effects, after a film has been shot.
Even for non-fantasy films, visual effects are needed to raise the overall picture quality and save costs.”