Category Archives: Film

Challenging perspectives with esteemed screenwriter Varunn Pandya

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Varunn Pandya, photo by Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

Christopher Reeves once said, “so many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” For esteemed writer and screenwriter, Varunn Pandya, this mentality is all of the inspiration he needs to remind himself that with the right amount of hard work and dedication, he is able to achieve everything he sets his heart to. Growing up, the talented creative found himself inspired by Reeves’ interpretation of one of society’s token superheroes and credits his ability to play Superman as being one of the characters that initially sparked his interest in film. From there, he immersed himself into every avenue that the industry has to offer and found a love for the profession he now calls his own. As for his desire to create, it is stronger than ever before, and he has a knack for finding unique ways to showcase that will to the world.

“As a writer and screenwriter, I develop stories that I aim to show or display to the world in a way they’ve not necessarily experienced before. As I also like to direct, I try to write stories that I can bring a unique perspective to. Because I was born in India, I like to think that I bring some unique ideas to the United States and that I help to break some of the stereotypes associated with living on the Eastern side of the world,” told Pandya.

As he continues to navigate his way through the arts and entertainment industry, Pandya often finds himself taken aback by the breadth of opportunities and the amount of creative freedom he is allowed to use in order to imagine without limits and tell truly compelling stories. He has a reputation for finding areas of film that touch his audiences and he manages to do so in a way that keeps content fresh and engaging. In addition, he takes great pride in knowing that through his words and the stories that he brings to life, he has a grand platform to challenge the minds of his viewers and allow them to open their eyes to societal issues that they may or may not even be aware of. For instance, in his script XYZ where Pandya, alongside Badar AlShuaib, cast an important light on the unconscious, and sometimes conscious, bias that human beings exhibit toward their own race. In another of his scripts, The House, Pandya attempted to step outside of himself and allow his audiences to see the world from a perspective other than their own.

The House tells the story of Carl, a homeless man living in Los Angeles struggling to find a human connection amidst the repercussions of a rough upbringing. The storyline follows Carl’s daily routine as he collects metal scraps from the areas surrounding him and food from the trash in order to sustain himself. One fateful day, however, Carl comes across a family in his neighborhood and he grows a fascination for them. As the story progresses, viewers are taken on a journey through Carl and the family’s interactions. The story reminds us that regardless of our life circumstances, our skin color, our nationality, or whatever other features we use to distinguish ourselves from others, we are not all that different on the inside. We share similar emotions and at the end of the day, we are all human. Sometimes it just takes a little reminding from people like Pandya.

For The House, Pandya managed to develop a script in just four days. Writing it felt natural and he did everything in his power to keep the content as raw and powerful as possible. Wherever he could make the script seem realistic, he did just that and attempted to ensure that the script demanded empathy from its audience. He also made a particular effort to cast Carl in a different light than most homeless individuals are seen in. He wanted to show the world that not all homeless individuals intend to be, nor does their living situation make them any less human than the rest of us.

Up until The House, Pandya had only really ever worked with thrillers. What he loved most, therefore, about this project was the fact that it allowed him to step into unchartered territory and to explore an area of society he hadn’t otherwise given much thought into. He takes great pride in knowing that his script has the power to change the minds of many as they engage with the script and consider their actions from there forward. In the end, Pandya was not the only one who found a love for the script. In fact, The House went on to win a number of prestigious awards, such as Best Short Screenplay at the Five Continents International Cult Film Festival in June 2018 and at the Calcutta International Film Festival in September 2018.

“It feels great to know that the script has been widely appreciated by people all over the world. This script will always remain one of the most memorableprojects I’ve written as I think it’s the most personal story I have written despite it being based on a character that is very different from me,” he concluded.

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The Sky’s the Limit for High Flying Actor Jolie Chi

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.

Chi, a native of Taiwan who studied at the prestigious New York Film Academy, is globally known for her acting roles.  2018 was a phenomenal year for internationally celebrated actor; this year alone she received several accolades for her leading role in the award-winning film “My Lunatic Lucy”, including “Best Actress in a Comedy” at the Actor Awards, “Best Actress” at the LA Short Awards, and “Best Actress” at the Top Shorts Film Festival.  Additionally, she received the award of “Best Actress” at the Independent Short Awards; her selection for this title was determined by a panel of experts from both the film industry and academia against a high standard of merit—her performance was deemed outstanding based on the complexity of her role, impressive acting abilities, and the energy that she brought to the screen.

As a rising actor of international acclaim Ms. Chi has recently secured roles on anticipated feature length films and appeared in motion picture “Destined to Ride” released by Sony Pictures, opposite big-name actors Denise Richards and Joey Lawrence.   Outside of film, Ms. Chi’s latest works as an actor have included a performance on Justin Timberlake’s 2018 hit music video “Filthy”, and a role on the television series “Laff Mobb’s Laff Tracks”, as the character of Ming Ling.

Chi’s effortless ability to succeed as actor reflects 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, and commercials, Chi has been a dynamic force since her arrival the United States when she was just 16.

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“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 and was soon working in TV commercials, short films, and movies. Some are currently in post-productions.

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.

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.”

Funk Meets Gamelan in Bali: Beats of Paradise

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Documentaries about music and musicians are extremely popular. A recent production of this ilk presents a very unique approach on the idea. Bali: Beats of Paradise explores two different artists from different cultures at divergent stages of their career. While the artists are featured, the true story is about a little explored form of music. Filmmaker Livi Zheng (along with EPs His Excellency Ambassador Umar Hadi, Indonesian Ambassador to Korea and Julia Gouw, ranked among the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” five times by American Banker Magazine) crafted this documentary which shows the collaboration of Grammy Award-winning vocalist Judith Hill (20 Feet from Stardom) and composer Nyoman Wenten as they collaborate on a new project which fuses contemporary music with traditional Indonesian Gamelan music.

 

Wenten has spent four decades as a purveyor and champion of Indonesian Gamelan music. Hill’s search for unique sounds peaked her interest in Gamelan. This film documents their exploration and fusion of funk and Gamelan in Hill’s work, present prominently in the “Queen of the Hill” music video. Bali: Beats of Paradise expertly displays the passing of the torch among artists of different generations while also communicating the search for new inspiration, sometimes found in preexisting sources. Gamelan may be this regions classical music but its inherent sounds and sights are dramatically different than what most of the world is accustomed to.

 

The subtext here is that the cultural identity of Indonesia is rich and relatively unexplored by the West. The sights and sounds of this documentary serve as a vacation to a visually and audibly stimulating other world. Zheng notes, “Most people will never have the chance to experience the beautiful, vibrant scenery Bali is famous for, said Zheng. “When I traveled to Bali to make this film, the most important thing was to capture the culture and traditions of everyday life – including Balinese ceremonies. Whether filled with joy or sorrow, each one is always accompanied by the traditional sounds of Gamelan.”

 

 

Bali: Beats of Paradise world premieres November 7th in Beverly Hills at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and opens on November 16th in Los Angeles and New York.

Cinematographer Majd Mazin tells impactful story with ‘The Fat One’

Growing up in Jordan, Majd Mazin was always fascinated by film. It wasn’t just his favorite form of entertainment, but also his hobby. At a young age he began making his own movies with his brothers and friends using his parents’ camcorder. The more videos and short pieces he made, the more he wanted them to look and feel like a real film. He had to learn to do that by himself. The more he did the more he realized how difficult it is to actually create a beautiful image and create a visual language that truly immerses the viewer. Even as a child, he began researching the various roles in filmmaking, and he learned about cinematography. Subconsciously, he started making his pieces for the cinematography more than for the story.

“I was never a good writer, and I am not a good one now. I wanted to express visually and the more I dove into cinematography, the more I realized how much more I have to learn. From then on, my curiosity took the lead, and here I am now,” he said.

By now, Mazin means an industry leading cinematographer. His work on award-winning films and television series, including Prodigal Son and The Millionaires respectively, have garnered international attention. His work on music videos, like Fall Out Boy’s recent hit “Church” and K-pop band Red Velvet’s song “Peek-A-Boo” have amassed hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, and every accolade is just further confirmation for Mazin that he was meant to be a cinematographer and camera specialist.

Last year, Mazin once again had a hit on his hands with The Fat One. The film tells the story of Annie, a woman who struggles to find her worth beyond her looks especially compared to her best friend, Elena, a beautiful runway model. Annie is afraid of rejection and of being loved, so she’s been pushing people away all her life. Now in her darkest moment, Elena must make her realize that it’s time to let go of the fear and start letting people in, before it’s too late.

“The film attacks a universal problem of us finding our worth beyond our looks and superficial attributes. We all suffer in some way or another with insecurity and that can be earth shattering for some people. This film sheds a light on how much harm this can do to a person when they are blinded from seeing what they actually can offer. The protagonist has that realization in the end. This film attacks that point head on while still being light and very funny at some parts, but heartfelt and truthful when it needed to be,” said Mazin.

The film premiered in the NCCC Film & Animation Festival where it was a finalist and has been screened at multiple festivals since. It was an Official Selection at SHORT to the Point, Ocean City Film Festival, Latino Film Market, Lady Filmmakers Festival, and Orlando Film Festival, as well as a Finalist at Los Angeles CineFest. Having his work appreciated by critics all over the world was a great feeling for Mazin.

“I enjoy making films that count and having a large audience end up seeing it. I am happy that the film succeeded and that I can be a part of it,” he said. “I enjoyed the actors’ performances, and I also enjoyed meeting the team of filmmakers, which I still work with to this day. It was really a team effort that made the film the success it is.”

The Fat One was Mazin’s third time shooting comedy. However, the film was a more typical style of comedy. He wanted to dive deeper into shooting this genre. The script was concise and well written, with funny and heartfelt moments. This drew him to the project. He also wanted to work with a new camera and test out some lighting gags that the script offered, that would play a further role in improving his craft.

Mazin also found working with Director Savannah Sivert very rewarding. She understood the nuances of the script and knew how to hit on the important moments. Together, they scouted locations and hired the crew. The shoot went smoothly, and they had a good amount of manpower for the size of the project.

“Bringing what I have learnt from my past projects and specifically from my comedy background, I felt like I could bring my style and a more grounded style to bring forward the story. I brought many resources in terms of lighting, crew and equipment from relationships I have built over the years to help the team achieve their vision,” he concluded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actor Missy Malek Is Equally at Ease on Screen and Stage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Visual Effects Artist Jie Meng is living his childhood dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorist Cynthia Chen shows emotion behind Sichuan Opera masks in award-winning film

When Cynthia Chen was a little girl growing up in China, she was always inspired by her mother. She was an art teacher, and a young Chen therefore began painting from a young age. She was always sensitive about the different colors she used and playing around with color always amused her. As she grew, this fascination only intensified, and she found it impacting her hobbies. She began to have an interest in photography just to play around with the photos while editing, changing the colors and enhancing them to create a captivating piece of art. When she began filmmaking, she realized how impactful color is to every shot in a piece, conveying emotions and acting as another way to tell a story. It can impact film styles, she realized, and when she already had an interest in editing films, she realized that being a colorist would allow her to explore this interest she had from childhood and turn it into a fruitful career.

Chen is both a highly successful editor and colorist. Her passion for what she does is unwavering, her talent unparalleled. Every project she has been a part of, including I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, OffsprungSlingshot Prince, and The Last Page, have gone on to critical acclaim at many of the world’s most prestigious film festivals thanks to Chen’s efforts.

“Just like editing has a rhythm to tell a story, the color, as another method to express the emotions, also can have a “rhythm” when it comes to contributing to create a film. I believe a film masterpiece must be treated and polished as a great art piece. Color grading enhances the texture of a film picture which makes it become a completed art piece. Every time I finish the color grading works, the group of filmmakers I am working with are always shocked after seeing the before and after pictures. That is my proudest moment. The whole color grading process makes me believe that my talent brings this film into a higher level,” she said.

One of Chen’s greatest successes as a colorist was the film Mask. The animated drama looks into masks in Sichuan opera that are traditionally used to reveal the changes of inner feelings and emotions of the characters participating in the drama. The masks turn abstract emotions and mental states into visible and sensible concrete images, and reveal the feelings of the characters inside the story. By raising the hand, swinging a sleeve or tossing the head, an actor uses different masks to show different emotions, expressing invisible and intangible feelings through visible and tangible masks. Mask, is inspired by Sichuan Opera Face changing. It is a story behind a mysterious mask, which shows different patterns as different lights go through.

The three characters in the film are heroes from different traditional Chinese historical contents. Qingshi Huang, represents as the breadth of vision, is the first king in Qing Dynasty.  Monkey King, one of the most famous and classical characters in Chinese fairy story, the guardians of his master, as the leader protected his group on the West Road, through eighty-one trials and finally reached the goal. Zhuge Liang, the smartest military advisors from three kingdoms era, served for Bei Liu, represents wisdom and loyalty. Those characters are also three heroes in Chen’s heart. For the Chinese native, it was an honor to work on this film that has a deep Chinese culture background.

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According to those three different characters, Chen decided basic color tunes for each one. The king Qingshi Huang has a yellow and green color tune because in Ancient China, yellow means power in social classes. Zhuge Liang, who represents wisdom and loyalty, uses a blue color tune as the main color base. In the color theory, blue connects to calmness and cool emotions. Chen set golden and orange color tune for the brave Monkey King as those colors stand for positive minds, passion and braveness. Therefore, the scenes where those three characters appear, and the weapons on their hands, have the unite color tunes.

As the entire film was CGI, the renders had a strong contrast in colors, which Chen thought looked very digital. To solve this problem, she decreased the contrast of the entire picture, adding some yellow color tune and film grains. She then adjusted each scene for each character, and finally finished the color grading work. She helped to bring the whole picture to a new stylized level.

“This short film had a very large creative space for me to try on the different color palettes and stylize the picture, which made this piece very interesting and fun to work with. The CGI images contain more color information than the images shot by cameras, so there was a lot of space for me to adjust the color for this film,” said Chen.

Mask had a tremendous film festival run with the help of Chen. It was an Official Selection at the New Media Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2018. It also went on to win the Award of Excellence at both the Best Shorts Competition 2018 and the One-Reeler Short Film Competition 2017. Chen could not be happier about the film’s many accolades.

“It was such an honor to work on this project that explores such an important part of Chinese culture. This is a milestone project in that it was a brand-new experience for me. The success of this film encouraged me to do more color grading work in the future which has more culture background,” she said.

The new works Chen has contributed to, feature film Indivisible and documentary Fantastic Fungi, are expected to be released later this year. Be sure to check them out to witness this colorist’s talent first hand.

Specialist Set Designer Haisu Wang, A Key Figure Behind Some of the Marvel Films’ Coolest Vehicles!

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The Benatar Ship in “Avengers: Infinity War”

If you’ve ever been curious about the design process of some of the insanely intricate and high-tech sets in many of today’s blockbuster films, then you’ll definitely be interested in the work of specialist set designer Haisu Wang.

A sought after force behind the scenes, Haisu has been a key counterpart in designing some of the incredibly stylized sets in big budget films, such as the recent and upcoming Marvel films “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and the 2019 “Untitled Avengers Movie.”

“It is always very exciting to work on films like this… I know that for these types of movies, I can always fully express my creative voice,” admits Haisu. “You work with the best team in the industry to achieve new ideas and hopefully inspire the next generation.”

From designing the Escape pod used by Rocket and Thor in “Avengers: Infinity War” to the cockpit and galley of the Benatar ship, the new spaceship that the Guardians of the Galaxy fly in, which we learned in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Haisu’s unique blend of creative and technical skill have led him to be tapped to work on some of today’s most popular films.

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Specialist Set Designer Haisu Wang

Prior to making his mark as a specialist set designer Haisu spent many years as a leading art director and production designer on indie films with comparably lower budgets; but he says, “The design process of big blockbuster films is pretty similar to my previous work.”

With an all-star ensemble cast, including household names such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Don Cheadle, and a layered and exciting story that makes it watchable over and over again, “Avengers: Infinity War” pulled in over $2bn, making it another one of the Marvel superhero films to reign at the box office.

While the fact that the frenzied films he works on these days will be watched by millions of viewers doesn’t make a huge difference to Haisu as a designer, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still aspects of collaborating on projects of this caliber that get him excited.

“Now I am more inspired by the level of talented artists and designers I work with more than the actual projects themselves,” admits Haisu.

For “Avengers: Infinity War” Haisu worked directly with Primetime Emmy Award nominated production designer Charles Wood (“Doctor Strange,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) to design the Escape Pod and the Benatar Ship’s cockpit and galley.

“As the production designer Charlie has a more comprehensive understanding of the story and how the vehicles fit into the visual arc so he gave me pretty clear set of goals of what the vehicles were supposed to feel like,” explains Haisu. “He gave me enough freedom in terms of designing the form and details of the vehicle and then guided me towards the right texture and color combinations.”

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The Benatar Ship

As a specialist set designer, Haisu’s carved out his niche in designing vehicles and special equipment, an area of focus where his artistic genius has not only flourished, but one where his vast technical knowledge has been integral in the multi-phase construction process of actually bringing the designs to fruition.

Giving us keen insight into his technical design process, Haisu explains, “I use Cinema 4D to block out rough concepts and render them in Octane Render. Sometimes I bring the model to Unreal Engine to set up a VR walk through. I use Solidworks and Rhino during the set design phase mainly because they are designed to work with a CNC machine really well, which becomes very important to the construction department.”

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Designing the Escape Pod

 

Taking something based on a comic book and turning it into a physical form that fits the filmmakers’ vision that can be shot by the film’s camera crew is no easy task. These designs undergo numerous transformations from the initial concept to the actual construction, and the vehicles Haisu designed for “Avengers: Infinity War” are no exception.

He explains, “The early version of the Escape Pod had a really slick form compared to the final version, and the surface detail was much more simple and minimalistic. But Charlie preferred the surface to look more like an insect and for the exposed equipment to look a little more complex to match the personality of ‘Rocket,’ the owner of the pod.”

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The Escape Pod

As a specialist set designer, developing these sets to serve the story is the most vital element of Haisu’s work behind the scenes, and his ability to innovate on past designs taken from ‘reality’ has proven to be a powerful contribution– something that is readily apparent in the impressive pilot’s chair he developed for the Escape Pod.

“I spent a good amount of time designing the Gyro Pilot Chair,” says Haisu. “We thought a lot about how to make the pilot seat to be self stabilized so that the pilot would not spin with the ship and lose consciousness like what happened to Neil Armstrong during his first space flight.”

Using his knowledge of design and industrial technology, Haisu was critical in designing a seat that could rapidly spin around a mounted axis, making it free to move according to the pilot’s desires despite the changing directions of the ship.

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The Gyroscope Pilot Chair

Beyond the creative talent it takes to design the kinds of sets that grab viewers attention and serve the story, those in Haisu’s particular field of work are required to have an incredibly broad and comprehensive skill set that includes understanding the manufacturing processes for these sets, such as vacuum forminglaser cutting, and using a multi-axis CNC and waterjet, which Haisu say are integral in ‘building sets that are visual effect friendly.’

He adds, “The set design phase and the construction phase are very well integrated. I design the aesthetic of the set with the sense of  fabrication always in my mind. Since the vehicles of this type of movie tend to have a complex forms. The fabrication process is less labor intensive but more automation based. Preparing clean and fabrication friendly model is the key to saving time and money.”

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Constructing the Benatar Ship

Giving him an additional edge over others in the field in terms of knowing how to communicate with the VFX department, which plays a huge part in massive productions like “Avengers: Infinity War,” Haisu also spent several years as a VFX artist at the three-time Emmy Award winning company Base FX before transitioning into his work as a specialist set designer.

Drawing from his experience as an art director and production designer while bringing a refined skill set to the table that allows him to design elaborate and highly technical sets for some of the most watched films today, Haisu Wang has solidified a strong position for himself in the industry.

Haisu is currently working on the eagerly anticipated continuation of the “Avatar” film series. With “Avatar 2” expected for release in 2020, fans of “Avatar” have waited nearly a decade to find out what happens next; however he won’t be the one to disclose any of that information. But he does say, “I am very excited about the world that we are creating and very proud to be part of the ‘Avatar’ team.”