All posts by Lorraine Wilder

From animation to action blockbusters: diversity is key to audio engineer Mateo barragan’s success

Mateo Barragan – Photography by Carolina Rizzotto

Becoming a successful and sought after audio engineer in the modern film industry requires someone with a meticulous ear for detail, and the ability to balance the mechanical aspects of the production’s music and overall sound, which includes everything from the sound of rain drops to the actors dialogue.

The audio engineer’s role on a film or TV production is vast and varied, with some projects calling them in to specifically edit the score or the project’s dialogue, and others requiring them to oversee the entire body of sound. Being able to not only solve any technical issues concerning the sound, but also being able to think creatively outside of the box while serving the artistic vision of the production is key.

We needn’t look further than audio engineer Mateo Barragan, who served as the score editor on “Deadpool 2,” to see the vast nature of skill that is required for an engineer to become a successful force in the industry. There’s no question that his mastery of recording, mixing and reproducing sound, all while actively listening to what the artist wants and what best fits the production, have made him stand out in a big way.

Mateo says, “To put it simply, my work as an audio engineer could be divided into three different aspects: recording, editing and mixing.”

Throughout his impressive career, Mateo has worked on everything from engineering the audio on voice-overs for video games and multimedia projects to recording Grammy Award winning albums and editing scores for hit TV series and multi-million dollar films. 

Over the past few years he’s become known for his work as an audio engineer involved in major films such as the Oscar Award winners “First Man” and “La La Land” starring Ryan Gosling, the 2018 comedy “The Spy Who Dumped Me” with Golden Globe nominee Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”), as well as the BAFTA Award winning video game Life is Strange 2 and Vicente Fernandez’s Grammy Award winning album “Un Azteca En EL Azteca.” 

One thing that makes Mateo’s work unique in comparison to most other fields is the degree of difference between his role on one project to the next– which means both his technical knowledge and creative abilities have to be incredibly expansive in order to successfully meet the varying demands of each production.

“I would say that one of my strongest qualities as an engineer is being able to adapt to any of the situations that come in my day to day work. I know there are engineers that focus on one specific type of work and I totally respect that, when I moved to LA I initially just wanted to work in music,” explains Mateo, who has spent the past four years as an audio engineer at Igloo Music Studios.

“Because of the wide range of clients and projects that Igloo Music has, I had to learn from recording a band, editing an orchestra for a movie score to record dialog for an animated series or a video game. Each of these projects have their different workflows but you still need to be able to deliver your best work as an engineer so adapting to all situations is essential.” 

Adaptability, drive and passion have all been key to Mateo’s success. In 2016 Mateo landed a key spot as an audio engineer at Igloo Music (“A Star Is Born,” “Mary Poppins Returns”) founded by five-time Grammy Award winning engineer and producer Gustavo Borner.

It was through Igloo that Mateo was tapped to come on board as the score editor of the hit Marvel film “Deadpool 2” starring Golden Globe nominee Ryan Reynolds (“The Proposal”) and Josh Brolin (“Avengers: Endgame”). 

As the score editor of “Deadpool 2,” which grossed over $785 million dollars worldwide and took home numerous awards including four Golden Trailer Awards, Mateo played an integral role in ensuring the film’s music seamlessly matched up with the final cut viewed by audiences.

“We recorded a full orchestra, percussion plus a choir,” explains Mateo. “It is important to edit the recorded music of a score because we are looking to obtain the best quality of sound for the music while maintaining the musical performance of the musicians.”

Working with a brilliant score composed by Tyler Bates  (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “John Wick”), it came down to Mateo and the team at Igloo to digitally edit out any background noises while also ensuring the timing of the score matches the necessary parts of the film.

He says, “Regarding timing we have to make sure that the recorded music fits in naturally with all the other elements of the music… [But] it is really important to never ‘over edit’.”

“Deadpool 2” Movie Poster

Following the success of his work on “Deadpool 2,” Mateo was called in as the score editor on the Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man” directed by Damien Chazelle (“La La Land,” “Whiplash,” “10 Cloverfield Lane”).

The critically acclaimed masterpiece, which depicted the life story of American astronaut Neil Armstrong and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon, led Mateo to once again work alongside score mixer Nicholai Baxter (“Aladdin,” “The Disaster Artist”), whom he worked with on “Deadpool 2.” 

“On this specific project my role was very demanding because of the tight deadline we had, we needed to edit everything that was recorded immediately,” explains Mateo. 

“To put it in perspective, Nicholai was recording the orchestra at the scoring stage during the day. At night we would receive the recordings, we’d do a backup of the recorded files to our drives and then start editing immediately.” 

Mateo’s meticulous attention to detail, dedication, and ability to quickly solve audio problems once again proved to be integral to delivering a seamless edit for the film’s score. In the end, “First Man” was a major hit, with the film taking home an Oscar Award, as well as over 190 other nominations and 31 awards. 

“Mateo has been part of Igloo music for almost four years now and he has taken part in several projects during this time. We have worked together on a couple of albums such as ‘Un Azteca En El Azteca’ by Mexican artist Vicente Fernandez, two MTV Unplugged Albums/Dvds, and on several films such as ‘Deadpool 2’ and ‘Hobbs and Shaw’,” says Igloo founder Gustavo Borner.

“He is not only a skilled engineer and knowledgeable on the technical aspects needed for each project, but he is also a very dedicated person and always brings a great attitude to the team which is also a very important aspect of working with people.”

Undoubtedly what has set Mateo apart from others is the knowledge and skill that he has developed over the years which has allowed him to easily transition from one project to another. For example, shortly after working as the score editor on the hit films “Deadpool 2” and “First Man,” he was able to pivot his attention and take on the role as the dialog editor on the animated YouTube original series “Sherwood.” 

A refreshing take on the classic tale of Robin Hood created by Diana Manson (“Lucky Break”) and Megan Laughton (“Peter Rabbit”), the series tells the story of 14 year-old Robin and her friends, who embark on an inspiring journey to overcome inequality in a fight for justice.

Mateo Barragan – Photography by Carolina Rizzotto

As the dialog editor of the series Mateo was in charge of making sure the audio was as clear as possible, which meant removing any background or mouth noises from the part of the actors, as well as ensuring that the dialog matched up with the script and the visuals. With millions of views, “Sherwood” was yet another hit program where Mateo’s work as an audio engineer proved invaluable to its success.

“I really enjoy working in voice over projects for series and animations however my passion and love will always be with music,” admits Mateo. “Being in a city like LA gives you the opportunity to meet and collaborate with so many talented musicians, artists and producers.”

With a booming track record of success, Mateo Barragan is a prime example of what it takes to become a powerful force in the industry. At the end of the day, it takes more than just talent to make it as an audio engineer in film and television, it takes the ability to transition between projects and handle various roles with ease, something Mateo has proven time and time again.

Charismatic Actress Scherrikar Bell Goes Viral

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British actress Scherrikar Bell’s combination of natural talent, technical skill and intuitive gift for manifesting an emotional reality qualifies her as an extraordinary force. From her 2011 start on stage in London’s West End to her extensive film and television work (credits include roles on BBC’s “EastEnders,” “Famalam,” “Doctors”), Bell unfailingly radiates an engaging quality that profoundly enhances every portrayal.

Her memorable performance as a professional assassin in masked British rapper SL’s “FWA-Boss” music video is a prime example of the inescapable Bell charisma.

With over 100 million streams of his music to date, the enigmatic, teenaged SL is one of UK hip hop’s most important and fastest rising artists, and landing her role in the video (SL’s first single of 2019) was a plum assignment for Bell.

Helmed by the award winning director Myles Whittingham, the deeply cinematic film short  showcases the masked rapper’s downbeat, almost nonchalant UK drill sound—a smooth, minimalist mid-tempo style—and Bell’s lead character anchors the video from it’s opening through to its final shot.

As SL’s low key rhymes roll above the track’s glimmering, almost meditative beats, we see Bell donning a nun’s habit, then cut away to an exterior where the Mother Superior calmly approaches an automobile, produces a wicked looking automatic handgun and shoots the vehicle’s occupant at point blank range.

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It’s downright startling moment—made all the more so by Bell’s  serene demeanor and measured pace—and she draws the viewer in close as we witness a series of similarly deadly encounters.

A subsequent sequence find her clad head to toe in black leather (an updated Emma Peel comes delightfully to mind) and wielding a high powered sniper’s rifle which she uses to coolly dispatch a trio of obvious ne’er do wells before breaking into a lethal Mona Lisa smile and slowly sauntering over to retrieve chrome-plated brief case  from one of her victims.

The unforgettable instant when she cracks that malevolent grin is so subtly evil and cold-blooded that it qualifies as an absolutely masterly piece of acting, one that Bell makes look so easy but is, in truth, an example of deep stagecraft.

It’s the ideal set up for the next murderous tableau, a scene straight out of Hitchcock—Bell strolls wordlessly up to an approaching woman, suddenly produces a nasty looking shank from within her sleeve to adroitly deliver a swift shocking stab, another deadly encounter stunning in its almost mechanical precision.

Bell’s comprehensive involvement with the role allows her to inhabit this icy-hearted murderer so convincingly that it made the video a fan favorite, with almost 4.5 million views since its March 2019 release. Intriguingly, the video ends with her appearing in SL’s living room then fades to black with a lingering “To be continued” screen title and an open-ended question as to what she was doing there—reporting to her employer or preparing to dispatch him?

The mood and mystery of the video inspired multiple fan-made reaction videos and cemented SL’s reputation as one of the UK’s fastest rising stars, and there’s no question that Bell (currently featured on the BBC “Teach The Victorians”) and her blood curdling contributions to the video played a significant part in making it such a sensational, feverishly viral internet and commercial success.

Britain’s Ron Carroll on passion for television and advice for newcomers

It seems Britain’s Ron Carroll has always known what he was destined to do in life. As a child in Liverpool, he used to play newsrooms in his bedroom, obsessed with typewriters and tape recorders. Even at that young age, the idea of being a journalist and creating compelling stories for the world excited him. When he finished university, he never felt lost the way so many do, wondering what their next move was. He knew he was going to be a writer, and quickly got his first job working for a newspaper.

Now, as a showrunner and development producer, Ron’s passion for detailed and accurate storytelling is seen on a grand scale. He traded in a pen and notebook for scripts and sets and has never looked back. Once his career in print journalism had taken off, he began wondering what else he could sink his teeth into. Television became the obvious next step.

The transition started when Ron was working as a senior producer on US talk shows. He went back to work in Britain for a while and got a really interesting opportunity, which came to him the moment he stepped off the plane. Sky TV, one of the UK’s largest networks, was launching a new daytime television show. It was live with phone-ins. They asked Ron to develop the format for the show and produce it, and that really put him on the career path he is on today, an industry leader in his country, developing new formats and launching new TV and Digital projects.

“It may not be everyone’s dream job, but it was one of mine. I loved producing talk shows. I still do, if I get the opportunity. Nothing is better than writing a funny line for the host or having a guest share a story and getting an immediate reaction from a live audience,” said Ron. “I get to meet all kinds of people. I have interviewed A-list celebrities, got to produce shows that make life-changing dreams come true for people, and in some small ways made a difference.”

Audiences all around the world have enjoyed Ron’s shows, whether binge-watching Blown Away on Netflix or waiting each week for the newest episode of Canada’s Next Top Model or Game of Homes. Ron knows how to tell a good story, and his roots in journalism only fuel his passion for reality television.

“When I am developing a new show, whether it’s my own idea or it belongs to a production company that hires me to help bring it to life, I am very guttural about it. Over-thinking can be the curse of death. I have witnessed great show ideas get grinded to a pulp because producers over-think. I always say know what you like and make the shows you love. I like to produce shows that have heart, humor and hope. Shows that genuinely make a difference to people’s lives, which is why producing Undercover Boss was so rewarding. At the end of the day, I am a viewer first and a producer second,” he said.

Ron has developed a “3-H formula” based on his success: Heart, Humor and Hope. These characteristics are always at the forefront of whatever he produces. When he looks back on his career, he has had many highlights, but it is making a real difference through his work that fuels him.

“I was the lead story producer on an ITV show that aired live across Britain on Christmas Day, and I had people in tears on both sides of the camera because of surprise reunions, uniting families across the globe. Well-crafted shows should connect with viewers in real and tangible ways,” he said.

So what’s next for this industry titan? Ron has several new shows that are at various stages of development, including the community-uniting format “The Tree” that he is very excited about. He also has several other shows in the works, in conjunction with collaborators, which include an exciting new design competition format, a reno series, and a fun food competition show. In addition, he has a strong and growing reputation as a content consultant. He is in increasing demand, working with production companies in the US, Canada and the UK, helping trouble-shoot their shows and help devise formats, pilots and presentations for both TV and Digital platforms. For those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers some wise words:

“It worries me that so many people seem to leave media courses and not know how to apply for a job.  That’s a problem and they are being disserviced by colleges and universities. Know what you want and network. That’s code for pick up the phone and write emails to heads of departments. CC-in Human Resources if they have them but don’t rely on HR. Reach out and ask for meetings directly with frontline creatives. You have to be bold and tenacious. It’s a tough business and breaking into it is more competitive than ever. Some people will love you and some people won’t, because they don’t get you. There will be times when doors won’t open and you’ll get career-blocked. But, generally, if you don’t have too big an ego and you are willing to listen and learn and work hard, you will be welcomed with open arms, across all departments. And when you finally get to break into the industry, don’t work for free or at a reduced rate. Know your worth. Every time someone works for free or at a reduced rate, they devalue the industry they want to be part of,” he advised.

Editor Haansol Rim’s Remarkable Visual Eloquence

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Photo by Chiao Chen

In the world of film and video, no other single craftsman exerts as much influence over a film as the editor. As the legendary Orson Welles said, “The notion of directing a film is the invention of critics—the whole eloquence of cinema is achieved in the editing room.”  It is a very particular skill, one that demands a profound aesthetic sense, a gift for visual rhythm and a wealth of technical knowledge, a complex set of capabilities which editor/creative editor Haansol Rim possesses to the highest degree.

Whether he is doing a television commercial or music video, Rim’s visionary approach determines the tone, pace and feel of every project. With his international heritage (born to Korean parents in Germany) and the benefit of his classical training in fine arts and an extensive musical background (he is an accomplished composer, arranger and performer), Rim’s multi-faceted creativity always operates at the highest level.

The New York-based creative editor enjoys a thriving roster of jobs at well-known creative production company MATTE, and he brings in every assignment with an elegant final cut that perfectly complements the project and consistently exceeds expectations.

“His understanding and versatility of skills are priceless,” MATTE’s associate creative director Danny Yirgou said. “Because he has such a diverse background and experience in multiple fields, Haans knows how to stylize his edits and design them according to each project. For some he might edit focusing on the tempo of the film, creating a certain tone; vs on others, he might edit using more fast paced effects, and diverse frames to create a different speed and tempo, ultimately creating a completely different film altogether.”

Some prime examples of this impressive range are Rims’s work on commercials for famed luxury fashion brand Prada, athletic footwear giant Adidas and a promotional world tour announcement video for Grammy-winning EDM duo the Chainsmokers (recently named by Forbes magazine as the highest paid DJS in the world).

Taking on such a wildly disparate work load from some of the highest profile brands and clients in the world would intimidate many, but the gifted Rim —thanks to his coolly professional attitude and boundlessly creative approach—always makes it look easy

“As an editor, I choose works in which the director’s vision aligns with my editing style,” rim said. “I think synergy between the director and editor is essential to really bring to life the best version of the project.”

To achieve this end, Rim also applies a shrewd analytical approach: “Commercials are based on the client and the consumer, so I need to consider the psychology of the buyer. What would appeal to them? What shots, editing, and story would draw the consumer to purchase the product?”

That kind of comprehensive understanding and anticipatory finesse are hallmarks of Rim’s highly individuated and winning style as a creative editor. On the Chainsmokers video Rim, typically, nailed it from the start.

“I was initially assigned to work on the pitch video for this project,” he said. “The Chainsmokers loved our pitch, and chose us for the commercial. Since I had edited the initial pitch video, I got to edit the final work as well.”

“They were looking for the film to be visual effect heavy and overall, for it to look cool. I have a background in visual effects, so it was easy to collaborate with the VFX team. Based on the client’s feedback, we worked to make their vision come to life.”

“It was released earlier this year and seen everywhere. This was a world tour commercial for all of 2019, so it was posted in all video streaming sites such as YouTube.”

The Adidas job allowed Rim to mix stylish visuals with a semi documentary format: “The commercials are all heavily reliant on the client’s wishes,” Rim said. “So o celebrate the launch of James Harden Vol. 3 shoe line, MATTE brought the next chapter in James Harden’s ongoing narrative to his greatest fans, shooting over the course of two days through premium activations in Houston. Then, as creative editor, I matched the commercial to the director’s desired style and vision”

The Prada commercial was set in a particularly rich visual milieu—the Chinese New Year’s celebration, always a riot of giant lion dancers and fireworks.

“Prada wanted to pay homage to the Chinese New Year celebration with the aim to promote products developed specifically for this holiday,” Rim said. “The commercial was dedicated to modern Asian youth culture and style.”

Once again, Rim’s sensitivity and artistic skill as an editor perfectly suited the spot’s needs.

“Since the director’s goal was to make it seem like a one take film,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of shots, it was mainly a long single take shot without a lot of cuts. I tried to make the editing as seamless as possible to make it fluid.”

With his constantly growing resume of internationally known, high-prestige clients, Rim’s penetrating, holistic approach is a true recipe for success.

“I am naturally curious and analytical,” Rim said. “My brain works both ways, from beginning to the final product, and from the final product to the beginning. That’s why I am adept at handling these processes so well.”

John Wate brings authentic Japanese culture to ‘Samurai Headhunters’ documentary

Whenever John Wate steps onto a film set, puts his eye to a camera lens, and starts making a movie, he is living his dream. Directing is a pleasure he can’t compare to anything else; it allows him to be in tune with what is happening in front of him, and all his senses go into overdrive. He spends every day doing what he truly loves, and this passion translates directly into his beautiful work.

For this German native, making a good movie is all about the research. He always aims to find the perfect story and the right characters, with the singular goal of leaving an impression on his audience. With his work on the Smithsonian’s Epic Warrior Women film series and movies like Samurai Warrior Queens, he does just that, showcasing why he is an industry-leading director in his country.

“I would say as a director you are a storyteller, and the way you have lived and seen the world will organically shape how you tell your stories. I found that the world is a treasure trove that has so much to offer in terms of stories and characters. Once I find that ‘one thing’ that interests me, I can start digging and I usually find gold,” said Wate.

Wate has spent many years directing masterful films and television series, including the TV movie Samurai Headhunters in 2013, that allowed him to explore a unique part of world history. It is a documentary on the dark and brutal side of the samurai warrior clans featuring the life of peasant Masa who is forced into the ruthless world of the samurai.

For over a thousand years, the samurai have been celebrated as an aristocratic warrior class. Exceptionally skilled and loyal until death, their very name has become a byword for honor and dignity. This film reveals the unknown dark side of the samurai – a fascinating tale of greed, treachery, extreme cruelty and violent death. Based on newly discovered samurai war manuals, Samurai Headhunters reconstructs the life of a young peasant farmer who is press-ganged into a warlord’s army. Driven by his love for a village girl of noble birth, young Masa quickly rises through the ranks from simple foot soldier to venerated samurai commander. But his reward is to be one of betrayal, lies and finally forced suicide by his fellow samurai. Interwoven with this dramatic story, two British historians track down remarkable new evidence from ancient war manuals that show the true, dark world of the samurai. The drama documentary also features a living samurai master and his students, as well as CG animation, stunning re-enactments, original costumes and historic locations.

“Everyone knows the samurai as loyal, courageous fighters with a strong moral code – but not many people know that this is only part of the story. During the almost 200 years of civil war in Japan the samurai got rewarded for their deeds in battle, which often meant for the number of heads they had taken. The film explores the unknown dark side of the samurai, how they cheated, lied and murdered to gain favors and advance their careers, the forbidden love between warriors, the atrocities of samurai warfare, and the danger to rise to fame in such an environment. I found all these facts about the dark side of the samurai as grizzly as they were fascinating,” said Wate.

After great success with his previous film, Ninja Shadow Warriors, Wate teamed up once again with Urban Canyons Producer Sebastian Peiter and together with researcher Anthony Cummins, they researched and built the concept for the film. Living in Japan at the time, Wate not only had extensive experience, but he also had direct links to the famous Japanese film studios in Kyoto, and through all his previous other documentaries had direct access to Japanese cultural icons, such as sword masters, swordsmiths or traditional armourers. He was the ideal director for the job.

“You need to have a feeling for Japanese manners and that what they say is not always what they mean. I think a lot of the fascination for the samurai comes from the exotic mixture of stoic readiness, their manners and proper conduct in life and in battle. But if you want to show that, you have to know HOW they did certain things and why. You can’t just use a Western blue-print to invent what the character would do. At that time I lived in Japan, I spoke the language and understood their manners and hints, like that a certain gesture can reveal the opposite of what has been said. The timing, the tempo or movement of people speaking at formal gatherings. These are all subtle things that can build an authentic exotic flavor that is fun to watch,” he said.

Samurai Headhunters has been extremely popular since its release. It has aired in over thirty countries, not only on television channels but also various exhibitions about the samurai culture. It is currently showing in the prestigious Kunsthalle Munich, a German national art museum.

Xin Yi helps take us back to the ‘80s with new ‘Rocket League: Radical Summer’ trailer

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Xin Yi

As a renowned 3D Artist, creating stunning visual effects seen by audiences around the world, China’s Xin Yi is incredibly adaptable in her work. She does not have a specific style or trademark, but rather focuses on creating the most stunning imagery she can in whatever style the project demands. She can make visual effects look as realistic as a photograph, blending seamlessly with their surroundings, or a stylized animation that captures the hearts of its viewers.

This outstanding versatility is evident in all of her work, no matter the genre or medium. Whether creating the virtual set for NFL Redzone or modeling, materials, lighting, and some transitions and characters for the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship, Yi focuses on the details to create artistic effects.

Recently, millions around the world saw Yi’s work in the Rocket League: Radical Summer trailer, although they may not know it.

Rocket League is a vehicular video game developed and published by Psyonix. It is like soccer, but with rocket-powered cars and has up to four players assigned to each of the two teams, using rocket-powered vehicles to hit a ball into their opponent’s goal and score points over the course of a match. Released in 2015 for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 4, with ports for Xbox One, macOS, Linux, and Nintendo Switch being released later on, it is a now iconic game, with its own professional league and a vast worldwide following.

Radical Summer is an extension of the game, a celebration of ’80s movies, television and culture. The extension has new items, game modes, DLC, and more. Available From 6/10 to 8/12 on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

“It is a pretty fun game to play with friends, even though I am not usually a gamer. The Radical Summer pack is super fun and cool as well,” said Yi.

After previous success on the Rocket League: McLaren 570S Car Pack Trailer in late 2018, Yi and her team at the motion graphics design and animation production studioCapacity were once again invited to create captivating cinematics to promote this new development of the game.

Before beginning work on the trailer, Yi did some research on Rocket League to know more about their style and at the same time, she watched movies from the ’80s and listened to music from that time period. Understanding more about the time period was essential in creating an ‘80s appearance and style in her work.

Yi did all of the rigging parts and exported them to let other teammates make an animation out of them and she also helped to animate one of the shots. She worked tirelessly to make the trailer both stunning to watch while matching the game’s style. She also did transition work to make the shot transfer to the next shot smoothly and did a composition for the TVs in the trailer to allow other artists to replace the footage easily.

“It is a really interesting project to work on. It brings us back to the ’80s, the rock music years. The pack is also using many elements from some 80’s culture, television from the decade and blockbusters,” said Yi.

Yi’s work on the rigs, animation, composing, materials, scene transitions, and renderings of this trailer paid off. The trailer was released on Rocket League’s official website and YouTube in June 2019. It received many positive comments and a lot of people were looking forward to playing the newly released pack. It has over 3.6 million views on the official YouTube link so far, and greatly contributed to the Radical Summerpack’s ongoing success.

You can check out the Rocket League: Radical Summer Trailer to see some of Yi’s beautiful 3D artistry.

Composer Weijun Chen dances away with audiences’ hearts in Aspen

The moment Weijun Chen puts his pencil to a piece of staff paper, he allows inspiration to overtake him. From the outside, watching him sketch notes onto a piece of paper, it may not seem like the most glamorous job, but when an orchestra is performing his music that he spent so long crafting, he feels truly alive.

Chen is a classical composer, writing music for symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, instrumentalists, and singers, which is then performed at grand concert halls and music festivals all over the world. He is a renowned composer, best known for Three Earlier Songs, Watercolors, and Canoe, to name a few.

“I write every single note on the page, from vague ideas, sketches, to complete scores. In terms of the writing process itself, I am quite old-fashioned. I always start with pencil and staff paper, and eventually move to the computer during the engraving and mock-up stages. Once the piece is finished, I work closely with the musicians to bring the music to life. Often times, some of my works were written for a specific soloist or group of musicians, so the collaboration process starts during the writing stage. I also enjoy collaborating with artists from other disciplines, as my music often draws influence from poetry and visual arts,” said Chen.

Chen has seen much success throughout his career, but he believes the highlight came when he wrote the orchestral version of his piece Dancer. Already a success as a chamber piece, Chen decided to rework Dancer for an orchestra after being awarded the Jacob Druckman Prize by the Aspen Music Festival in 2015 with an invitation to the 2016 festival to premiere new work.

“I believe that writing for orchestra is a composer’s highest calling, and there is no better feeling than hearing your music performed by a large orchestra at a premier classical music festival in the beautiful mountains of Colorado,” said Chen.

Despite the title’s implications of continual movement and activity, Danceropens with somber stillness, a single chord that then gradually collapses under slowly descending scalar lines. As the glacial motion rises again through chromatic dissonances, gentle clusters form periodically, producing alternating moments of tension and relaxation. Then, after building in intensity, scale fragments and rapid turn figures cascade through the orchestra, initiating the swirling, dancing central section. This culminates in a growling climax and a grand pause, leading into the concluding slow section.

“When I was drafting this final slow section in February 2016, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of American composer Steven Stucky’s passing. Stucky was the director of composition at the Aspen Music Festival where this piece later received its premiere. The last section unmistakably became an elegy, in memory of my beloved mentor,” said Chen.

Chen decided to create an orchestral version of Dancer after the success of the original chamber piece for several reasons. Musically, when he was working on the chamber version, he realized that the intended soundscape, in particular the overlapping scale lines, would have great potential written for an orchestra. When the opportunity arrived from the Aspen Music Festival in 2016, he jumped on it immediately.

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2016 Aspen Music Festival
Bowing after the premiere of Dancer
W/ Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra & conductor George Jackson

The orchestral version of Dancer is both an expansion and a reduction. By expansion, the ensemble got bigger by ten-fold, and Chen was able to fully take advantage of the color palate of an orchestra. Dovetailing techniques are used extensively in the piece, as Chen threads the scale materials across the entire orchestra. By reduction, he deleted a large portion of music from the chamber version, specifically the Spanish-dance-influenced melodic section, as he felt that the materials were out of focus and not as compelling.

“It was simply amazing to see how my music came alive in the hands of seventy incredibly talented young orchestral musicians, under the baton of Maestro Jackson. It was also immensely gratifying to hear the transformative improvements from one rehearsal to another, and the premiere performance was deeply moving,” said Chen.

After its premiere at the 2016 Aspen Music Festival, the performance received a brief mention in The Aspen Times. The reviewer, Harvey Steiman, stated that “Dancer explored resonant harmonies and sonorities and reflected fine command of orchestration and form.” The piece was also a finalist in the 2017-18 The American Prize in Composition, Orchestra Music.

“I felt extremely grateful. As composers, we completely rely on others (i.e., the musicians) to bring our wildest imaginations to life. It is even more true in an orchestral setting, simply due to the sheer number of players and moving parts. This piece would not exist without the support and dedication from the music festival, Maestro Jackson, and the amazing musicians of the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra,” said Chen.

On top of its success, Dancer has deep meaning for Chen. The greatest reward, for the composer, was honoring his mentor and friend.

“It was impossible not to think of Steve when I was at the premiere in Aspen. I was honored to share this piece with many of his colleagues, friends, and students in the audience. I miss him dearly, and I hope that the success of the premiere would make him proud,” he concluded.

 

Cover photo by Ahron Cho

The Artist Life with Frances Folies

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There are layers in the meaning of the word “artist.” These are important because the difference between being skillful at your craft and possessing this AND an expansive vision for its possibilities is what separates talent from true artistry. The latter describes Fraukje Van De Wiele aka Frances Folies. An artist can be anyone from a painter to a pastry chef; Fraukje’s work as a makeup and hair artist displays the traits that make her an internationally recognized leader in her field. Print and the exponentially increasing digital formats which exhibit the world’s many interpretations of style & fashion have given this Belgian born talent the opportunity to expand the many “beauty dialects” of our time. From celebrity models, to fashion influencers, and everyday people, Frances Folies has become an important part of the evolving discussion of what defines beauty. More importantly to her, it’s a way of presenting the strength and importance of women today.

Every artist is part historian. As they say, “You must know the rules to break them.” Francisco Valencia’s Elegant magazine (the online version of which is Mith Magazine) featured Frances’s work with Belgian photographer Babeth Albrecht in the photo essay titled “Pink Inception.” Albrecht’s minimalist approach found a counterpoint in Folies lively yet sparse use of color. Frances remarks, “Nature is a major inspiration to me. Though I lean towards the dramatic, the beauty in small things can be quite impactful. Flower petals, landscapes; these things can go unnoticed until something focuses your gaze on them. This is when you take notice of the majesty of nature. It’s peaceful and powerful.” “Pink Inception” displays the spectrum of Folies work as she exercises subtle restraint yet still manages to infuse Albrecht’s framing with flourishes of chromaticity.

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Folies finds her true north in looks that are the inverse of self-conscious, at least in regards to a visual demeanor. Women are not a monolith. There is no single accepted definition of what makes a woman feminine or attractive; nor should there be. Frances holds the contention that a woman is perhaps most powerful when her look is strikingly feminine. As she states, “It’s important to celebrate femininity in all forms. I love the over the top Glitter & Kitsch of Burlesque. I always tend to create something dreamy, girly, glamourous, and pretty; however, I also like to clash and contract in styles. I’ve been drawn to it since my youth. It’s about claiming who you are. I can love Hip Hop just as much as 50’s Jive; beauty and personal expression should not be any different.” Vetting Folies acclaim in this approach, model Gia Genevieve specifically requested Frances as her makeup artist on the photoshoots which created Gia’s 2018 pin-up calendar. Known for gracing the covers of major publication like Galore Magazine and Playboy (in which she was also featured), starring in music videos like “Now That You’re Gone” by Grammy-Award winning band The Raconteurs, and a massive Instagram following, Genevieve has come to define this retro approach to modern beauty. Photographed at the iconic Madonna Inn, the photos are a benchmark for Vintage glamour style in the 2010s.

The strength of a true artist is in their vision and its relevancy, rather than attaching themselves eternally to one form. Displaying her versatility, Folies recently worked on a photo shoot for the French photo art publication Normal Magazine. US photographer Paul Zhen enlisted Frances for the project which took place directly across from the Louvre in Paris. Surrounded by the original 19th century décor, four models (@CharlineMuse, @alexandrazimny, @tanyachubko, @chloejasmincjw- British- X factor finalist UK 2014) appear in garb inspired by the era of Marie Antoinette. Reminiscent of a period that coveted class and formality above all, Frances recreation of the look somehow infuses a modern attitude with this classic look. The delicate nature of combining such contrasting ideals in a cohesive manner is not to be understated or under appreciated. The stunning handmade period inspired dresses featured in the photos were created by the famous @Ritual_official. This re-einvisioning of historical style between Zhen, Frances, and @Ritual_official features the drama of late 1700’s France with the titillating color of present day. Even in this traditional setting, Frances has found collaborators who are empowered by her exciting presentation.

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While it isn’t the most discussed component of an artist’s personality, responsibility is one found in the greats. Frances has no misconceptions that her work as a makeup artist supersedes the importance of the commerce taking place in a majority of the industry. Even makeup can’t compete with specialized filters and the kind of pressure placed on women to reach an impossible standard of beauty. To offset this, Frances reveals, “That’s why I offer from several times a year professional photoshoots in collab with a female photographer who has the same goal to prove to everyday women that they also can be as glamorous as professional models. After this type of photo session, the female clients go home with lots of confidence and feel good about themselves. This is part of why I love my job so much. Not only do I want to create visual magic but, I also love to give everyone a good feeling about themselves. It feels great to make them happy and see that sparkle in their eyes when they look in the mirror at themselves when hair-and make-up is done. That is truly the biggest satisfaction of my job, that feeling of enjoying beauty in all its shapes and forms.”

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(All photos courtesy of Lesley Hoste)

Max McLachlan helps kick-off the newest season of ‘The Voice Australia’

As a renowned cinematographer, Max McLachlan translates a vision into a visual. Through the use of lighting, camera, and lenses, he tells a story. Originally from the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia, McLachlan is now a recognized name around the world for what he does, and his passion for his work translates directly to what audiences see on screen.

“The Cinematographer must work closely with the Director to ensure their vision comes to life in front of the camera and I find that whole process so exciting and satisfying,” said McLachlan.

McLachlan is an asset to any project he takes on, with a vast knowledge in Steadicam operation that allows him to consider original camera movement suggestions that many may never have considered. This unique approach can be seen in many of his projects, from his new acclaimed horror flick The Furies to DZ Deathrays’ award-nominated music video “Like People”. He has extensive training in a variety of camerawork, and this versatility creates an outstanding viewing experience for audiences.

“I love the juxtaposition when handheld footage is cut together with Steadicam footage. If a scene goes from smooth Steadicam shots to all of a sudden handheld, then it gives the viewer an indication that the tone of the story is about to change and I love that,” he said.

Recently, millions of viewers around Australia got to see McLachlan’s work on their tv screens on the season premiere of The Voice Australia. The iconic singing competition is similar to the American format, where four celebrity judges blindly listen to contestants, looking to find the best voices to fill their team that they then coach. The contestants then battle it out throughout the weeks until one lucky artist is crowned “The Voice”. The most recent season in Australia features judges Delta Goodrem, Kelly Rowland, Boy George, and Guy Sebastian, global superstars that McLachlan worked closely with on the project.

“I think The Voice is a unique talent show in that the initial auditions are purely based off the singing ability of the performer, not on their looks. Too many talent shows focus only on the physical show of the performance and I think so many talented singers get overlooked because they don’t meet society’s image of what a pop star should look like. I also like the fact that each performer that makes it past auditions gets to choose which celebrity judge they want to be mentored by. This sets The Voice format apart from the rest and allows the viewer to look behind the curtain at the training and mentoring that takes place between each contestant and their celebrity mentor,” said McLachlan.

McLachlan was in charge of shooting the opener for the season, which featured the four judges singing Phil Collins’ iconic hit “In The Air Tonight.” Before the shoot, McLachlan sat down with Director of Photography Gregoire Liere and Director Harry Hunter to discuss the storyboard. There were a number of CGI elements they wanted to include into the edit as the whole sequence had a futuristic look and feel. For McLachlan, this meant leaving extra space in certain frames for special effects elements to take place.

On top of this, each celebrity judge had a different setting and required specific lighting, but the Steadicam moves stayed relatively the same for each scene. McLachlan was often finding ways to find the shots more dynamic. At one point, while the team was waiting for lighting to be adjusted with Boy George, he grabbed Liere’s attention and showed him a shot he had in mind where he rolled the camera from left to right as he pushed in on Boy George performing. The shot made it into the final cut and is extremely captivating.

“I think the large-scale nature of the shoot is what I liked most about the project. We had a different set for each of the judge’s performances and then an additional set where all four of them performed together. This allowed Gregoire and I to create a specific look for each judge in their environment. We also had a large lighting and camera support crew at our disposal, so we were able to implement lighting changes quite quickly without holding everyone up. It was also fun to work with the judges as they were professional and didn’t need too much direction or practice which allowed myself and Gregoire to get the most out of each shot,” McLachlan described.

The Voice Australia premiered on May 19th, 2019 and raked in almost two million viewers, one of the week’s most watched programs. McLachlan’s tremendous work for the opener became a hit online, with over 500,000 views on YouTube alone. It is a remarkable achievement and shows just how adept he is behind the camera.

“It was a great feeling being able to start the new season of The Voice Australia with a sequence that I was directly a part of. I think it is an incredible achievement. Our opener sequence with the judges helped set a high standard for the rest of the season of the show which I am stoked about. I think everyone involved in the production did an incredible job and should be very proud of what we achieved,” said McLachlan.

The Voice Australia is on 7 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Monday, and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on Nine Network in Australia. Be sure to check it out, and in the meantime, watch the Season 8 Opener here.

Hong Kong’s Samuel Lam gives musical life to new Chinese television series

Samuel Lam was born with a large birthmark on the right side of his face and spent much of his childhood alone because of it. Growing up in Hong Kong, it was hard for him, being a loner, but when he was 12 years of age, his sister bought him a guitar and his whole life changed. Music became a way to express himself, changing his personality and giving him something to connect with others.

Now, Lam is an industry leading composer and orchestrator is his home country and abroad. He has worked on multi-million-dollar blockbusters, such as Crazy Alien, to award-winning films like Mommy’s Girl. He has scored dozens of short films, and has many exciting projects on the way, including Paramount’s Playing with Fire, starring John Cena, Judy Greer and Keegan-Michael Key, directed by Andy Fickman, and Detective Chinatown, a 12 episode web-series, produced and written by Chen Sicheng, the director of the feature film of the same name, which generated over $600 million USD at the box office.

Lam is known all over the world for his talent, and recently worked on the highly anticipated Chinese series Paratrooper Spirit. The show is about a team of paratroopers with actual combat as their training ground, as they push hard to level up their fighting abilities and complete different missions. Set in the foreground of military reform, the story follows military men like Zhang Qi and Qi Xiao Tian. To develop an air force that can compete in the global stage, a special team called Guo Gai Tou has gathered. After the initial adjustment period, Guo Gai Tou began fighting wars in the North and South and challenging greater enemies. Warriors from Guo Gai Tou who are dispatched to other teams become aces in the field.

“It is a good way to increase understanding and knowledge about the military through the influence of media and entertainment. This show has a really interesting military service theme, the paratrooper,” said Lam.

Working on a series is far different than a feature film, and Lam was eager to work on his first television show with Paratrooper Spirit and working in television in China differs greatly from America. Rather than getting each episode weekly, as the U.S. does things, Lam got every episode of the show at once. Although there is a greater time crunch with this method, Lam likes knowing how the entire story is developed to orchestrate the score accordingly. He was given all 35 episodes of the season to work on and began by watching each one. Then he and his team started developing essential thematic materials such as main theme and melodies for characters that worked with each and every episode and helped to tell the story.

“It is very challenging working on a TV Show. Because of the large amount of content, you have to be very organized, and work at a super-fast pace. I had to arrange all kinds of music genres, from action orchestra, to rock and romantic pop song, and that was really fun,” said Lam.

It takes an extremely broad skill-set to orchestrate for a television show, and Lam possesses just that. He arranged hundreds of minutes of music for Paratrooper Spirit that will continue to be played over the show’s run, with millions hearing his work, and he couldn’t be more excited.

Paratrooper Spirit is currently being promoted in China and will be released in September 2019 on a major television network in the country. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.