Category Archives: Asian

Actor Jolie Chi’s High Flying “Exorcism at 60,000 Feet”

Actor Jolie Chi’s infectious mixture of enthusiasm and playfulness may give the impression that she is all about laughs and frivolity but, in reality, Chi is a dedicated artist with a zealous commitment to refining and perfecting her craft. While still at the dawn of her career, the diminutive, charming Chi is quickly building impressive professional momentum and a burgeoning roster of credits.

The Taipei-born, Hollywood based Chi’s effortless ability to succeed as actor, model, dancer and on-the-spot improv comic reflect a comprehensive, impressively holistic approach to performing. Equally at home in a stage or competition setting (beating out thousands of international talents to place in IMTA’s Top 10 Female Young Actors of 2015) as she is working in film, video, comedy clubs and commercials, Chi has been a dynamic force since her arrival the United States when she was just 16.

 

“I grew up in Taiwan and China but I never really fit in, because I was always too outgoing for the culture,” Chi said. “I decided that I wanted to be an exchange student in America, so I went to Indiana—it felt like home. I realized how much I love America because I finally felt like I was accepted and loved. I decided to stay and finish my education.”

The teenager’s choice to pursue acting came about with a particularly poignant twist. “My parents had divorced when I was six,” Chi said. “Even though my mom always pretended to smile in front of me, I knew she was unhappy. Once when I was mimicking a character we’d seen on TV, she laughed—genuinely—for the first time in years. That’s when I realized how powerful acting was.”

From that bittersweet launch—the classic pathos/comedy paradox—Chi aggressively pursued success in film and television. Studying at the prestigious New York Academy of Film’s Southern California campus, she was soon working in TV commercials, short films and Los Angeles comedy clubs. Chi exhibits such irresistible dynamism and joie de vive that she graduated to high profile parts in Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s 2018  dramedy “Destined to Ride,” starring Madeline Carroll, Denise Richards and Joey Lawrence, and landing the title role in the offbeat, award-winning comedy “My Lunatic Lucy.”

Chi’s memorable performance earned her numerous 2018 Best Actress awards win, from Top Indie Film Awards, Actors Awards, Independent Shorts Awards and the LA Shorts Awards, a hot streak of notoriety which led to her current project, another audacious indie feature, the wild horror-comedy “Exorcism at 60,000 Feet.” Forthcoming from idiosyncratic cult production company Girls & Corpses Presents, it’s about a stowaway demon wreaking havoc during a transatlantic passenger airliner’s final flight, and features American horror sci-fi stalwarts Adrienne Barbeau and Lance Henriksen alongside several of the top Hollywood-based Asian talents and Chi faced tough competition during the casting phase of production. Characteristically, she rose to the occasion with emphatic success

 

“My agent managed to get an audition for “Exorcism” and I was very excited since it stars Bai Ling and Matthew Moy, two of the most popular Asian actors in the States and because it is aimed for Netflix,” Chi said. “There were a lot of girls trying for the role and after they saw my headshot the producers wanted to turn me down. But my agent insisted that I get to read, so I went in and it was one of the best auditions I’ve ever had. I auditioned for three parts, and when they asked to improvise something for another important role, they were amazed because—without having seen the dialog—I actually spoke what was written in the script. They instantly wanted me to be in the film.”

That kind of spot-on instinct and skill is typical of the deeply talented actor, and she jumped into her part with both feet. “I was cast as Ms. Tang, a pregnant girl who is one of the main people on this airplane. She’s very spicy and just doesn’t care about anything but herself,” Chi said. “Honestly, it was quite a challenging role because I had to carry a 5 pound fake belly around with me for over 10 hours for 6 days straight. But it was also a really fun experience being able to play a pregnant lady which I’ve never done before. I was really nervous for my main scene, where I actually give birth. It was really difficult so I did my due diligence with a lot of research. I talked to friends, read up on pregnancy, watched videos of women giving birth, and all that helped a lot.”

Chi’s dedication to improving her artistry is a constant, innate pursuit and she is not one to squander any opportunity to do just that.

“It was amazing to be able to act with my idols Bai Ling and Matthew Moy,” Chi said. “They both gave me excellent advice about acting and this business. What was most interesting to me is that each of their suggestions was quite different. Matthew Moy said that studying acting and taking classes is important, because that’s what he did. But Bai Ling told me, since she didn’t to any acting school and learned on her own, that it’s important to just know your emotion—where it’s coming from— and once you know that, the rest will just flow. Either way, I loved getting their advice. So powerful.”

With her steadily ascending professional profile and reputation as a respected, formidable artist, Chi is a talent from whom the film industry will definitely be hearing a lot in the months and years ahead, a destiny which her positive attitude practically guarantees.

“My career aspiration is to make as many people laugh as possible,” Chi said. “I want to be able to make a difference in this world through my acting, to inspire the audience to smile, to reduce stress. Many people relax by watching films and I hope to help relieve their pain and make them happier.”

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From High Stakes Stunts to Emotional Character Portrayals, Rick Tonna is a Knock Out On Screen!

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Actor and stuntman Rick Tonna shot by Andrew Campbell

Over the past two decades leading actor and stuntman Rick Tonna, who’s originally from Melbourne, Australia, has made an indelible mark on the Hollywood film industry and abroad through a number of memorable performances in high profile films such as Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner,” Jon Hewitt’s “Elimination Game” and “I, Frankenstein,” as well the Awgie and ADG Award winning crime series “Rush,” the AACTA Award winning series “Underbelly” and more.

Shining a bright light on the diverse talent Australia has to offer, Tonna is the perfect example of how drive, dedication and skill can turn a Hollywood newcomer into a leading figure in tinsel town’s competitive film industry in a relatively short amount of time. While breaking into Hollywood is rarely easy, Tonna’s established reputation for delivering first-rate work back home in Australia provided a helpful segway for him to begin landing roles in major Hollywood productions once he moved stateside several years ago.

In 2014 Tonna took to the screen in Oscar Award winner Russell Crowe’s (“A Beautiful Mind,” “Gladiator”) directorial debut “The Water Diviner,” in which Crowe stars as Connor, an Australian father who travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli in search of his three sons, who go missing while serving with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

A major hit among Australian film critics, “The Water Diviner” earned the AACTA Awards for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor and Best Costume Design, an Awgie Award from the Australian Writers Guild, as well as four awards from the Australian Screen Sound Guild and four more from Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards.

In the film, which also stars Olga Kurylenko (“Oblivion,” “Quantum of Solace”) and Jai Courtney (“Insurgent,” “A Good Day to Die Hard”), Tonna shares screen time with Crowe and gives a riveting performances as a Turkish soldier defending his country.

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Still of Rick Tonna (left) and Russell Crowe (right) in “The Water Diviner”

“My character was a hard working Turkish man who was conscripted to fight in the war against the Greeks and later fought the Australians in what is known today as Gallipoli. He was simply defending his homeland… His land and people came first his own life second,” explains Tonna.

“‘The Water Diviner’ was both a physically challenging and immensely rewarding role for me. Firstly, it was a role I was requested to play directly from the director Russell Crowe and the Oscar winning stunt coordinator, Doug Coleman, themselves. That it itself brings pressure.”

But as we’ve seen through his high stakes performances in a long list of other international hits over the years, such as the Logie nominated film “Jack Irish: Black Tide,” the Golden Globe nominated series “The Pacific,” Syfy’s Saturn Award nominated series “Childhood’s End” and the Logie and AACTA Award winning series “The Secret River,” Rick Tonna is not one to crack under pressure.

In 2015 Tonna took on the critical role of Devine in the multi-award winning series “The Secret River,” where he acts alongside Oliver Jackson-Cohen (“Emerald City,” Despite the Falling Snow”), AFCA and AACTA Award winner Sarah Snook (“Steve Jobs,” “Predestination”) and Logie Award winner Lachy Hulme (“The Matrix Revolutions,” “Killer Elite”).

Adapted from Kate Grenville’s novel of the same name, “The Secret River” is set in the early 1800s and follows William Thornhill, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, a young man who is sentenced to life in New South Wales where he finds himself in the middle of a bloody conflict between the British settlers and the land’s indigenous people.

Being from Australia originally, the story “The Secret River” brings to life hits painfully close to home for Tonna, which is only multiplied by the fact that his character Devine is one of the most ruthless and hateful British convicts on the show.

Tonna says, “‘The Secret River’ was a truly emotional journey for me. This part of Australian history has been sugarcoated to hide the cold and brutal truth of the heartbreaking slaughter of the Aboriginal people.”

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Still of Rick Tonna as Devine in “The Secret River”

Devine is seen throughout the series murdering aboriginal people without remorse, and the way Tonna embodies his character’s brutal and villainous nature on screen makes Devine an easy character to hate. From the audience’s perspective Tonna seamlessly inhabits the character, the truth beyond the screen though is that the role posed overwhelming challenges for Tonna; but that’s what it means to be a great actor after all, to be able to remove one’s self and truly become the character at hand, and Tonna does that without missing a beat.

“From an emotionally moral point of view, this was one of the toughest roles for me. Devine was part of a group whose hatred for the Aboriginal people was gut wrenching, I had a very defined ‘on- off’ switch where right up until I was on set I kept the switch off. I had to as the savage brutality of Devine pushed me to edge every time,” admits Tonna. “There were days I held back tears until I was alone.”

One of the toughest days for Tonna was shooting a scene for “The Secret River” episode two where Devine and his group slaughter an entire tribe.

Tonna recalls, “As we watched the bodies burn I hear a newborn child cry. I have to load my gun and shoot the child. Needless to say that this scene absolutely wrecked me emotionally.”

While stunts are what started Tonna’s onscreen career, with his expertise in martial arts and motorcycle precision driving landing him innumerable roles in action-packed productions, his gift for powerful character portrayals, even the ones that are painful to watch like his performance as Devine, are what have made him such a sought after actor around the world.

“For me it is about connecting with the audience through the scene. Becoming the character and bringing life to the words on the script. To be able to tell a story that hopefully will move the audience,” explains Tonna about what drives him to perform.

Regardless of whether he’s grabbing our attention with his action heavy roles as a stuntman, or captivating us with his authentic and emotionally honest performances as an actor, Tonna is one talented Aussie we can’t help but fixate on everytime he hits the screen.

Up next for Tonna is the highly anticipated new series “Emergency: LA,” a dramatic crime series where he will take on the lead role of Motorcycle Officer Joey Truscott. He is also slated to play a critical role on an upcoming series that is currently being developed for Netflix, so make sure to stay tuned for upcoming announcements about that.

STORYBOARD ARTIST BINBIN MA HAS A GIFT FOR BRINGING OUT THE CHILD IN US ALL

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During film and TV award shows like the Oscars and Emmys, inevitably one of the winners will say something about their work being just a small part of the community which worked to make the production they are being lauded for. It sounds like humility unless you get an accurate glimpse into the many vocations and tasks involved in the TV and film industry. For every face you see on screen there are literally dozens or more who did their job properly which enabled the images we witness to take place in the action of the story. One of the very first people to put their hands and talent into movement in every production is the storyboard artist. Many of them never see even a hint of the glamour and excitement that surrounds the set, celebrities, and premier events involved in a production. It is their ability to take the verbal communication of producers and directors and translate them into images that will enable the cinematographer, director, and cast to use this template in framing their work. Binbin Ma is a successful storyboard artist and graphic designer with a wide and diverse lists of credits to her resume. Her recognized artistic talent is a great deal of the reason that she has been sought ought by so many filmmakers but, it also her ability to communicate and comprehend the way these same filmmakers want to frame their ideas and shots. When watching any of the number of films she has worked on, you can see the flavor of the director but there are “signature” elements of composition that those familiar with Binbin will recognize. She is able to mold her abilities to the professionals she works with while still retaining the vehicle with which they are delivered.

Skate at 16 would seem at first to be a film about a young boy’s crush and bullying. In truth, the film is about any individual coming to the point in life in which they decide to be a victim or stand up against an aggressor and suffer the consequences. It is about discovering who you are in the face of adversity, and letting others bear witness to the courage it requires. Julian is a young teenage boy who interacts with a homeless girl who is living in a skate park. He reaches out to her partly due to his kind heart as well as the fact that he finds the girl cute (further proof of the fact that he doesn’t see her as a type of person but rather, simply a person). Almost halfway into the film, he is bullied by a 21-year-old and his skate shoe is humiliatingly stolen by the bully. Julian doesn’t fight back for himself but when the bully leads a gang who is stealing Tecla’s (the girl) belongings, Julian finds the courage to stop this bully. Skate at 16 is almost Shakespearean encompassing young love, family tragedy, the overly aggressive antagonist, the revelation of inner-strength, and a potentially fatal injury which results from the confrontation. All of these emotions which Julian experiences are captured by the camera with different angles and compositions; one’s which are easily imagined as pieces of art. If the colors on screen were more primary and somewhat exaggerated, it would be easy to see them as a graphic novel. Skate at 16 is so adept at using the angle and perspective of the camera to bring audiences to the same emotional state as Julian, it’s easy to see how Binbin’s work was the early staging for this approach. The line of communication and understanding between director, storyboard artist, and cinematographer is seamless; it definitely appeared so to the Los Angeles Cinefest when they nominated this fine film. Director Mario Aranguren gives credit to Ma for the look that was achieved in Skate at 16 by stating, “Binbin’s amazing work really helped me to clarify the blocking and shot angles in my mind. Before doing this, I was a mess in the head. The process of defining the shots with someone as talented as her and then having her return to me with an even clearer representation of the ideas…it’s such an important and vital part of the filmmaking process.” Binbin describes the process for those unfamiliar with her profession, “I worked with Mario, the director of the film, discussing the shot list for each scene. After that, we started drawing the shot basic on the shot list, through the angles, character blocking, and camera movements. Because Skate at 16 is a film about sports, the character movements were sometimes difficult to draw, and also the blocking between many characters could be confusing. Because of the film’s schedule, I had to prepare everything very quickly; it took about ten days for me to finish. The great part about my job is that, once everyone sees the completed storyboards, they become very energized and excited about the film and want to get to work right away. It’s a very rewarding feeling to see something I create have such an immediate effect on other talented professionals.”

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Guillermo Cameo was so enamored with the look of Skate at 16 that he hired Binbin to be the storyboard artist for his film Robots & Cowboys. There are some similar themes between the two films (feelings of loneliness, isolation, finding one’s sense of self) but there is more of a lighthearted and whimsical look to Robots & Cowboys. There is also a sense of fighting one’s self as well as others, a feeling that childhood can often bring. The main character, Joe, brings drama to his heroic actions, even as we smile at the way he shifts genre’s in his identity and imagination. We often see wide shots when the actions is overwhelming and threatening, while close ups give a sense of comfortability and control in the same way that the backyard tent (which is a make believe tepee) is a safe and controlled environment for Madeline (the young female character). The film is set in rural Philadelphia and has moments that transport the viewer to a Spaghetti Western. Although Cameo knew that he wanted this approach, he needed Ma to relay this visual approach to the crew in a very clear manner. Achieving his vision would empower the film with sweetness as well as intensity, but being just a shade off of his intent could make it come across as shtick. Gulliermo states, “Binbin Ma is one of the most exceptionally talented and qualified graphic artists and storyboard artists of her field. Robots and Cowboys has been one of my most successful endeavors as a filmmaker, and I am certain this is due largely to the fact that I included Binbin as a leading member of the film. The film was enormously popular among festivals and awards centered around children, and garnered wins and nominations from The Kids Festival as well as the Young Entertainer Awards. Furthermore, the film won several awards from the internationally recognized International Euro Film Festival, establishing our production as one of the most inarguably successful children’s films of our field. These enormous achievements among some of the most highly regarded critics and film festivals across the world are indicative of our film’s high standing, which is no doubt thanks to Ms. Ma’s leading role.”

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Both the opening scene, depicting Joe playing with Sir Steely (a robot toy based on Ma’s little brother’s robot ideas) as well as the final scene, complete with sunset and Copeland-esque soundtrack, were shots right off of Binbin’s storyboard. Whether close ups or wide vistas, Ma has a talent for structuring things that transfers easily to the cinematography. Explaining how to communicate images in a way specific to Robots & Cowboys, Ma states, “I used a lot low angle to make it easy to see things from the kids’ point of view. When I draw with children, I always keep that in my mind, try to bring the real character to frame.” Both Skate at 16 and Robots & Cowboys have a youthful vantage but discuss the trials all of us can relate to in one form or another. Only a professional like Binbin Ma has the eye and training to enable us, as the viewer, to revert back to our earlier selves and feel what the characters are feeling, without being aware that it is the location and framing of the action (brought into reality by Binbin images) that makes it all so real.

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MASTER FILM EDITOR TAKASHI UCHIDA’S LIGHT TOUCH STRIKES COMEDY GOLD

Whether film editor Takashi Uchida is assigned a drama, fantasy or action film, the Japanese born craftsman always delivers a crisp, distinctive cut which enhances the impact of any story. Equally adept at complex narrative dramas—he worked with ten different directors on Actors Anonymous—or the walloping animated adventure of the Netflix Kong: King of the Apes series, Takashi’s technical facility and innate grasp of any subject’s subtly and nuance is uniformly excellent.

Takashi’s instinct for what a story requires and the impact even a single frame of film can have to achieve a specific dramatic goal is masterly, and these formidable skills were recently brought to bear on a new type of subject for the editor, the fizzy tween comedy Jessica Darling’s IT LIST, an Amazon online release starring Disney TV actress and YouTube phenomenon Chloe East.

Adapted from the sixth of Megan McCafferty’s best-selling teen novel series, the middle school-set prequel presented a unique new setting for Takashi. The titular ‘It List” passed down by a sibling to her little sister when  she enters junior high, touts “the 3 Ps: popular, pretty, perfect” as Jessica’s requisite goals for survival. Intrigued at the prospect of exploring new thematic territory, Takashi didn’t hesitate.

“I was introduced, by a mutual friend, to editor Daniel Hanna, who was a good friend of the director, Ali Scher, and I joined the team as co-editor,” Takashi said. “After I started the project, a couple of Japanese friends said they had read the novel as teens and told me how the books actually became an important part of their young lives. So, I was really proud to be working on a project that I hoped would stay in the audience’s heart like that, as a bright spot in their own youth.”

Takashi doesn’t just inhabit a story, he carefully manipulates the action in a way that elevates each sequence. “In order to express the youth and freshness of the story, we were using a very playful editing style, making creative transitions,” he said. “But at the same time, however comedic it is, there’s still dramatic arc in each character and the editor’s job is to reconcile these two elements.”

Takashi’s deft handling of the story’s content paid off. “Takashi is a great editor because he is dedicated and detail oriented.” Scher said. “He’s also a fantastic storyteller. He can see where the story in a scene is and flush it out in the cut in a way I might not have thought of. That’s what a great editor does—brings the director a new perspective on something they’ve looked at a gazillion times. It’s always very exciting to get to see your film in a new light, the great editors understand this and push the envelope with their first cuts. Then it’s all about collaboration and marrying the two visions. Takashi excels at this because he doesn’t bring his ego to the table. The edit should never be a fight, but rather a dance, where the two partners each bring a lot of passion and a lot of give. Takashi is a great dance partner.”

Together with Hanna, the emotional content was carefully addressed. “In this film, we are trying to capture Jessica’s nervousness and struggle in this new place,” Takashi said. “It is her journey to find out who she is and also what it means to stay true to yourself. As an editor, crafting a narrative to express her emotion was the most important thing and our goal was, always, to build character and express their emotion.”

“There were a lot of challenges,” Takashi said. “I learned so much from editing this film. I was really lucky to work with such a talented director, Ali, and Dan, a great co-editor. Also, a lot of times the editor really has to work on shaping up the acting in post-production, but I didn’t have to worry about it at all—these kids were so talented. I am really proud of it and I believe this film will remain in the audience’s heart along with many other classic teen movies.”

The mutual pleasure which radiated throughout the IT LIST team imbued the finished product with great warmth, charm and appeal, and connected them on both a personal and professional level. “Takashi was such a joy to work with,” Scher said. “He was innovative and hard working. It takes a lot of determination and perseverance to be a great editor and Takashi worked a scene until it truly sang. I personally could not be more pleased with the work that Takashi did and the way the film turned out. I would definitely work with him again, no question.”

 

International Sound Designer Xiao Hou is the King of Foley

Xiao Hou recounts mimicking 1930s actions to recreate perfect sound

 

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Sound designer Xiao Hou brought his world-class talent to “Until the Dust Settles,” an award-winning short film from director Alex Gangi.

 

Xiao Hou is an international sound designer with a passion for the craft burning so bright it pushed him to move his entire world from China to Savannah, Ga. in pursuit of his Masters Degree in Sound Engineering. However, Hou’s devotion to sound had its root far earlier than his post-undergraduate days.

“I’ve always been a big fan of music,” he said. “I love recording and mixing it, and really got a chance to explore live sound while in college for several years as an undergrad in China. So one day I told my parents that I wanted to dedicate myself to sound, to audio, to anything related to sound. Luckily, my parents supported me. To study abroad is a lot of energy, time and money, but my family was fully on board.”

The investment and dedication would pay off. Hou got a call in Jan. 2013 to work as sound designer on the short drama film, “Until the Dust Settles.” The story follows a father and his two sons who reconnect while traveling through the American Dust Bowl in 1932.

The call to Hou came after various colleagues sang Hou’s praises to the sound supervisor — Mike Patterson (“Battlefield Hardline” and “The Walking Dead: Michonne”) — who is a fellow Savannah College of Art & Design alum.

Patterson raves about Hou. “As the leading sound designer of the film, Xiao absolutely excelled in his duties of recording custom sound effects to reach a more realistic aesthetic for the film. He recorded these sound effects in an environment similar to the location of our main characters in the early 1930s to achieve a more realistic vision for the film as a whole,” said  Patterson. “While an uninspired sound designer could have easily pulled catalogued noises from sound libraries, Xiao took it upon himself to go the extra mile.”

Hou recalls director Alex Gangi’s high standards for the film’s quality and sound. But it wasn’t Gangi that pushed Hou to supersede expectations — Hou’s hard work is innate and is one of the reasons he’s amassed many outstanding achievements in film. His brilliant sound can also be heard in titles such as Lionsgate’s “Compadres,” in commercials for Paris Hilton and the LA Clippers and in other acclaimed short films such as “Once” and “God Save the Queen.”

“It was very challenging,” Hou said of “Until the Dust Settles.” “The director wanted to have really great sound, so I sifted carefully through the sound library, but for some actions I couldn’t find the exact sound I wanted, so I ended up recording the sound in my kitchen, and bathroom.”

Hou carefully explains the delicate and intriguing process of “foley,” whereby sound designers mimic on-screen actions to recreate precise sounds. Hou adds that since the film was set in the 1930s, he had to be very careful and precise while re-enacting. “I had to custom record by myself and cut those sounds into the film,” he said. “In the end, it turned out pretty great.”

Great is an understatement. “Until the Dust Settles” went on to win a handful of awards and festival selections: winner of the Savannah Film Commission Award at the 2013 Savannah Film Festival, winner of Best Student Short at the 2013 California International Shorts Fest, a nomination for Best Student Short at the 2013 We Like ‘Em Short Film Festival, 2013 official selections at the LA Shorts, Cincinnati Film Festival, Orlando Film Festival, Big Bear Lake Film Festival and Bald Shorts Film Festival, and 2014 official selections to the Macon Film Festival and Speechless Film Festival.

“I’m very happy to be the behind the scenes person. I have always been obsessed with sound. I call myself an audiophile,” said Hou.

His passion for the field oozes out of his pores, as he subscribes to magazines, reads articles and continues to keep his skills fresh and sharp. “The most important learning process is working on projects,” Hou said. “The ultimate dream would be to continue working on exciting projects and traveling to work with other countries. I’m an international person and so my goals aren’t limited to just the United States, but all over the world, working with different people.”

Multitalented game designer and producer Zi Li effectively changes the game

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Zi Li combined her passions – art and science – into a thriving game design career.

 

The innovative game designer and game producer Zi Li has spent years studying various forms of media and entertainment. Originally from Guangdong, China, the experienced creator has demonstrated a proficiency of filmmaking and animation in addition to her expertise in the world of gaming.

With four years of game designing under her belt and two years of game producing, Li is known for her work with companies such as Firefly Games Inc., Floor 84 Game Studio, and Ericsson Communications Company. As a designer, producer and artist, Li has contributed to top, award winning games of various genres, including “Dissonance,” “Leviathan,” “Dungeon Crash,” “Epic Knights,” “Paralect,” and “MiraLab.”

As a game designer, Li’s role is similar to that of a film director’s, where as a game producer is in charge of overseeing the development of a video game, acting as a liaison between everyone involved with the project.

At an early age, Li developed a passion for science and art. “Unlike a lot of game developers, I didn’t fall in love with games first,” Li stated. “I spent more than six years studying paintings. I always thought I could become a part-time artist. Later, I dabbled in animation, however, neither satisfied my needs of expressing my engineering mindset. Eventually, I understood that in the gaming industry, science intersects art. For me, games are a media that allow both areas to collapse together.”

Li first got her start in the industry as a graduate game design student at the University of Southern California (USC). Through her extensive work on various independent projects, Li was able to gradually figure out her strengths, ultimately learning what it takes to become an effective inventor aside from the expected creative and technical aspects. “One of my main strengths is execution,” said Li. “As a game designer and programmer, I can execute myself very well. As a game producer, I can push other people to execute ideas well and understand every aspect of the game.”

Steve Cha, producer and fellow Collaborator on “Dissonance,” raved about Li’s talents. “Zi is not only about coming up with ideas, but also completing them with efficient ways. Dissonance is a game with relatively new gameplay and needed time to implement. Since everything in the game has two shadows, the team needed to make a system that casted two shadows for one object. Some talked about recalculating the vertices and some suggested using black 3D objects to make the shadows. Zi came up with the idea of using two cameras and casting images from these cameras to the walls. Her ideas efficiently solved the issue without slowing down the computing process. Zi can always find efficient ways to solve problems and keep everything running forward simultaneously.”

There are several required characteristics a game designer must have in order to be successful in their career. Every game has a target audience, and as a designer, it is his or her job to be aware of said audience. “Game designers communicate with the players through their games. A game designer should love his or her players and aim to work their design around their audience in order to provide a complete gaming experience,” said Li.

When it comes to her games in particular, Li works hard to engage these qualities that will ensure audience fulfillment as well as personal success in her own designing approach. Commenting on the matter, Li said, “I love being able to see into other people’s minds through their work, and I try to provide my players with a glimpse into my own through mine. My passion is communicating with people through the game as a form of art rather than just being passionate about making a game with no meanings.”

As a designer, it is Li’s responsibility to apply design and aesthetics to a game for its players to enjoy. More often than not, this type of work expresses the theme of the game. “For example,” Li explained, “I came up with the mechanics that translate the idea of psychological concept related to dualism in “Dissonance.” The two shadows involved in the came are casted from different lighting and visualize the abstract concept of dualism. One shadow represents logic and actions, while the other represents intuition and feelings. This approach I’ve created is unique and has never been done before. The game communicates the psychological concept through gameplay and people can see the idea even if they don’t speak the language – one of the main reasons why I believe “Dissonance” gets recognition from so many countries.”

“Dissonance,” an award winning, video game developed by Team Dissonance, is a puzzle-adventure game. After six months of development, what started out as Li’s personal thesis project, expanded to a team of over ten people. The developers transmitted the psychological concept about dualism into the core mechanics of the game to make it more than just a puzzle.

Since it’s initiation, “Dissonance” has received awards such as Most Innovative Game in Indie Prize and Experimental Game Finalist in Out of Index Festival, as well as appreciation from several different countries and organizations.

“I draw inspiration from all sorts of things,” Li answered, when asked from where she draws her ideas. “I often find myself motivated by other media, biology, psychology, and life experiences.” “Orbanism,” a game Li created with her friend Anisha, is inspired by the biology concept of mutualism and interspecific competition. Regarding how the game works, Li said, “It’s a two player game in which players are competing against one another and working as a team to overcome obstacles.”

Similarly, Li’s game called “Greek to Me,” is a game in which each player hears multiple different languages and has to distinguish which is English in order to reach their goal. “The game shows how hard it is for a foreigner to achieve things in a strange country,” said Li, detailing its purpose.

Li’s years of experience in designing and producing video games have allowed her to explore various diverse genres, ultimately rounding out her impressive framework of success. Her projects range from the puzzle genre to games that fall into the category of RPGs, ultimately proving a type of versatility that not every game designer carries.

“Through working on various projects, I can easily understand different aspects of a game and, overall, the image of each project. Though they all vary from one another, every step of the process teaches me new skills and perspectives of game development. These experiences contribute to me becoming a better designer who can be creative and resourceful. Thanks to my past experiences, I have learned how to be a better leader and am very confident approach to game designing and producing,” said Li.

“Dungeon Crash” and “Epic Knights” are two of Li’s mainstream mobile RPG games. With over 1 million download, “Dungeon Crash” was featured at both Android and Apple Stores, and was rated as a top-grossing Android game. With 50,000 downloads from over 100 countries, Li’s “Epic Knights” was rated the same.

Observing Li’s leadership abilities, Annie Chan, associate producer of “Dungeon Crash,” affirmed, “The developers of all games always want to put every fun element into their game, which not only slows down the development, but often creates a lot of bugs. Zi quickly spots this tendency and puts a stop to it. She directs the team to focus on improving the current version of the game and providing users with a user-friendly experience. Since Zi has stepped in and corrected the direction of “Dungeon Crash,” the overall performance of the game as well as its player reviews has gone up.”

Aside from Li’s sought after designing and producing abilities, her work as an art director has also reached a massive number of audience members. As the art director of “Leviathan,” Li is accountable for the overall look and feel of the Leviathan-world, as ensures the quality and style of the world as it is built.

The game itself is a bold and daring mix of virtual reality, augmented reality, cinema, and the novel based on the celebrated steampunk series by Scott Westerfield.

For her role, Li was required to conduct research in order to offer various ideas for the creation of an assortment of creatures for the game. “Zi came up with creatures that carried the story plot and were consistent with the rest of the world,” explained the creative director of “Leviathan,” Sunil Kalwani. “In the ship of “Leviathan,” the main characters need a communication tool. Zi designed Messenger Lizard, which is similar to a mobile phone, which offers an incredible user experience. Messenger Lizard’s skin color can change based on the emotion of the person on the other side. In this way, users can see the visualized emotion of the messages and choose if they would like access to whatever type of emotion or person. Zi’s creativity brings vivid life and a friendly, visualized experience to the Leviathan-world.”

“Leviathan” won the award for New Frontier Project at the Sundance Film Festival and has been featured on The Creators Project, a joint celebrity blog of art and technology by VICE, as well as at the internationally renowned Consumer Electronics Show.

In an industry that is still dominated by males, Li takes pride in being a successful, Asian female game designer. “Every time I’ve attended a game festival, I’ve noticed that the majority of the developers are male,” Li recalled. “As an Asian, female game designer and producer, I realize that my background is definitely different from most of the game developers I know.”

As a child, Li was fascinated with the Asian culture, art pieces that speak universal languages, and struggled with being both logical and sentimental. Now, she’s discovered her voice in the industry, and doesn’t hesitate to own her perspectives, thoughts or feelings. “I like to express my progressive, Feminist views through my work. I am proud to be a woman working in a field that used to be entirely dominated by men. I hope I can bring more of my unique viewpoints to the table and push the game industry to be more progressive with my knowledge and skills,” said Li.

Continuing that thought, Li added, “Contrary to popular belief and stigmatism, games aren’t always products used to simulate violent actions in the virtual world. Games can be used for educational, medical or experimental purposes. For me, I would like people to have fun and also find satisfaction within the spiritual communication through the gameplay when they play my games. That is what I aim to achieve.”

For more information, please visit: http://liizii.com/

 

Spotlight on Canadian Actor & Model Steven Van Nguyen

Canadian Actor and Model Steven Van Nguyen
Canadian Actor and Model Steven Van Nguyen photo by Marc Shultz and styling by Paul Langill

Originally from Waterloo, a small town in Ontario, Canada, Steven Van Nguyen rose to the top of the Canadian entertainment industry as an actor and a model several years ago. As an actor Steven has starred in the films The White Samurai, Deception, Checkmate, Add To Cart, M.E.G.O., Cheese The Musical and others, as well as an impressive list of commercials for companies including Canadian multinational coffee and doughnut restaurant chain Tim Hortons, Voxx Sports, Emerald City Condos, Mani Wonders, mobile game developer Emoteplay, OCMT College, and Clipter, a collaborative video stories app for Apple operating systems.

Steven played the starring role of Ryan in the dramatic Web series UNDERside, which was nominated for an Upper Year Script Award at the 56th Annual TARA Awards last year. Produced by V.O.P. Media, UNDERside centers on youths from different socioeconomic classes and seeks to reveal how the financial class one grew up in affects their overall outlook on life. Through Steven’s character Ryan audiences see how growing up wealthy without ever having to work can lead to ignorance and hinder one’s ability to create authentic relationships. Steven gave a stellar performance in the show where he starred alongside Lisa Lau (Covert Affairs, Purple Squirrels, Her Shadow, Poker Night, Broken Earth). 

Over the course of his career it has become clear that Steven has a look casting directors are dying to cast for a variety of roles, but more importantly he has shown through his work that he is a great actor with incredible versatility. Collectively, his projects span virtually every genre imaginable. While his uniquely handsome appearance is what helped Steven first break into the industry after he signed with Geoffrey Chapman Model & Talent Agency, which has received 24 consecutive Reader’s Choice Awards including the Award for Best Model & Talent Agency for the past three years, the young actor’s dedication to his craft is what has made him truly successful. Nguyen is also signed to Talent INK and MoonStar Management.

In 2013, Steven Van Nguyen took on the role of the Demon in the horror noir film The White Samurai. Produced by Gorgeous Horror Entertainment and D.B. Films, The White Samurai is a film about a man who must break his oaths and reclaim his former identity as the White Samurai after his daughter is taken from her bed in the middle of the night. While the White Samurai will stop at nothing to rescue his beloved daughter, evil natured villains like the Demon, played by Steven Van Nguyen, challenge his tumultuous journey at every corner.

Steven admits, “My favorite role so far was playing the Demon in ‘The White Samurai’ because the role was solely based on my acting abilities and not on my looks. I was able to express freely without any restrictions from the director on how I thought my character should be portrayed from how he sounded to his little ticks.”

Not only did the role allow him to showcase his acting prowess without the limitations posed by the audience’s perception of his physical features, as he underwent 10 hours of prosthetic make-up before each shoot in an effort to make him look as evil as possible, but the role offered him the challenge he was looking for. He says, “I’m not a sadistic person so I had to really dig deep and find a memory in the past that made it possible to be an evil, sadistic character.”

In addition to his growing Canadian fan base, Steven Van Nguyen is in negotiations with Plaza 7 Talent and several other agencies for representation in the U.S., a move which guarantees audiences across the United States will be seeing a whole lot more of this talented young star.