Graphic Designer Bruna Imai honors veterans with award-winning SYFY campaign

As a graphic designer, Bruna Imai takes a simple idea and turns it into a visual masterpiece. She finds the aesthetic that best suits each project and the most appropriate way to communicate a message with all its potential.

“All kinds of art, music, literature, film, dance, etc. – has its own language, and the role of the designer is to interpret these arts and translate one “language” to another. Any art is about telling a story, a message. I’m a storyteller specialized in the visual language, and I use elements like illustrations, photographs, objects, movies, animation, motion and so on to tell a story,” she said.

It is exactly this attitude toward her craft that has made Imai an industry leading graphic designer. She is known for her contributions to several acclaimed campaigns, including IFC’s “No Brainer” commercial spot, Coca-Cola’s “Coke On” commercial, FIFA’s Women’s World Cup on Fox Sports, and STATE Design’s Statement. Her work has gone on to receive several awards from the most prestigious advertising agencies and awards around the world.

Another award-winning project for Imai was the 2015 SYFY Veteran’s Day campaign. The project was about a holiday spot for SYFY Network to produce a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to the nation’s veterans. In addition to appearing on televisions all over the country, Imai’s work was also seen online. Parts of the animation were used as the opening and ending of “thank you” videos, featured in many motion graphics related sites.

Imai’s graphic design work led the project to immense success. Not only was it popular with viewers and online, but it took home several prestigious advertising awards. The project won the Channel Holiday/Special Event Spot at PromaxDBA 2016, the most important awards in entertainment marketing and design.

“I am still so happy this campaign was so successful, especially because it shows that all the trust that was placed in me was deserved. I was happy not only with the reaction from the public, but also happy about my performance, knowing that I could make something really interesting,” she said.

Imai had two main roles for this project, the storyboard, which involved transforming the script into the first sketches, and the layout, which she was solely responsible for. The project follows a color palette based on the United States flag and yellow light to add a warmth tone to the message. The entire process was done digitally in Photoshop. Imai received the script from the studio with some images they would like to use – the veterans carrying the flag, the eagle flying and a field of flags, plus some typography references of types and illustrations mixed up. She began sketching thumbnail studies and soon, the storyboard was ready.

As they were working on a tight timeline, Imai came up with the pivotal idea of most of the animation efforts into bold transitions and keeping the layouts simple but captivating in most scenes. She conceptualized the designs, especially the transitions in the theme of “freedom”, representing it with elements of “air”, which audiences can see in the flight of an eagle, the movement of the flag and leaves being carried by the wind. The illustrations were finished with a broad brush and sketchy edges to emphasize this movement and flow, making the animation finalization process easier.

“This project was a very challenging one and wouldn’t be possible to do on time without the studio’s trust in my work, giving me creative freedom. I loved working on a project that I could use my full potential as a designer. Also, the communication with the studio during the project was excellent, and is what made me feel like being part of the team. It would have been impossible to deliver this result without our good relationship,” she said.

As the sole designer for the project, Imai was vital to the Veteran’s Day campaign’s success. She expedited the process, considering the design and transitions even in the process of storyboarding. Because of her talents as a storyboard artist, she also saved the company money in doing multiple roles. Her versatility and vast understanding of her craft is unparalleled. For those looking to follow in her footsteps, she offers encouraging words of wisdom.

“There is a tendency for students to focus on learning the software and tools, but it is essential to study academic subjects of art and design to be able to do a solid project with cohesion. When you study theory, you learn how to “see” images and references. It is a study of how to analyze critically and technically a designer’s choice,” she advised. “Also, I would say to feed on various types of references, not just graphic design. There are so many languages of art in so many senses! Music, dance, photography, movies, sculpture, literature, gastronomy, performing, folk art, everyday experiences and so on. Just as languages are translatable from one to another, all kinds of artistic expression and experiences are translatable between them. We can see a great example illustrating this “translation” in the film Ratatouille, in the part in which the characters describe the flavors of the strawberry and cheese in graphical forms. I believe that it’s essential to be the professional who can see and navigate between different languages, have a fresh mind that continues to play and to experiment.”

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Abou Traore Makes a Name For Himself in A Performance Sport Akin to Magic

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Abou Traore shot by Inaeei

While many of us have seen famous soccer players break into dance in celebration of a hard earned goal on the field or a breakdancer who weaves a few ball tricks into their act, the idea of a performance sport that intertwines soccer skills and dance at a professional level is relatively new. Those in the know refer to it as ‘Freestyle Football,’ and former Guinean soccer player Abou Traore is among the top performers in this amazing discipline.

Regardless of whether he’s performing for street crowds or in front of the audiences of thousands of people attending Luzia, the hit international Cirque Du Soleil show he’s performed with since 2016, Abou Traore moves with flawless style, stamina and grace, and the smile never once leaves his face.

After spending a decade playing soccer semi-professionally for the clubs ES Parisienne, MFC Montrouge, Paris FC and Paris Saint Germain, Abou took his soccer ball to the streets in 2011 and began experimenting with a new style of performance art. Blending his athleticism and technical soccer skills with fluid movement, dance and astonishing choreography, Abou’s innovative freestyle football performances quickly turned him into an international celebrity.

Though being chosen as a lead performer in the mesmerizing Cirque Du Soleil show Luzia has undoubtedly put Abou in the spotlight, his groundbreaking talent had begun earning extensive attention well before he joined the show.

Some of the tricks that have made Abou so exciting to watch are his signature moonwalk move, where he glides across the floor with the ball on his head, and his windmill trick, which is inspired by the eponymous breakdance move, but brings the added difficulty of gripping a soccer ball between his flexed foot and shin– only to move it around to other parts of his body as he flows through the move. Take a look at the video here to see Abou’s windmill trick in action.

When asked what gets audiences most excited, Abou says “It is when I mix breakdance moves with the ball. “Every time the audience is wowed because they don’t think it’s possible. Some people think I have glue on my feet to hold the ball, so I did it barefoot to prove it.”

From the moment Abou began performing on the streets, fans couldn’t get enough of him; and they made sure to spread the word through social media. With onlookers around the world capturing countless live videos of Abou working his magic, his profile rose exponentially.

In 2013 the social media buzz around Abou landed him his first “professional” job when the entertainment company Brazil Fever discovered him through a YouTube video. They signed Abou on as a part of the act and he began performing at high-profile events across France as a lead member of the Brazilian Samba performance troupe. At the same time, he was consistently being invited to perform regularly on major television shows airing across multiple continents alongside his brother Iya Traore, who is another key figure in the discipline of freestyle football.

Becoming a celebrated figure on the small screen, Abou wowed German audiences when he performed on the popular RTL TV series “Unschlagbar” aka “Unbeatable,” a challenge series that earned No. 1 ratings and averaged 3.89 million viewers per episode. Japan got a taste of his impressive skill when he performed on Nippon TV, and his presence in France grew even more when he was invited to perform on NRJ12’s hit series “Le Mag.”

Moving from performing for street crowds to international audiences through major televised events, Abou’s journey is a rare and inspiring success story. Since 2016 he has continued to impress audiences across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico with his agility and magnetic stage presence through his performances in over 700 shows with Luzia. He even performed in front of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and last year he was invited to speak at Google about the show.

Inspired by rich Mexican culture, Luzia weaves elements of light (luz) and rain (lluvia) into it’s succession of highly stylized acts, and when Abou takes the stage, audiences know something special is coming. The only performer on stage at the beginning of the act, Abou playfully moves around with his soccer ball revealing a little sliver of his skill.

He says, “The audience is very interested because at first, there is no music, and they are not ready to see football in a Cirque show.”

He is then joined by football freestyler Laura Biondo. Together, the two performers enact a scene of a boy and girl playing ball in the street, each inspiring one another to push their skills further, followed by their solo performances. A soundtrack of laughter and children’s voices plays in the background, and a palpable feeling of wonder and joyful innocence is felt as they move across the stage. The 38th show that Cirque Du Soleil has put on since 1984, Luzia has received rave reviews.

In promotion of the show, Abou has performed live on the Toronto morning show “Breakfast Television,” FOX 31 News in Denver, Colorado, “The Late Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, Access Hollywood Live, and more. He’s also been featured in a plethora of popular newspapers and online platforms including Montreal’s Metro, The Chicago Tribune, The Globe and Mail, The Orange County Register, Redmond Reporter, 303 Magazine, and countless others.

Since the beginning of human history there has been a drive to use performance as a means of expression and a way to unite communities, and that’s no different today. Right when we think that we’ve innovated as far as we can, someone like Abou Traore breaks onto the scene and shows us something completely new and previously unimaginable. Though it is safe to say that most people around the world probably didn’t know much about this performance discipline prior to Abou Traore’s arrival on the scene, with all the attention he’s received from media outlets across the globe for his powerful performances over the last few years, he’s turned freestyle football into something that is now recognizable on a global scale.

Writer and Director Claire Leona Apps takes showcases the Great North Run in acclaimed film

Writing has always come naturally to Claire Leona Apps. She loves telling stories and loves how they serve society; they can teach us and warn us, they can entertain while serving a greater purpose. A good story can create conversation and express ideas that help us relate to new points of view. It’s a powerful tool, and Apps understands that. Her passion for storytelling translates directly into her work as both a screenwriter and a director, from the words she puts down on a page to the way she puts it together in front of a camera, and she captivates worldwide audiences with films.

Apps is an in-demand writer and director, with a series of decorated projects highlighting her esteemed resume. These include her acclaimed films Gweipo, Aceh Recovers, Ruminate, and And Then I Was French. She is known for her ability to showcase the lives of underrepresented characters and bring a dark sense of humour to a story.

“I try not to get so caught up on the real world with my work. I have to deal with that every day anyway. I like a little surrealism, a little irony, and films that are a little self-aware,” she said.

That is exactly the message Apps puts out with her film Girl Blue Running Shoe. The film follows the daughter of a runner participating in the Bupa Great North Run as she makes a film as he trains and runs the race. The film begins calmly with a serene domestic set-up, building pace as the race begins, cutting between the training day and the marathon. At points which demonstrate the intensity of running, a special zoetrope effect is used, breaking down the movement of running into paused actions, reflecting the rhythm of the action – the steady thumping of shoes on gravel, a beating heart, breathing. The piece is shot solely on Super 8, edited to emulate both the excitement of the daughter as an observer and the adrenaline of the participator. With a soundtrack of enhanced natural noises, Girl Blue Running Shoeis an evocative celebration of the human body whilst also telling the simple story of a father-daughter relationship.

“It’s a story about loving and sharing in the experiences of the people you love. It also dissects the movements of running,” said Apps. “Usually I do pretty dark things. It was nice to do something that ended up in a children’s film festival line up. It’s nice to just show love, simple straight forward love between a father and daughter,” she said.

Apps wrote the story and pitched it to the British Arts Council to commission the film. When she got the commission, she immediately began directing, coming up with a new camera technique for the film. The story has two components. One is a daughter watching her father run the race. He is doing his hobby, running, and she is doing hers, filmmaking. She films him running on a Super 8 camera. Therefore, as the director, Apps decided to shoot the whole film on Super 8 cameras. This truly allowed audiences to immerse themselves in the girl’s point of view. Apps also had the idea to use the sprocket holes of the physical film and the division between the different pictures to create a zoetrope like film effect. She did this all by hand: slowing the footage down and cranking it through a projector to be re-filmed.

Shooting took place at the Great North Run in Newcastle, England, one of the biggest half marathons in the world. This presented a unique challenge for Apps, who had to shoot a fictional story around a live marathon. Therefore, the actual shoot was extremely fast. She had to make quick decisions to deal with whatever came their way. There were roads shut off, spectators everywhere, and of course the runners themselves, and they had to move all around them with a child actress.

“The hardest thing about this project was finding the right kid to play the lead. It is a large ask to have a child give you full energy for a few hours of extreme intensity, but Adrianna Bertola, who played the lead, was a dream,” said Apps.

The film premiered on BBC during the Great North Run the following year. It went on to be at the Great North Museum for an exhibition. It was also an Official Selection at the Cork International Film Festival. The success was wonderful for Apps, as the shoot was a chaotic and fun experience.

Now, Apps is currently working on another feature film. She is a truly exceptional filmmaker, engaging viewers of all ages, which is evident with her work on Girl Blue Running Shoe. She knows the key to her success is working hard, and she encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to do the same.

“Prepare yourself for a lot of hard work and don’t expect anyone to discover you. We live in a world at the moment where you can generate a lot of attention by yourself and you can make films on your phone. Make something and keep going,” she advised.

Understanding the pressure of a prime-time commercial slot with Elena Ioulianou

When esteemed producer, Elena Ioulianou looks at a concept for a content piece, she sees far more than ideas. Rather, Ioulianou sees a variety of puzzle pieces begging to be carefully and considerately weighed amongst each other, searching for the perfect fit. She picks up each piece, rotating and shifting it to ensure that she maximizes its potential and places it in the spot that is going to bring forth a masterpiece. With that, Ioulianou has earned a reputation for her ability to arrange all elements of a film in such a way that leave it destined for success. From budgets and costings, to props and plot lines, Ioulianou involves herself in all aspects of a project in order to ensure that no page goes unturned, no budget goes unbalanced, and no script is left with anything less than the greatness it deserves.

During her time as a producer, Ioulianou has tested her hand at a number of different areas in the arts and entertainment industry. She has set her efforts toward commercials, online advertisements, and digital content production, as well as films, television shows, webseries, and much more. At the mere age of 30, she has worked with several media moguls such as Reel Edge Studios and Milk & Honey Films. What she may lack for in decades of experience, she makes up for in raw talent and determination. In turn, she produces exceptional content in a profession that is more competitive than ever before. With the addition of social media and the current state of our world’s digital realm, Ioulianou must ensure that she is familiar with the latest trends and technology available for use in her field and with that, she must find a way to appeal to her clients’ needs without compromising the need to keep with the times.

The vast majority of production work that Ioulianou has conducted has taken place in her birthplace, South Africa and her work has taken her all over the world. One of her most notable employment tenures emerged when she earned herself a position working for Executive Producer, Herman Venter, and Director, Harold Holscher, for brands such as Buco Hardware, LandRover, and Marriot Insurance alongside Rolling Thunder Productions. In fact, she produced a LandRover commercial that earned Rolling Thunder a nomination as a finalist in the 2016 Lories Awards.

Ioulianou began working for Rolling Thunder Productions in 2014 when Venter and Holscher approached her to join their team after hearing of her work with Reel Edge Studios and MoviWorld. For the three aforementioned companies, Ioulianou produced six extremely successful commercials and her reputation continues to strengthen as word spreads about these projects today.

After experiencing Ioulianou in her element, Holscher and Venter were blown away.

“Without exception, every client commented on the smoothness of the execution and the professional delivery which was on time and precisely what they had envisioned. Elena is so widely noted throughout the industry for her work and what continues to amaze me during our collaborations is her ability to take an extremely limited budget and still be able to identify resources that result in an extraordinary final product every single time,” said Holscher.

For LandRover, in particular, Ioulianou was tasked with producing a series of three, 30-second commercials to air on Supersport on DSTV during the Rugby World Cup. Imaginably, only the highest quality commercials would be fortunate enough to earn air time during such a popular event and this meant that Ioulianou’s work was more than cut out for it. She rose to the challenge and credits her logistical precision as being the main reason that the success of this project was even possible.

Similarly, for Buco Hardware, Ioulianou had her work cut out for her when having to manage a choreographed piece incorporating twenty-five amateur dancers from different backgrounds, age cohorts, and more. To make matters more difficult, this had to be achieved in one cinematic tracking shot through a hardware store. Under time and budgetary constraints, Ioulianou did what she does best and ensured, once again, that this project was a true success for the clients.

For other aspiring producers out there who find themselves dreaming of one day ending up being producers and creatives she had the following advice to offer:

“The difficulties of getting started and having a fear that the opinions of others, especially those in positions of power or those that have been in the industry for longer, are right or worth more than yours. This is something I deal with on a daily basis. Different roads can lead to the same destination. Just start.”

Actor Missy Malek Is Equally at Ease on Screen and Stage

Though essentially still in the initial phase of her professional film career, British actor Missy Malek has already distinguished herself as a capable technician and talented artist, one who inhabits each role with a masterly combination of skill and instinct. Whether it’s a gritty drama or action-adventure comedy, she deftly crafts persuasive, tangible characters imbued with the full spectrum of nuance and emotion.

Malek is a natural born performer, one who never doubted the direction of her career path. “From when I was as young as three, I’ve literally always known that I would pursue acting,” Malek said. “It was just always what I was going to do, there was never even any question about it.”

From her youthful start in school plays, Malek was hooked. “I always liked performing and getting attention as a kid,” Malek said with a laugh. “And I started to do it outside school when I was 14—I joined the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. My parents weren’t really that keen on me getting an agent or being a child actor. I think they realized how serious I was about it when I was 18 and still wanted to act.”

The prestigious National Youth Theatre, whose alumni include the distinguished likes of Ben Kingsley and Daniel Day-Lewis, was a critical proving ground for Malek. Steeped in the almost mystical combination of technique, emotion and stagecraft which British theater is world renown for, the naturally skilled Malek gained an illimitable trove of insight and knowledge. Playing in classic works by Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Bertolt Brecht and studying drama and philosophy at Oxford University, Malek plunged headlong in the profession.

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Following that ambitious onstage start Malek immediately began working in feature films, making her debut in the taut urban drama Anti-Social and following that with a role in Now You See Me 2, sequel to the popular same-titled 2013 heist-thriller

“It was really different to anything I’d ever experienced,” Malek said. “I was a teenager and so excited to have my own trailer! I got to do scenes with actors like Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson, whose acting I’ve actually studied. The whole experience was just really fun, as you’d probably imagine for a young actor on their first big film set. The director, Jon M. Chu, was great to work with, he has so much clarity and makes his choices with such conviction. I am so happy for him and everything he’s gone on to achieve.”

Malek made the transition from performing for live audiences to the on-set environment with characteristic verve. “The fact that I’ve been acting in film after being in theatre plays wasn’t a conscious decision,” Malek said. “It just happened to be the case that everything I got booked for was screen work. I will definitely go back to the stage when the opportunity to do a good role comes along.”

The ambitious Malek has a comprehensive grasp on cinematic form, with an acclaimed, award-winning short, Laughing Branches, which she wrote, produced, directed and starred in (earning the IndieFEST Film Awards Award of Excellence for her performance) and she recently completed her third feature assignment

“We just wrapped production on a film called Tala,” Malek said. “It’s a comedy that sort of makes fun of the art world and deals with cultural appropriation in a pretty funny way. I play the title character, a socially awkward artist named Tala who is trying to get in with people in the art world, but she’s seen as racially different by the other characters in the film, so they’re all trying to culturally place her. I can’t really say too much, but it’s very original and unique.”

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With a fast-moving career and steadily rising professional profile, Malek radiates an appealing aura of self-assured enthusiasm, and whether she’s playing in live theater or shooting a movie, it’s clear her greatest achievements are soon to come.

“I love both forms,” Malek said. “What I think is nice about film work is that it’s always there—you have a piece of work you’ve done that you can always show. With stage, it disappears as soon as you’ve done it, but I guess that’s the beauty of it.”

 

Drumming with Destiny: Sick Mystic’s Zhenya Prokopenko’s Musical Journey to Success

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Drummer Zhenya Prokopenko shot by Andrey Ivlev

You may know him as the unmistakably fierce drummer from the Californian rock band Sick Mystic, but Zhenya Prokopenko is also a world class producer and songwriter, with 25 years of experience recording, performing and touring. One of the biggest and most in-demand musicians in Russia and Ukraine, it’s hard to believe that he could have had a very different career path had the fates not stepped in.

He was born in Belgorod, Russia in 1983, and despite excelling in his percussion classes at school, Zhenya Prokopenko didn’t choose to be a drummer – drumming chose him. At the tender age of 11, he had a date with destiny and unwittingly joined a neighbourhood band on the premise that he would simply remain “devoted” to the band. The rest, as they say, is history…

“They didn’t have a drummer yet. No one in the band was a decent musician, so requirements for me were minimal, just agree and be devoted,” Prokopenko recalled. “But we were all so inspired by the idea of our own band that everyone started taking lessons in order to play their instruments. We started to practice and rehearse regularly playing cover songs of our favorite bands and composing our own music.”

Rocking out to cover songs in the dank and unglamorous surroundings of a garage are where all the greats start – and Prokopenko followed in the footsteps of some of the greatest musicians of all. Having gone on to play with some of the best known acts within the two countries, including Quest Pistols, 4POST, Libido, Velvet and Lera Lera, lovers of pop rock music throughout Russia and Ukraine will immediately recognize him as one of today’s great drummers.

Music was always prevalent in the Prokopenko household. While his parents were more into pop music, the moment he discovered the spine-tingling riffs of Metallica, his true passion for rock music came out giving him a direction in which to build his own skill.

He says, “As I got older I was introduced to hard rock and heavy metal music. I remember the moment when I listened to the CD ‘And Justice For All’ by Metallica and realized that was my kind of music as it had lots of power, energy and a strong vibes.”

With undeniable passion for rock music, Prokopenko worked hard to perfect his skill on the drums at an early age, which has endowed him with a powerful, punchy, and solid groove based playing style.

“Drums were my first and the only true love. Of course as I was training and growing as a musician I learned other instruments, but drums for me are forever and ever,” Prokopenko admits.

“The first thing you hear when you listen to any modern track is a drum beat. You just can’t miss it. It’s powerful, loud and beautiful to me. When I was young I was always attracted to the magic a drummer creates. It was absolutely incredible to me how they play. I was much more interested in the drummer than the frontman.”

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Zhenya Prokopenko shot by Sergey Naumov

Regardless of his intentions to blend into the background however, the spotlight seems to have followed him, and the recognition too. As the drummer of a number of celebrated bands over the past two decades, Prokopenko has accrued an illustrious reputation as a sought after drummer. In 2009 he was chosen to be the drummer for the band Lera Lera, the solo project from famous actress and singer Valeria Kozlova, who become an teen icon as a member of the massively popular Russian pop rock bands Ranetki and 5sta Family.

“When we were creating the project Lera Lera, we had been looking for musicians who would be able to be a star along with the frontman. Zhenya fully met the criteria,” said Lera Lera tour manager Yuri Fedorov.  “Filigree precision and very spectacular technique of musicianship, the whole appearance and unique charisma made him a special part of the show. He’s like Tommy Lee or Kate Moon in that sense.”

With Prokopenko by her side, Kozlova was named Singer of the Year by RU.TV in 2010, and in 2011 Lera Lera was awarded the Gold Bravo Statue. At the same time Prokopenko was also serving as a key member of the band Velvet, a pop rock act that would go on to earn major celebrity status in Russia. Spending 27 weeks on the Russian Radio charts where it held onto the No.1 spot with a firm grip, the song ‘Forgive’ would earn them a Golden Gramophone Award, as well as a Best Song Award nomination at the MUZ TV Awards. The awards continued to roll in for Prokopenko.

Not one to stay idle, Prokopenko added another act to his name when he joined the band 4POST in 2011. Maintaining a recognizable position in the spotlight, while playing with 4POST Prokopenko and the band were nominated for Best New Band at the RU.TV Awards and Best Pop Rock Band at the Real Music Box Awards. Quickly becoming celebrities on a global scale, 4POST proved to be a tough contender in the national qualifying competition to represent Russia in the Eurovision Song Contest where they earned 6th place, and InStyle magazine would later award them a Royal People Award for the work organizing charity concerts for the youth in Russia.

One career highlight Prokopenko has under his belt, that few others in the world can claim, is having the honor of playing at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi with his drum show Drum Cast alongside Russian celebrity Mitya Fomin. Fast forward to 2018 and Propenko is now devoting all of his time and energy into his new project in the states, the alternative rock band Sick Mystic.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Sick Mystic sprung up in 2016 with the promise of delivering original music and excellent sound, and they have definitely not disappointed their growing fanbase. The band may be new to the music scene, but what they lack in history they make up for with their unrivalled potential and drive – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed either as their promo tracks have already received a lot of positive feedback. To top it off, their social media interest is growing by the second, ‘Music Connection’ magazine has raved about the band, and they will even get their chance to shine on the Frosty, Heidi and Frank show on 95.5 KLOS. But perhaps most excitingly of all, Sick Mystic is releasing a brand new album, and they’re currently planning their US tour for next year. Needless to say 2019 is going to be huge for Sick Mystic and Zhenya Prokopenko, so keep your ears tuned to the music.

 

Visual Effects Artist Jie Meng is living his childhood dream

One of Jie Meng’s most distinctive childhood memories is watching The Lord of the Rings movies for the first time. After watching the first film, he was left speechless. Not only were these movies entertaining, but also artistic masterpieces. He began watching the films over and over again, constantly overcome by the magnitude of the stunning visual effects. He realized, even at that young age, that filmmaking could make fantasy a reality, and that was when he knew he had to be a part of that world.

Now, Meng is an in demand Visual Effects Artist. He is known for his work on countless films, including Avengers: Infinity War, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and more. His talents extend to television, such as The Americans, and Freaky Friday, as well as video games, like Quake Champions and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

“I worked with Jie on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIand later on Captain America: Civil War.

Jie is a talented FX artist. He strives to create the highest level of quality and is constantly pushing himself to learn new techniques, either independently or from the team around him. He listens to positive feedback and can build FX setups and tools that are used by multiple artists. This makes him extremely productive, a pleasure to work with and I hope to work with him again in the future.” said Peter Claes, FX supervisor and Lead VFX artist at The Mill.

Captain America: Civil War was Meng’s first true taste of movie blockbuster success with his work. The film, the third Captain America movie and the 13thof the Avengers franchise, grossed over $1 billion at the box office. It was nominated for 17 awards at various festivals and award shows and took home five. Meng worked tirelessly to make this a possibility.

“It was a huge pleasure and honor working on this film. The success made me think of those days when I devoted myself to the work, and now I realize that all my efforts paid off,” said Meng.

The movie sees the beloved Captain America pitted against Iron Man due to political differences. A vast array of Avengers appear throughout the film, taking sides. It’s a story about friends and brothers. It’s a debate between freedom and obeying the rules. Meng had always been a fan of the Marvel franchise and the Captain America films, but he knew this film would be something special and that he had to be a part of it.

“After watching the movie, I thought a lot. It actually reflects a lot of problems in our current society, an individual always wants to be free but also needs to follow the laws. I like movies that reflect the social status and will bring up a topic and let me think about it, and Captain America: Civil War is one of them,” said Meng.

When it came to the effects, Meng worked on many shots in several different sequences. His focuses were the roof helicopter fighting sequence and the final battle scene. He finished all different kinds of effects for various sequences, with little touches that dramatically added to the film.

Meng’s main task, however, was developing the Ironman thruster tool in the final combat sequence between Captain America and Ironman, the climax of the film. Therefore, he knew that his role was of the utmost importance for the film’s success. The tool needed to be packed and shared with other artists at both Los Angeles and Vancouver studios to finish every shot that contains Ironman’s thruster. It needed to be designed as a “one-click and automatically build the thruster” tool, but also contains all kinds of functions to modify and art-direct the thruster effects. Meng re-designed the thrusters from Iron Man 3and packed in a whole new digital asset. Every time he modified and polished the tool, he optimized it and made the tool easier to use. In doing this, he gathered the feedback from different artists and made it more and more productive. The whole process of building the tool was a very valuable experience for Meng and bettered the film as a whole.

“Being part of this feature film, witnessing the whole VFX workflow in the post-production made me completely understand that the VFX process is never easy. The most comforting, and also most important part was I have learned a lot from this project about how to build a digital asset tool that can be used in the visual effects production and was inspired by all the VFX artists around me,” he said.

Meng also worked on other different effects like the debris, smoke, sparks, snow, etc. Those photo-realistic effects elements completed the movie sequence and created a stronger visual impact on the audience. The experience, overall, was a great honor for the visual effects artist, and he wouldn’t change a thing.

“When I saw the film premiere and my name on the credit list, I was so proud of myself and the whole crew members, and that was the most exciting moment to me for watching all my effort paid off and it was so worth it,” he concluded.

Director Eliza Brownlie’s Unique Visual Style Captivates Audiences

By Portia Leigh
Director Eliza Brownlie shot by Leonard Smith

It’s impossible not to watch director Eliza Brownlie’s work and not feel something. Over the past few years she’s directed commercials and fashion films for well-known brands including Dove, Canon, Cast + Combed, Top Expert, Angie Bauer Lingerie and many more. Diverging from the bright colors and over the top emotions utilized by most mainstream commercials to grab our attention, Brownlie brings a delicate subtlety to her work that is appealing enough to capture our interest. She doesn’t need to bombard or distract us with bells, whistles and bright lights.

“With commercials you are often working for a brand or a client, so you have to consider their needs and objectives. That’s always in the back of your mind when making directorial choices,” says Brownlie. “At the same time, the client often hires you because they like your filmmaking style, so I try and find a good balance of giving them what they’re looking for and putting my unique spin on it.”

The soft tones, atmospheric visuals and the fluidity of the camera movements present in most of her work gives Brownlie a recognizable style that is feminine, honest and intriguing, not to mention highly cinematic. And it is these aspects that have made her such a sought after director internationally. Though we’ll rarely see a face forcing a smile in any one of her commercials, the emotions of her actors are palpable and authentically human; and as a director, one of her strengths is working with her actors to bring out those qualities on camera.

Brownlie says, “I love collaborating with actors in developing the characters and performance, as well as creating a safe space for them to feel supported and bring ideas to the table. This always makes for a better performance and working environment in general. It can be easy to get lost in making beautiful visuals and forget about performance. I always try to remind myself that story, character, and performance are everything.”

The women featured in Imperfectionists, a series of branded documentary films Brownlie recently directed for Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, are not actors; but that says even more about her skill as a director. With each film focusing on a different artist and exploring how they overcame insecurity and learned to embrace their so-called ‘flaws,’ Brownlie brilliantly captures the story of each woman with a refreshing level of vulnerability.

In order to highlight how each artist turned their ‘imperfection’ into a strength, Brownlie had to create the space for them to open up and allow her to peer into their lives, and the way she captures it is beautiful. Through one on one interviews she manages to elicit the most intricate and personal details about their human experience, and the way she puts it all together combined with sequences of each artist fully involved in their passion makes each film incredibly inspirational.

“I used dynamic camera work to convey the uplifting tone and the joy and power that each of them derived from their art, whether that was painting, dance or music,” Brownlie explains. “I always made sure to direct the women in a way in which they felt as confident and beautiful as they are.”

The goal of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project is to empower young women of every shape, size and color to accept and love their bodies as they are, and to see themselves as strong and valuable human beings regardless of societal expectations.

Brownlie says, “I think for the majority of women, and humans in general, the journey to self-acceptance is a rocky and complicated process. It’s never a straight line. But I know that I feel my best when I’m creating, not when I’m focused on my appearance.”

Through her emphasis on the positivity and self-confidence that emerges through the process of creating, Brownlie nails the mark with the Imperfectionist series. It’s nearly impossible not to be inspired after watching one of these films.

Growing up in a small suburban community by the sea in West Vancouver, Canada, Brownlie was surrounded by natural beauty where the sky remained grey throughout most of the year, bringing a certain level of isolation. For her, the juxtaposition of bucolic scenery and melancholy weather patterns was something beneficial.

“You had a lot of time to think and find your own fun, which I guess made it conducive to creativity. I did a lot of painting, writing and photography, and also played tons of sports,” recalls Brownlie. “Since as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved film. I recall watching Kubrick’s The Shining as a kid and being completely blown away by the imagery, my parents weren’t very good at filtering what my brothers and I watched, which in retrospect I’m grateful for now.”

Though Brownlie studied communications as an undergrad, she started creating visual work on the side during her second year of college. One of her first professional projects was the music video for the Canadian alt rock band The Darcys’ single “Itchy Blood” off their debut album Warring. After reaching out to cinematographer and friend Peter Hadfield (The Basement, Is There a Picture) to collaborate, Brownlie and Hadfield joined forces and came up with a concept for the video and then pitched their idea to the band and their label, Arts & Crafts. Arts & Crafts and The Darcys were immediately on board with the concept, and just like that, Brownlie and Hadfield went to work directing the music video.

Starring Eva Bourne from ABC’s seven-time Primetime Emmy nominated series Once Upon a Time and model Jordan Swail, “Itchy Blood” explores the monotony of money and suburban life through the absurd ways two teenage girls kill time in their mid-century modern mansion.

Brownlie says, “The video is a subtle commentary on the disenchanting effects of wealth on youth, and the things young women do to escape suburban ennui. The song has a soft, dreamy quality about it that gradually builds to a haunting climax. I wanted the narrative and the visuals to reflect that.”

Featured by Vice outlet Noisey, Photogmusic, The Stranger, ION Magazine and many more, the music video garnered major international attention upon release. A rare accomplishment for any director’s first work, the ‘Itchy Blood’ music video was the proverbial gateway that opened the door to the industry and set her off on her way as a director. Even then, the unique style that makes her stand-out today was evident.

Since that first music video for The Darcys several years ago to her recent narrative horror film The After Party, which was an Official Selection of the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival and the Sacramento Horror Film Festival and stars Isabel Dresden (Castle, Scandal) and Tarryn Lagana (Wonderland Ave., Too Far Gone), director Eliza Brownlie has continued to make a powerful name for herself in the industry as an exceptionally talented filmmaker.

Never one to follow in the footsteps of another, Brownlie has channeled her gift for creative expression into a definitive personal style that offers up a unique kind of intimacy accompanied by the underlying feeling that something bad is about to happen. She is definitely in a league of her own and we can’t wait to see what she creates next.

From Russia to LA: Daria Khovanova’s Journey into the Music Biz

Daria Khovanova
Management Coordinator Daria Khovanova shot by Isabella Behravan

It takes far more than music alone to keep the music industry running like the finely-tuned machine it is. Anyone with dreams of graduating from garage demos to packed stadiums needs the support of somebody with the connections and know-how necessary to make that dream a reality. For those lucky musicians whose sounds and skills have earned them her discerning confidence, management coordinator Daria Khovanova has been an invaluable lifeline in a highly competitive business.

Long before she worked her way up the ranks to her position as management coordinator, Khovanova knew her path in life would lead her to the industry. Born and raised in Moscow, she began training in piano and music theory when she was only six. As a teenager she was glued to MTV and VH1, which led in part to her lifelong love of American and British music. The local bands weren’t her style, so Khovanova set out to explore the scene out west.

“I was never inspired by the music industry back home, in Russia. There were no bands I was excited about. Most of them came from abroad,” she recalled. “So I started travelling to Europe early on to go to shows and music festivals. While also seeking out any book I could find in the vein of ‘How To Make It In The Music Industry.’”

The worldly experience she gained from her travels proved invaluable. She began establishing and growing her professional network, discovered countless new artists and influences, and built the foundation for her future career. Before long, she landed a life-changing position that gave her an opportunity to get some hands-on experience working in the field she loved.

“I managed to secure an intern position at Monotone. It’s a management company run by Ian Montone, and it has a pretty amazing artist roster including Jack White, The Kills, LCD Soundsystem, The Shins, and Vampire Weekend,” she said.

With a myriad of illustrious clients that includes legendary 12-time Grammy-winner Jack White, Monotone is exceptionally discerning in who it hires. Luck played no part in the decision to offer Khovanova the internship; even then, in her earliest days, it was clear to anyone in the know she had an innate gift for navigating the ins and outs of the labyrinthian music industry. Her natural aptitude for finding, fostering and cultivating talent is what’s enabled her to rise to the top of her field.

During her time at Monotone she discovered her talents and passions made her perfect for the role she now fills. As a management coordinator, there’s very little Khovanova doesn’t do for her clients. Khovanova is there at every step of her clients’ careers, watching like a hawk and constantly ready for any opportunity or obstacle that might arise.

“As an artist’s management coordinator you wear many hats, and that’s what I enjoy most. There’s never a dull moment,” explained Khovanova. “I realized a long time ago that working in music I didn’t want to be stuck in the office. Maintaining personal contact with the artists is of great importance to me, and it’s something I think the artists appreciate also… It’s important to be in it together, share adventures together and grow a bond.”

That level of personal involvement in the creative process requires a delicate balance. Khovanova never veers in the direction of being either controlling or detached; her finely-honed talents enable her to find the perfect middle ground where her clients are never interfered with nor neglected, but given exactly what they need to thrive. That philosophy, and Khovanova’s unbounded passion, are a large part of what her clients consider when they choose her as their ally.

Years spent immersed in the music scene of Western Europe, followed by her experience at Monotone, made Khovanova a formidable figure in her field. Through skill and sheer perseverance she earned the trust and partnership of Los Angeles rock band Allah-Las. Active for a decade in the L.A. scene, Allah-Las have become headliner darlings of the indie music scene in both the U.S. and Europe. After a long friendship between Khovanova and the band, she became their management coordinator in 2017.

“We met at SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, through mutual Angeleno friends who are now based in Berlin. We stayed in touch and crossed paths many times in Europe and Russia,” she recalled. “[It’s my job to] secure endorsement deals, take part in merchandise development and production, manage touring and advancing shows, book flights and accommodations and make sure everything runs smoothly on the road.”

It’s virtually impossible to name an aspect of the band’s day-to-day schedule that Khovanova isn’t personally involved in. She’s the wizard behind the curtain, and everything she does as the band’s management coordinator revolves around her longtime love of the music they make.

“Their music is timeless, not affected by trends or new technologies. They like to record the tried-and-tested, old-fashioned way, which I think is very appealing,” she described. “Well, they take you in and you become part of a family. There is a certain magic in being on the road with a close-knit group of best friends… They always manage to put a smile on your face somehow. There’s never a dull moment.”

The camaraderie between the band members and Khovanova is invaluable when it comes time to plan and manage the band’s innumerable events. That was especially true when the Allah-Las headed to Texas to play the Marfa Myths festival. Khovanova handled nearly everything for the trip, ensuring it was an epic show for band and fans alike.

“[My job included] liaising with festival organizers and the record label, Mexican Summer, in preparation for the festival, negotiating set length, order of appearance, financial compensation, and more,” Khovanova said, describing the details of her unbelievably packed agenda. “I also did scheduling, handled the van rental, seeking out and booking the best accommodation options within close proximity to the venue, arranging advance shows, renting backline if needed, hiring and flying out the sound person the band trusts for the show, handling guest lists, and often settlement at the end of the night.”

Marfa, Texas
Daria Khovanova in Marfa, Texas

Handling the Allah-Las’ show at the iconic Marfa Myths festival speaks volumes to Khovanova’s abilities as their management coordinator. The festival has become a renowned showcase for artists, filmmakers and musicians at the forefront of the industry. Many of those who’ve shared their work at Marfa Myths, like Allah-Las, already have huge followings internationally. Others are receiving their first major exposure before going on to become household names. For a band like Allah-Las, nailing the perfect set at Marfa Myths meant a chance to gain thousands of new fans and an immeasurable boost in publicity. Thanks to Khovanova’s tireless work, the show went off without a hitch, further cementing her already stellar reputation.

Khovanova is extensively involved in groups and projects in addition to her work specifically with Allah-Las. She is a key member of Reverberation Radio, a creative collective of musicians who discover, create, and curate the best new tracks and deep cuts from artists around the country and internationally.

“Reverberation Radio is a close-knit group of record collectors who create weekly mixes of largely forgotten tracks drawing from decades of strange pop and instrumentals,” Khovanova described. “All members of Allah-Las are part of the collective and regular contributors to weekly mixes that come out each Wednesday.”

Working with what is essentially a think tank of musicians, Khovanova’s role is to ensure Reverberation Radio receives every possible opportunity to grow its brand and reach. By coordinating with artists, venues and event planners, she is constantly hard at work finding new ways to expand Reverberation Radio’s presence in the digital media landscape. Because of the close ties between Khovanova, the Allah-Las’ band members and the collective, she is uniquely qualified to bridge the needs of both groups. And with the westward move of a legendary East Coast venue, the popularity of Reverberation Radio exploded.

“There would often be Reverberation Radio DJ’s at the Allah-Las’ shows to ensure the right atmosphere. Lately though, with the opening of Zebulon – the legendary Brooklyn venue that relocated to LA in 2017 – the musical landscape has changed,” she described. “The Reverberation Radio dance party grew from playing smaller bars to being the most popular dance party to go to…, often with lines of people forming outside trying to get in. No one expected that kind of success, and it’s become a monthly event.”

Daria Khovanova
Daria Khovanova at Zebulon

That venue, Zebulon, is another example of a huge success that is covered in Khovanova’s fingerprints. In the time since it opened in L.A., it’s become one of the premiere Saturday night spots for the city’s young and trendy to dance, drink and discover new artists. Working hand-in-hand with Reverberation Radio, Khovanova has a key role in making the club what it is.

“I also work at Zebulon, where Reverberation Radio have a monthly dance night which has become the successful and well-attended ‘Party at Zebulon.’ Zebulon has become a new centerpiece to the nightlife in L.A. for people looking for a higher quality of music and art,” she said. “I do social media, marketing and some booking at the venue.”

The full list of duties she performs for Zebulon is seemingly endless. In a nutshell, she is responsible for all communication between the venue and Reverberation Radio. It’s a big task with bigger stakes for both the venue and the collective. Her results, however, speak for themselves. With the immense growth of popularity of both Zebulon and Reverberation Radio, the groups’ success hinges on the talents of Khovanova. Just as she’s done for Allah-Las, she’s guided both the collective and the venue along the path to becoming hugely influential forces in the industry. Through her constant networking, negotiating and coordinating, both have prospered and expanded their audiences exponentially.

What Daria Khovanova does best is organically develop mutually-beneficial relationships between musicians, venues, and the groups that promote both. The music industry is a complex network made up of thousands of tiny pieces all moving independently of one another. What Khovanova does is bring order to the chaos. With personal experience in every part of the process, an unrivaled talent for finding and making the connections her clients need, and a vast understanding of how the industry works from top-to-bottom, she is by far the most valuable asset her clients have.

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Editor Roma Kong shows of beauty of nail art with iconic Disney characters

Editing, to Roma Kong, is like a simultaneous combination of surgery and magic. When she gets footage, she reviews the script and gets an idea for the direction of the story. That is when she starts cutting, splicing things together, and moving things around, until every part is put together, telling a clear story; that is the surgical aspect. When it comes to the magic, Kong believes that part comes in two ways. The first being that each story must evoke a certain feeling in the viewer, so it’s not only cutting and putting things together, but also adding emotion to it, whether this be through the music, the rhythm, the speed of the cuts, etc. The second, more often than not, is transforming the footage that may not tell the story they want and making it what they need, without any reshoots or work from the crew. That is where the real work for a film editor comes into play, and that is when Kong truly shines.

Born and raised in Lima Peru, the in-demand editor has impressed the masses with her work. She often collaborates with renowned production companies like Nickelodeon, with work on their online video series BTS Nickelodeon and Inside Nick, as well as Disney.

With Disney, Kong edited DIY Disney, an online series that allowed audiences around the world to see just what she is capable of. The videos amassed over 11 million views, and featured various crafts that viewers could partake in, offering simple and fun instructions using Disney films and characters. She also created another video titled “Disney California Adventure Food Crawl”, effectively launching the Disney Eats brand. She is quite the formidable editor.

“I would say my style of editing is very fluid, dynamic and fun. As a filmmaker, I strive to entertain the audience, so when I edit, telling a good entertaining story is the priority. I also love for cuts to be seamless, so I pay close attention to movement and try to make really smooth transitions between shots, even when making pop videos. I also work very fast which is something the people I’ve worked with have always appreciated,” said Kong.

Kong has a close working relationship with both Nickelodeon and Disney and is often the companies’ first editing choice when they have an innovative new online project to pursue. In 2017, Kong continued her work with Disney on their TIPS Disney series, featuring different videos showing the intricate work behind nail art, using some of Disney’s most celebrated productions.

“I think these videos really help bring more attention to a form of art many don’t really consider art. They allow the audience to truly appreciate the intricacy of the work these artists do. They give Disney fans great ideas on how to show their love for their favorite characters in very stylish ways, and they inspire other artists to create their own version,” said Kong.

The videos feature many beloved Disney film and television productions, as well as iconic characters. These include High School Musical, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Moana, Coco, Beauty and the Beast, and more. They were published through Disney’s expansive social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. Together, they gathered over 7.6 million views.

“Seeing the comments from the audience on the videos and realizing how much they love them is heartwarming. Seeing people post about their own versions of what we showed them, is amazing. Reminds you that you’re not only making things for people to watch and forget about, people actually truly love these movies and characters and love showing their love for them and your video can persuade them to make something that they hadn’t thought about before,” said Kong.

Kong’s talent as an editor is evident in the TIPS Disney videos. She is very good at editing with music beats and for Disney Style, the Digital Brand that Tips Disney falls under. Her colleagues and her audience enjoyed the rhythm Kong put into the videos and how, by doing a very musical type of editing, made them fun and entertaining to watch. Because she has a very good eye for art and style, she knew exactly what the best shots were and what made the art look the most stylish and vibrant it possibly could. She understood the vibe of the brand very quickly and knew exactly what the executives wanted before they even knew themselves.

“I loved watching the intricate process of nail art in such a detailed way. I was constantly mesmerized by how hard it is to do, and I found myself with a lot more respect for nail artists. It’s such a great art and they’re all so talented. And also, being able to play with scenes from some of my favorite movies and use them to create something new was so much fun,” said Kong.

Kong worked on TIPS Disney from October 2017 to December 2017. It was an amazing experience for the editor. The Disney Style brand is her favorite out of all the Disney Digital brands. Making multiple videos for it was a great opportunity. The audience loves their content and as a result, the brand has a lot of engagement, and as an editor, making content that a lot of people would appreciate, and love was something that truly made the experience for Kong. It’s a fun brand to work for and it fits her editing style perfectly.

“Disney is the holy grail of the entertainment industry. Working for them is like hitting the jackpot of companies you can put on your resume. Being able to do that and have a Walt Disney Company ID with your picture on it, walking into the Studios with no problem at all is quite the dream come true,” Kong concluded.

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