BE­HIND THE MAGIC

An ex­hi­bi­tion un­veils the secrets be­hind Os­car-win­ning spe­cial ef­fects, Deng Zhangyu re­ports from Wuzhen, Zhe­jiang.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE | FILM -

Wel­come to the fan­tasy land where char­ac­ters from Mid­dle Earth, such as the wizard Gan­dalf, the Elf prince and the Hob­bit Gol­lum, break into an an­cient wa­ter town in East China, to­gether with Dr Grord­bort, with lots of ray guns from the fu­ture world.

An on­go­ing show, The Fu­ture of the Vis­ual Arts, in the small town of Wuzhen in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, presents the mag­i­cal world of The Lord of the Rings, a sci-fi film fran­chise, set in a land­scape with a his­tory of 1,300 years.

It’s aimed to in­spire Chi­nese young peo­ple en­gaged in vis­ual ef­fects of the film in­dus­try, ac­cord­ing to its or­ga­niz­ers, the Weta Work­shop in New Zealand and 421 Stu­dio in China.

Large sculp­tures Weta Work­shop de­signed for The Lord of the Rings and The Hob­bit are dis­played at a silk fac­tory that has been trans­formed into an art zone since 2014. The show con­tin­ues through May.

Gan­dalf the Grey stands at the en­trance of the wa­ter town, with col­or­ful lanterns glit­ter­ing above his head. In the dis­tance, Smaug, a powerful dragon from The Hob­bit films, looks into wooden houses in­hab­ited not by those from the Mid­dle Earth but the lo­cal Chi­nese.

“It’s a good clash with the en­vi­ron­ment,” Richard Tay­lor, co-founder of Weta Work­shop, says of the con­trast be­tween the fu­tur­ist ex­hibits and the old-world charm of Wuzhen.

Weta is known for its in­volve­ment of fran­chises, such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hob­bit, and films like Avatar and King Kong. It de­signed the weapons, ar­mor and the mon­ster of Tao Tie for Chi­nese di­rec­tor Zhang Yimou’s lat­est film, The Great Wall.

The ex­hi­bi­tion con­sists of two parts: the arts and crafts of Weta Work­shop and the world of Dr Grord­bort.

It’s the first time that the Os­car-win­ning com­pany in Welling­ton has held a ret­ro­spec­tive show. It shipped 10 show­cases from its work­shop to un­veil how they work for Hol­ly­wood block­busters. The seven Oscars won by Weta, mostly for vis­ual ef­fects, are also on dis­play.

“All the items are uniquely made for the show, in­clud­ing videos show­ing how we work for sci-fi and fan­tasy films,” says Tay­lor.

Each show­case re­flects what the work­shop’s desks in dif­fer­ent de­part­ments look like, from pros­thet­ics and other props to makeup and col­lectibles.

In re­cent years, Weta Work­shop has been a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for Chi­nese tourists to New Zealand, says Tay­lor. He has even hired two Chi­nese guides in his com­pany to help Chi­nese vis­i­tors un­der­stand how they make vis­ual ef­fects, weapons and ar­mor for films.

The other part of the show is a sci-fi world of Dr Grord­bort cre­ated by writer and artist Greg Broad­more. It has houses to dis­play the store of ray guns used by Grord­bort for in­ter­plan­e­tary ad­ven­tures and wars. From figures, photos, draw­ings, sculp­tures and minia­tures, vis­i­tors can see how the artist cre­ated a sci-fi world.

Dr Grord­bort even­tu­ally will be mar­keted as a mixe­dreal­ity game made by Magic Leap, a US vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy com­pany.

“It’s the first time that the sav­age world of Dr Grord­bort has been shown to the pub­lic on such a big scale,” says Broad­more. He was chased by lots of Chi­nese to au­to­graph sou­venir figures they bought on the open­ing day, Dec 13.

Wang Yong­gang, a visi­tor from South­west China’s Sichuan prov­ince, trav­eled to Wuzhen for the open­ing of the show. He says he was TheFu­ture­oftheVisu­alArts im­pressed by how the artist built an imag­i­nary world in such a de­tailed way. Wang has a stu­dio to de­sign figures and mod­els for films and games.

“They have ma­ture sys­tem to pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. But it’s not the case in China. Once a good de­sign is made, there will be lots of copies and the de­signer can do noth­ing to pro­tect his right,” Wang says, adding that he and his peers need to learn more on how to be cre­ative.

Tay­lor says the show is de­signed to in­spire ex­actly that.

“China is never short of good sto­ries. You can find lots of in­spi­ra­tion from mythol­ogy and cul­ture,” he says.

He adds that one of his fa­vorites is A Chi­nese Ghost Story pro­duced by Hong Kong di­rec­tor Tsui Hark. It was based on Qing Dy­nasty (16441911) writer Pu Songling’s Strange Sto­ries from a Chi­nese Stu­dio.

Co­in­cid­ing with the Wuzhen China, New Zealand jointly work on cre­ative as­pects of film­mak­ing

When Sun Li­jun vis­ited Welling­ton-based Weta Work­shop in New Zealand 10 years ago, he was im­pressed by a prop of a so­phis­ti­cated bow that felt like a real metal bow. The visit thus has pushed the vice-pres­i­dent of Bei­jing Film Academy to work ac­tively on film-re­lated joint projects of China and New Zealand.

In the past few years, the Bei­jing academy has sent stu­dents to work and get trained at Weta Work­shop ev­ery year. The work­shop is known for its pro­duc­tions of props, weapons, makeup and vis­ual ef­fects for film fran­chises like The Lord of the Rings and The Hob­bit.

Sun says China is short of such kind of tal­ent in its film mar­ket. The sit­u­a­tion in China is that they spend a lot on buy­ing soft­ware and sys­tems from Hol­ly­wood, but few are able to make full use of them, re­sult­ing in a big waste and lit­tle change for China’s film pro­duc­tion.

At the open­ing of a vis­ual arts show on Dec 13, in Wuzhen, East China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince, Sun and his peers launched a project to co­op­er­ate with the New Zealand com­pany.

Ev­ery year, they will send some young Chi­nese ea­ger to study the craft at Weta Work­shop, and fund their works.

Richard Tay­lor, the owner of Weta Work­shop, says he has been in China do­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing for Chi­nese movies for eight years.

“We want to work for more Chi­nese movies,” says Tay­lor, adding that his team also has worked with the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Academy of Arts since Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping vis­ited New Zealand in 2014.

Dur­ing Xi’s visit, the pres­i­dent signed with his New Zealand coun­ter­part, John Key, a treaty on co­op­er­a­tion in both the film and TV in­dus­tries.

With na­tional-level sup­port, Weta Work­shop’s an­i­ma­tion se­ries are in­tro­duced to China and many Chi­nese movies and TV programs are filmed on sets in New Zealand.

Sun be­lieves that in the fu­ture, vis­ual-ef­fects pro­duc­tion will be af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble, just as eas­ily as we can use our phone to take good photos, “af­ter we’ve got enough tal­ented peo­ple and learned suf­fi­cient ex­pe­ri­ence from the West”.

Tay­lor says that he saw many good qual­i­ties in Chi­nese stu­dents at his work­shop.

“They’re pas­sion­ate, cre­ative, hard­work­ing and learn quickly,” he says.

Gao Xiang, 30, is the only Chi­nese who now works as a con­cept de­signer at Tay­lor’s work­shop.

He has been there for three years, tak­ing part in some block­buster pro­duc­tions and some­times of­fer­ing good sug­ges­tions.

“Af­ter work­ing over­seas, I have more mo­ti­va­tion to turn to Chi­nese cul­ture for in­spi­ra­tion,” says Gao.

show is the launch of a vis­ual con­cept art fund and a com­pe­ti­tion to find tal­ented young peo­ple and sup­port their work in vis­ual ef­fects for China’s film in­dus­try.

Sun Li­jun, co-founder of the fund and vice-pres­i­dent of Bei­jing Film Academy, says that as China’s film mar­ket is the sec­ond-big­gest in the world, de­mand for vis­ual artists is in­creas­ing.

The prob­lem of the in­dus­try is that peo­ple go to a cin­ema, pay for a ticket for a Chi­nese fan­tasy movie but of­ten end up com­plain­ing about the low qual­ity of vis­ual ef­fects, says Sun.

He hopes to hold such a show and launch the project to in­spire the young and get more peo­ple trained in top vis­ual-ef­fects com­pa­nies, such as Weta.

Con­tact the writer at dengzhangyu@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Vis­i­tors get a close look at the char­ac­ters from fan­tasy films at the show in Wuzhen, Zhe­jiang prov­ince. Vis­ual-ef­fects artists show their skills at a work­shop (above right). The an­cient wa­ter town (be­low) pro­vides a unique back­drop for the fu­tur­ist show.

Hob­bit Gol­lum from The Lord of the Rings films.

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