Tag Archives: Commercials

Character Technical Director Qiao Wang brings iconic characters to national Target campaign

It is not often that one individual is both technically and artistically inclined. Such skills normally find themselves separated, considered two different ways of thinking entirely. However, this is not the case for China’s Qiao Wang, where the fusion of both technology and art have led to a dynamic skill set that most do not possess. As a Character Technical Director (Character TD) or Character Effects Artist (CFX), Wang combines his technological way of thinking with his innate artistic talent. Compared to other roles in a CG animated film or a visual effects driven film, a Character TD tends to be both artistic and technical, and most of the time requires more technical knowledge and skill sets than other roles. As Wang was trained in both art and science, he knew those two roles would be a great fit for his career path, and he has dedicated himself to it ever since.

Wang now finds himself as a leader in his industry, having worked on several prolific projects. Whether he is working on films, such as Avengers: Infinity War, music videos, including the hit “Filthy” by Justin Timberlake, or commercials, including a series of recent ads for Lexus, Wang’s talent is evident, using CGI to create extremely realistic looking characters and objects.

“To me, design is to create a better experience or better life for users. The artwork, character animation system or whatever I design, is simply trying to make the users happy, to create the most efficient setup to make their lives easier. I think that’s my design style,” said Wang.

One of Wang’s ongoing professional relationships is with the iconic department store Target. He has worked on many commercials for the company over the past couple of years and enjoys it every time. They were one of the first series of projects that he did at Method Studios and they incorporate many aspects of what he likes about his job. The commercials offered a variety of digital characters, from Marvel superheroes, Lego characters, Trolls, ponies, Barbie dolls, etc. They all have different body types and they all require different rigging and character FX setups.

The challenge was creating such an array of characters, and Wang was eager to develop them.

Last year, Wang worked on the store’s Holiday campaign, including “Together’s The Joy | Target Holiday 2017”, “What Are You Thankful For This Thanksgiving | Target Holiday 2017”, “A Home For The Holidays | Target Holiday 2017”, “Order Pickup | Target Holiday 2017” and “Super Mario Odyssey – Now at Target 2017”. This year, he has worked on two commercials for the company’s “Jurassic World” campaign, “Target 2018 – Giant Steps” and “Target 2018 – Dino Clash”.

“All these spots are all over the internet and TV, and they’ve got millions of views, with very positive reviews. It feels great that consumers love the creative content that we did for our clients. I was so happy reading the reviews on YouTube, kids are very into the toys, cartoon characters, and the short stories. I feel very happy to see all these characters come to life, and I’m very excited about getting ready for the new Target holiday commercials in 2018 and creating more fun characters,” he said.

On every commercial, Wang jumped into production and started creating characters’ rigs including skeleton animation system, cloth and hair/fur simulation effects right away due to the tight schedule and large amount of CG content. He built characters and wrote thousands of lines of code for tons of different types of digital characters, props, vehicles, and massive environments.

Wang was also responsible for cloth and hair/fur simulation, muscle effects along with various other character finishing tasks and shot finishing tasks. He essentially is a groomer for the hair and fur, and characters like Trolls have a lot of hair to be managed. His skills in hair/fur simulation were essential. There was only one groomer in the studio besides Wang, who was quite busy at the time, so he stepped up and helped deliver high quality hair grooming and simulations.

One of Wang’s greatest accomplishments for the Target commercials was the system he developed to create generic rigging templates for Lego characters, Minions, and Barbie doll characters, which he was then able to apply to many other characters that had similar body types. It helped create facial rigs, and lip syncs to improve characters’ facial workflow and performances. The cartoon character facial setup system saved Wang and his team a lot of time, as the old system was broken. Wang’s new system saved the entire production.

“I really like how the commercials merged characters from different worlds, different productions into one story, and made them look like they belonged to the same world. I like to work on different types of characters to face different challenges. I really enjoyed being able to contribute to the character technology pipeline and workflow for the studio. The story and the lines are very entertaining and working on them makes me feel like the holiday season is right around the corner. Even though these are VFX commercial projects, we really treated them as top-notch fully CG animated short films,” he described.

Keep an eye out for the 2018 Target Holiday campaign to see more of Wang’s outstanding work.

 

Photo by Dustin Han

Advertisements

Olivia Jun rises in the face of stress for stellar HUAWEI Mate 10 commercial

Olivia Jun headshot
Olivia Jun

When Olivia Jun was just a child, she remembers watching her first movie and existing in a state of shock for the remainder of the day. She felt as though a door to another world had been opened. She saw people unlike her, in a life entirely different than her own. She realized that there must be more, there must be a world out there that was much larger than she thought. As she grew up, she allowed her love for film to inspire her and to guide her thoughts and interests to a better place. She immersed herself into the culture, history, and sciences of film. She absorbed as much knowledge as she possibly could about the industry and how to excel amongst the highly talented individuals who keep it alive. She never silenced the desire within her to become a filmmaker and today, she is well known for being a highly versatile, well-respected film producer.

So, what does an average day in the life of someone like Olivia Jun entail? Without fail, Jun tends to be one of the first people to arrive on set for the day and nevertheless, one of the last to leave. She spends every second in between undertaking tasks like ensuring cast and crew members are fed, monitoring the set up for the actors’ dressing rooms, liaising with department heads to ensure that roles and responsibilities for the day are clearly outlined, and much more. If an issue has arisen, she diligently opens lines of communication with everyone involved to make sure that they are able to come up with a seamless solution. Toward the end of the day, she proactively meets with each team to discuss preparation for the following day, and then finally, she determines how much of the budget was used that day and how best to manage remaining resources for the remainder of the project. To her coworkers, it feels almost as if she is capable of being in two places at once as she is always on her feet and she is there when someone needs a hand. Without Jun’s contributions, it is unlikely that many of the films and commercials she has produced would have ever been the successes they were. She was an invaluable asset in the creation of films like Esther, and Donna, as well as commercials for companies like eHi Car Service and HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial.

Earlier on in 2018, HUAWEI Cellphone Company put out a request to their contacts in the industry to recommend a highly skilled producer who would have the talent and expertise necessary to create a cutting-edge commercial for their company. As a direct result of Jun’s pristine reputation, she was asked to come on board for the project and to produce their commercial, HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone. Jun was particularly thrilled to join as the commercial was to be shot in the United States; however, the rest of the project would take place in her home country, China. She enjoys any opportunity that allows her to showcase her skills as a bilingual, culturally aware producer and she feels as though this ability gives her a leg up ahead of her competition.

The advertisement depicts a young man assuming a number of different roles in order to show off the multiple functions of the phone. The aim was to highlight the phone’s versatility and the knowledge that no two individuals will use it the same way; however, the phone is capable of accommodating each different variation of use. They wanted consumers to understand just how highly intelligent and convenient the phone is to have and Jun, along with the rest of the crew members involved in the commercial, did an exceptional job of making consumers feel as though the HUAWEI phone is the phone missing from their lives.

Jun joined in this project at a time after its former producer had to leave as a result of certain cultural and language barriers. Because of this, tensions were high amongst cast and crew members and her clients were very stressed. Astonishingly, even amidst difficult time constraints, Jun remained calm, patient and determined to bring her clients back to a place where they felt confident and excited about the project. Without wasting any time, she immediately began selecting and preparing set locations, organizing shooting schedules, and rebalancing the budget in such a way that actually afforded them an extra day of shooting without going over budget. Her clients were blown away and were relieved to know that they had hired a producer who could not only get the job done, but get it done well.

“The plan I came up with was very organized and it saved us a lot of time, lowered our risks, and allowed us to complete the shoot much better than we had originally anticipated. During the shoots themselves, everything was well organized, safe, and smooth. The director got more than he wanted in the first place and the entire cast and crew were left feeling content and excited about the work we had done. It was a great feeling,” told Jun.

In addition to her prowess as a producer, Jun was such a prominent member of the entire project because of her ability to speak Mandarin and address the communication barriers with her Chinese clients that hindered the project with their previous producer. Her experience working with both Chinese clients and American clients increased the value she brought to the table and it also helped her to choose cast and crew members that would compliment their shared interests. On top of that, she entered a very stressful situation when she first joined the project; however, she has an affinity for looking stress directly in the eyes and refusing to back down. She keeps her sights set on delivering her very best and knows that if she comes up short, she will have no regrets regardless. Somehow, however, she never seems to come up short in the end. She loved embracing each challenge she was handed and was proud of the final outcome. Once again, the HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial exceeded all of her clients’ expectations and added yet another high calibre commercial to her repertoire.

Ultimately, the commercial premiered at the cellphone’s launch event in Munich, Germany, as well as on a worldwide lifestream. It was also released on Youtube, youku.com, tencent.com, and more. To date, it has just shy of 500,000 views and counting. Jun is extremely proud of how far they came when she first joined in on the project and she can’t wait to see what additional success this advertisement will bring to the phone’s selling story. Making her beam with even more pride, however, is the fact that in June of this year, HUWAEI made another commercial for their new cell phone called NOVA 3 and hired Jun as their bilingual producer after witnessing her expertise for the HUWEAI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial. Stay tuned for its release next month.

Producer Kegan Sant helps TELUS give back with inspiring charitable campaign

It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.

“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.

Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.

Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.

The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.

“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.

What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.

“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know.  He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials.  An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.

When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.

“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.

 

Photo by Kevin Sarasom

Art Director Phenix Miao creates stunning sets for Lepow Commercials

P9Phenix Miao was eight years old when he began drawing. He believes art is part of his blood. His great grandfather owned a famous antique house in Shanghai, and that passion for design passed through generations. Growing up, his house was always full of antiquated artifacts, and even at a young age, Miao became fascinated by them. As he grew, his love for art and design only intensified and he became interested in decorating, arranging, and building a scene. There was only one path for him that made sense, and it was becoming an art director. Now, he is celebrated in both China and abroad for his art direction, and he has no plans of slowing down.

Whether it be with film, television, or commercials, Miao constantly shows viewers just how much talent he possesses. In the 2016 movie Shanghai Sojourner, Miao helped transport audiences to Japanese-controlled Shanghai during World War II. In the acclaimed film Lottery, Miao created a fairytale like world to show the euphoria of a starving, young orphan getting his hands on a winning lottery ticket. Using his commercial senses, Miao also helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars with his work on a crowdfunding campaign for Itron Battery. He is extremely versatile with a love for what he does.

“Art direction and production design is a large part of telling a story, so I insist on harmonious and mindful designing. When I’m creating a scene, I make sure to consider the person that will be in it and whether the scene corresponds with the one who lives/uses it. Sets are like extensions of the characters,” he said.

Miao once again achieved this with his work on several commercials for Lepow. The technology company manufactures mobile accessories such as the portable power bank, external battery, and the smart bag. Starting in 2015, Miao took on the role as art director for the premiere commercial for Lepow’s TV Show Box. From there, they made a follow up commercial showcasing the product, and a year later, another long commercial showcasing the brand as a whole.

On the set, Miao was responsible for the entire visual experience. He aimed to make everything the director imagined into the scene a reality. He designed the color and artistic style, selected the best and most suitable materials, maximized every detail, and designed the design space. As the leader of the creative team, he aimed to take the big picture and divide it into small, tangible tasks that would be easy to complete within the timeframe they were working in.

Working closely with the director, Miao discussed every shot individually, wanting to understand the exact feeling the client was looking for. Every aspect was important to create an entire world in the set, from colors to the smell, even though viewers would not experience that. Miao shows such commitment to every detail of a project, that it makes everyone he works with greatly appreciate his talent.

“Phenix is a great leader of the art department and ensures everything goes smoothly. He is essential as an advisor, balancing out my ideas and feelings of the clients through his work. He is a comprehensive creator with a deep understanding of filmmaking, more so than any art director I have worked with. He is constantly curious and always eager to learn new things. In terms of production design, Phenix has an ability to take even the largest set and make everything extremely detailed. Even when I can’t describe exactly what I want, he finds a way to not only make it, but he produces work even better than I imagined,” said Peter “Zhen” Pan, Director.

Miao and Pan have worked together multiple times in the past, and Miao is always the director’s go-to art director. Their personal relationship has transformed to a friendship over many years of collaboration, and Miao knows how to transform Pan’s vision into a reality. Miao appreciates Pan’s different taste and feeling about color and the “rhythm” of the set and props compared to other directors. He understands Pan’s “language” and this connection ensures productivity and efficiency on set, as they communicate seamlessly.

“We work like a family and talk to each other directly no matter what the opinion or issue is. On set, everyone makes sure to do their best work possible. The Lepow commercials were no different. It was a great time and wonderful teamwork. All the guys try to help one another. Working on a series of commercials has allowed us to become familiar with each other, and it is a very relaxed working environment,” he said.

The campaign has been a great success both for Miao and Lepow. Despite this, Miao doesn’t think about what he has achieved when he sets his sight on a new commercial. When he sets out to make something, he expects success because otherwise he would not live up to what he knows he can do. That is what makes him such a formidable art director and production designer.

“We put so much wisdom and effort into these commercials because we had a goal, which was to make Lepow feel satisfied and see sales growth from our work. When that happens, I don’t celebrate, I just know that for the next one we should do even better. The series turned out beautiful for sure, and that is our work. That I can feel proud of,” he concluded.

 

 

Filmmaker Shaan Memon celebrates the holidays in commercials for Dickens Fair

Article04-dickensfair01
Shaan Memon

As far back as Shaan Memon can remember, his family had a VCR player at their home in Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat state in India. Every Sunday, he would watch all of his favorite cartoon shows, and his father used to help him record the shows on video cassettes. When his father would travel to Bombay for work, he would return with movies for Shaan and his elder sister. It was then, in his living room in his childhood home, that his love of film was born.

Now, Shaan is an in-demand Screenwriter, Director, and Editor. He first impressed international critics with his work on the horror The Unreal and continued to do so with his films Fitting In and Bullied, as well as the documentary Purpose Driven Study for Dharoi Canal Command Area. He is extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to post-production, and using this knowledge to expand his skillset. At the end of last year, his work on a commercial for the Dickens Christmas Fair showed that in addition to Director and Editor, this versatile filmmaker can even take on the role of Videographer and achieve tremendous results.

“I found Shaan to be reliable, assiduous, hard-working, and intuitively creative – as well as being extremely patient in performing multiple re-cuts of the material. Shaan impressed me so much that I recommended him for other work and hope to engage his services next year on a separate video for the Dickens Fair,” said David Hakim, Producer/Director who worked alongside Shaan on the commercial.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a one-of-a-kind holiday adventure into Victorian London and is an elaborate party with around 800 of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops. It’s a twilight evening in Charles Dickens’ London Town – a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplight shops are filled to overflowing with Christmas gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Thousands of people attend this event every year.

“I had never visited the fair before, so the first time when I visited it, I was spellbound. They have created a different world in itself. One can never imagine what would it be inside until they visit it, and that is exactly I wanted to capture. I therefore insisted on not visiting the fair before shooting, as I wanted to feel like a traveler who is experiencing it for the first time and I captured those moments,” said Shaan.

Shaan is a multi-talented filmmaker with an outstanding about of expertise in writing, directing, editing, videography and sound design. Because he has so much experience in such a variety of roles, he is a one-man army who can execute a project as clearly and as nearly to how it was conceived during the consultation. Having thorough knowledge of different fields makes him a force to be reckoned with and proved vital while shooting this commercial.

“Every filmmaker works hard with his/her sweat and blood to make a project the best it can possibly be and make their name in the industry. I had huge responsibility as Diane Baker put trust in me and suggested me to work on this project. I’m happy that I could reach her and David’s expectations,” said Shaan.

When Diane Baker and David Hakim were trying to find someone who could make a captivating commercial for Dicken’s Christmas Fair, they immediately thought of Shaan and approached him to take the lead on the project. Initially, Hakim had planned on creating a competition to decide who would create the commercial, but after seeing Shaan’s work, he knew he no longer needed to find someone to take over.

Working closely together for the entire shoot, Shaan consulted Hakim regarding what kind of shots, pace and feel would be required. After brainstorming, they decided on getting more front faced shots of the visitors, showing how happy they were and enjoying their time. Getting the best shots of artists performing, vendors selling beautiful products, the decorations, the grandness of the fair and much more. Shaan then attended the fair with his assistant to get as many shots as possible. During the editing process, he consulted with Kevin Patterson, Executive Director of Dicken’s Fair. He edited the best possible 30-second commercial. He is now working on the 90-second advertisement after the success of its predecessor.

“This is what I love about filmmaking. I never get bored of being a filmmaker. I enjoy working every time I have to go through this process of starting a new project, working on it and at the end looking at its result. Every project takes me on a whole new journey. In this one I met around hundreds of artists working together at same place. Watching Dickens’s characters alive and performing in front of you was a treat! This project was great to work on and entertaining also. David was very supportive throughout and I’m happy that he trusted my creativity and I could deliver up to his expectations,” Shaan concluded.

Check out Shaan’s work on the commercial on the Dicken’s Fair website.

SUN SHINES BRIGHTLY WHILE NOT SEEN

IMG_4047

If you’ve ever known an artist, ever read a book about one, seen a film about one, or perhaps been one yourself…then you know that the goal is not to achieve fame (although that’s nice) or riches (also not horrible) but rather true artists simply want to create. The work for them is “work” only in the sense that it requires immense effort but not in a sense of begrudgingly performing a day to day task. Editor Wanqiu Sun eagerly communicates that she loves what she does and that every production she works on allows her to hone her skills. Ranging from TV productions to feature films to web productions and practically everything in between, Sun feels that her job is eternally one which allows her to shape a story, regardless of the medium or its presentation. While she has edited many an award-winning-film, she has also found herself utilizing her talent for commercials like those for Chang’an Automobiles. This series of 3-three minute commercials presented the company’s commitment to consumers and did so with the emotion that Sun’s touch is known for.

Chang’an’s relationship with their customers is analogous to that of editor and director. Passion, beauty, structure, and trust are requirements for a mutually beneficial partnership and pleasing results. People help display the story. In a film they are actors but in these commercials they were real employees of Chang’an. Each commercial presented an employee and how their work led to the benefit of the company’s customers. In one spot, we meet safety engineer Xin Li and the crash test dummy he works with exploring and ensuring the safety of the vehicles. Another presents the Designer Zheng Chen exploring his idea of design, how nature inspired him, and his concept of “power inside.” The final third commercial delves into the future of autonomous vehicles with Zhe Wang. This MIT graduate explains the culture which drew him to Chang’an and what lies ahead for the advancements in automobiles.

The structure of the advertisements were similar to TV and films in the sense that they were based around stories but there were still differences substantial enough to warrant a different approach from the editor. Sun focused on the initial visual impact. The ability of a commercial to attract the viewer’s attention supersedes that of a continual storyline. Wanqiu notes that the story during these productions was more prominent than most, a happy occurrence, but imagery was still the most crucial element for her to present. She explains the process stating, “For commercials, we sometimes won’t break down to what exact shots we will shoot before production. It’s more flexible in comparison to film. For these commercials, they had manuscripts before shooting. They were planning to go with a documentary style, to combine interviews with other footage. The locations were all real locations inside the factory, which meant that it looked different every day. If the majority of shots were planned before, it might have caused more problems during production. As the editor, I had to figure out where these shots could be placed according to the content we had in the manuscript. Cutting according to the original manuscript was around five minutes. I had to combine and rewrite the manuscript to bring the entire thing down to three minutes. Any information we’d lost from the manuscript had to be presented visually.”

Wanqiu’s work on these Chang’an commercials is proof that when there’s a great editor on the production team, especially one involved in pre-production, it makes the production much more efficient. Editors like Sun have the big picture and help the production team to predict problems and also fix those remaining in post. Transforming good material into great material and manifesting the unforeseen, editors are like ninjas who conceal themselves to make the cuts seamless. This analogy resonates with Wanqiu who remarks on her favorite editing, “There’s a fight scene in rain in The Grandmaster (Directed by Karwai Wong, Edited by William Chang), which is one of my favorite scenes in all of Chinese Film. Unlike other action movies, this one doesn’t focus on showing every movement of Kung Fu but more of the atmosphere and the spirit when people are fighting. It is very emotional. Everything seems so vague in the rain but you can feel their exact mood. Some people fight for power and fame and some fight for dignity. It is possible to analyze why we are feeling this way from editing.” The majority of her work has been in English speaking productions; the fact that her family in China gets to see her work every day on these Chang’an commercials gives her the chance to show that she is very much “in the ring.”

Australia’s Pauler Lam dances in Hotel Indigo’s newest national commercial

DSC04731 smaller 2
Dancer Pauler Lam

When Pauler Lam was 14 years of age, he did what most teenagers did to entertain themselves at the time; he watched MTV. Upon seeing the music video for Jason Nevins & RUN DMC’s hit song “It’s Like That”, the Australian native watched the two teams featured in the video breakdance, battling each other and executing incredible dance moves. It was from that moment on that he knew he wanted to learn how to breakdance. From there, he practiced almost every day with his high school friends, doing back flips and dancing on the grass. He began watching music videos not just for entertainment, but to watch the dancers and study their moves. He came across Korean Pop (KPOP) videos, which were filled with outstanding choreography, only expanding his passion from breakdance to dance itself. Now, he is trained in multiple genres, and as a celebrated Bboy who is also extremely skilled at Hip Hop choreography, he has achieved his dream that he set out on at just 14.

“For me personally, I love being a dancer because it is fun, and it is the most genuine and positive way that I can express myself as an artist. I love the feeling of bringing music to life through movement. It is when I am the happiest. I love performing too, whether it be on camera or for a crowd of people. I also love making people happy when they watch me dance and perform. I am confident in my skills as a performer that I know that I can make people enjoy themselves while I dance.

Lam quickly rose to fame on the 2016 season of Dance Network’s hit show Steady Mobbin’, where he was a principle dancer for several episodes, and in one episode had a feature about his life and career. Since then, he has been in several Buzzfeed dance videos, amassing over a million views each, and a national commercial for American Crew. Despite such success, the highlight of Lam’s career came when he danced in the national commercial campaign for Hotel Indigo last year.

“What made it the highlight for me is that I, an Asian male, was cast to be the star. This is a big deal to the Asian American community in Hollywood. We, as Asians, are usually cast to play stereotypical roles or aren’t considered appealing to the mainstream media, so this definitely was the highlight of my career. After speaking to the team behind the project, I knew that they believed in me because of my skills as a dancer and performer, and did not care about image,” he said.

Lam was cast to play the lead role in the project, where he was followed dancing around the hotel and the surrounding attractions of Los Angeles. There were hundreds of applicants for this lead role. The production team needed the best possible candidate out of all those applicants, and Lam was the stand out. He had sent footage of himself dancing, videos showing his personality, and several photos. It wasn’t long before he was approved by all parties to lead the campaign. Everyone believed that he was the best candidate for the project and that he would be able to bring their vision to life through his artistry as a dancer. His high level of skill and versatility as well as his vibrant on-screen performance and personality that were shown in his video reel and resume made him the right choice.

The commercial, which premiered last September worldwide, was a large success for the Downtown Los Angeles hotel, and Lam’s dancing was a large part of that. His work ethic was also vital, as he is someone that can adapt quickly to any situation. He has a tremendous positive mindset, something he considers one of his best assets outside of his sense of rhythm.

“Pauler and I were like a dream team when it came to this campaign. His incredible skills as a professional dancer are out of this world. We spent a few days together planning and mapping out some dance moves and camera shots so we would all feel comfortable come shoot day. Pauler was able to make my vision come to life through his art and movement and I couldn’t be any happier with the result,” said Harrison Winter, Director of the commercial and Filmmaker at Co.Mission Content.

Winter hand-selected Lam to played the lead role for his project. They began with Skype meetings along with the producer, Dan Tundis. After easily agreeing on what they all wanted for the shoot, they spent two days together location scouting and rehearsing ideas on the spot regarding choreography. The teamwork between the three of them made everything very effortless for Lam.

“It really meant a lot that Harrison and Dan both trusted me with their vision. They even went with my recommendations for other people to be used on the shoot as other featured dancers.

Because we got along so easily and well, come shoot day, it made everything very smooth and fun. The hotel clients were also present and it didn’t take long for them to relax and trust in all of us too after seeing what we were capable of,” Lam described.

Any suggestion that Lam had for dance moves that he could perform, he was able to execute them easily, which highly impressed everyone he was working with. His friends, Bianca Vallar, Alvin De Castro, Savannah Marco, were other dancers featured in the commercial. In the end, they were all able to achieve the best possible result that they could have with the project. Working with Harrison Winter, Dan Tundis, Kris Young, Sam Nuttman, and everyone at Hotel Indigo made the experience for the principle dancer.

“I loved being able to showcase my personality and skills as a performer on such a large platform. Hotel Indigo is an internationally recognised establishment. And for me to play the lead role in their campaign was such a blessing,” said Lam. “I also loved working with all the people involved in this project. From the production team, the clients, to my friends who were featured dancers. We all did our best to achieve the best results for this project. It was a big validation on why I love being a professional dancer.” 

Lam knows that dance is a tough industry to break into, and he is extremely grateful for the success he has achieved. He never gave up on his dream, even when it seemed like it was the easy way out. However, he believes the best way to achieve success as a dancer is to simply be yourself, and to have fun, and working on this campaign gave him to opportunity to do both.

“It feels absolutely incredible knowing that people all over the country saw my work on this project. I love how the campaign turned out. I feel it definitely captures myself as a person on camera and I hope it makes everyone watching as happy as it made me feel performing that day. It’s work like this why I love doing what I do for a living. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

You can watch Pauler Lam’s impressive dance skills in the Hotel Indigo commercial here.

Isabella Richardson helps prevent youth suicide with moving work in Beyond Blue Commercial

Isabella Richardson was just nine years old when she realized what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. The Australian native realized then that she could have fun whilst doing what people would call a ‘job’. She realized she could inspire people, make them laugh, and make them feel emotions they didn’t even know were there. She loves that she can move people, and encourage them to follow her dreams the way she followed hers.

Richardson has quickly become one of Australia’s best young actresses. Her performance in seasons two and three of You’re Skitting Me have earned her an expansive fan base, and her role in the film Next of Kin received critical acclaim. Just last year, her work on Sprite’s commercial garnered international attention. However, Richardson often chooses her roles for the message they convey, and her work on the 2014 commercial for Beyond Blue helped shed light on an important issue.

“I was very attached personally to this project due to the nature of what it entailed. Depression and anxiety are a huge factor in today’s society, and I wanted to be a part of spreading the word, and having people know it’s okay to talk about these things to your loved ones,” said Richardson.

The commercial evolves around six teenagers explaining youth suicide prevention to the camera, showing the message of, “If you’re worried about your child, the best way to find out if something is wrong, is to ask”. The commercial encourages parents to look out for warning signs of suicide in young people, showing the importance of showing children that they have a support system that is always willing to listen to what they’re going through. It can be a challenging and uncomfortable conversation, but it could make all the difference to a child’s life.

“I believe this message behind the commercial was so important because we were reaching an audience that needed help in understanding why their loved ones felt a certain way and what they could do to help. I was really proud to work on something with such a powerful message that could actually help save someone’s life,” said Richardson.

In the moving advert, Richardson plays the role of Katie. Katie is a 17-year-old skater kid, who has a careless outlook on life. She doesn’t have many aspirations in life and doesn’t care to have any either. Katie wears clothes to reflect her personality, such as t-shirts, ripped jeans, converse and collared flannels. She lives in a housing commissioned area where her parents are trying their hardest to pay the rent, whilst Katie reluctantly contributes by working a couple days at the local supermarket. Katie mostly hangs out at the skate park to escape her home life. Although she seems careless and selfish, deep down inside she just wants her parent’s attention and affection. In the scene, she goes to the skate park to escape her parents from questioning her quality of life. The dialogue revolves around informative info to parents who may need help understanding if their child does have thoughts of suicide and are depressed.

“It was a real reward to know we were breaking down the stigma around depression and suicide by spreading the word through a commercial,” said Richardson.

Filming at the skate park provided some unique challenges while shooting that Richardson was quick to overcome. Shooting scenes in a skate park on a weekday allowed the actress to see some of the hardships of skateboarders and their need to skate. However, the noise this caused while filming created some difficulties, but Richardson used the noise to help fuel her character. Even some of the harassment she received from the skateboarders at the park provided an insight to her character.

“The actual situation of getting into character was quite easy. I just pretended I was talking to a best friend’s mother who wanted to understand why her daughter was feeling a certain way, and what she could do to help. I felt engaged in the character and knew exactly what I wanted to evoke from her,” she explained.

From the moment she auditioned, Richardson showed all those she worked with what she was capable of. The director was immediately impressed, noting how nice it was to see someone chatting to the camera like a real person, loving Richardson’s signature naturalistic approach. This was necessary for the success of the commercial, with such a tough subject needing to connect with those going through what she was portraying.

“Isabella is an actor in the Beyond Blue commercial ‘Preventing Youth Suicide’. Naturalism is a strong point for herself when bringing compelling reality to a character and their emotions behind their words and actions. This particular commercial was incredibly personal to her for multiple reasons, so being able to apply her true emotions and experiences to her character was very important in making the character and commercial feel realistic. This particular commercial was incredibly personal to her for multiple reasons, so being able to apply her true emotions and experiences to her character was very important in making the character and commercial feel realistic,” said Nicholas Carlton, the director of the Beyond Blue ad. “Isabella is incredibly natural in the way she applies herself to the character, and I truly believe she will have every success her heart desires, because she’s not only dedicated but very talented.”

The commercial premiered on Beyond Blue’s Facebook page, website, and YouTube channel, and had a very successful social media campaign, connecting to a large number of people through the ‘Preventing Youth Suicide’ project. The success of the commercial, for Richardson, is not measured in the number of views it received, but rather the effect it had on its audience.

“We were spreading the word about something very close to my heart, and maybe even helping some people along the way, and that is the most pleasing part,” Richardson concluded.

Jing Wen breaks through the ‘man’s world of directing’

JING WEN 2
Jing Wen

Jing Wen says she works in a “man’s world.” Many female directors in the film and television industry feel this way. It is classically a male dominated field, and just last year the Hollywood Reporter stated that a mere seven per cent of all directors directed the top 250 films, a two per cent decline from 2015, according to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Wen, however, does not allow herself to be fazed by this. The award-winning director goes after any and all jobs that would typically be given to a man, constantly looking to break barriers. The Chinese native has become one of the leaders in her field in her home country, and is continuing to cross borders with her impressive skillset.

Earlier this year, Wen once again showed that there she can be a typical ‘rich man’ as she puts it, but directing a luxury car commercial. Dongnan DX7 car commercial. The commercial features Chinese actress and star Wenjing Bao, alongside her three-year-old daughter Jiaozi. The story shows Wenjing making a travelling plan with Jiaozi, asking her daughter to pack her own toys. Unfortunately, Jiaozi slow and took a lot of toys. Luckily, the car gave them much space so Jiaozi can keep all of her toys, and is fast enough to make up the time that was lost. Finally, they are shown having a wonderful road trip in their Dongnan DX7.

“This commercial was a very quick job, so every decision I had to make had to be made quickly. This always provides a fun challenge, and you have to make sure you let everyone on your team know every one of your decisions and any plans you have made, so they can easily do what you ask. There is not much time, so the most important thing you should do is follow your heart and trust your instincts. That makes me excited,” said Wen.

The commercial was produced by Mei Yang. Yang had heard of Wen from the lead producer at Mango TV, Shan Zhou. Zhou worked alongside Wen on a series of projects, such as the television shows Never Give Up, Salute to Life and Blossoming Flowers. Zhou told her friend Yang about Wen, and Yang was immediately impressed with the director after watching some of her work. Wen was asked to take part on the commercial right away.

“Jing Wen has very strong skills as a director, and also she can handle a lot of emergency problems while shooting. We only had five days to prepare this commercial. When she got the script, she went through it and found things that were impossible given our timeline, and found other ways to do it instead,” Zhou described. “For example, Jingwen Bao’s daughter Jiaozi, she is only three-years-old, and a lot of the time she was out of control. In order to complete shooting on time, Jing decided to use montage shots to show the reaction of Jiaozi in her enjoyable moment in the car. We also had the problem, where one day before shooting, the advertisers change the content of the shooting plan. Jing fixed the shot list and gave the advertisers new ideas that still were close to their suggestions, making them very happy. Jing did a very good job on this commercial shooting. I want to work with her again.”

Directing a difficult three-year-old is something that would cause many directors with a short time frame to become frustrated, but Wen never let that happen. Instead of trying to keep the child’s focus on the camera or the scene, Wen decided to let her focus on the toy. That way, she could then use the toy to lead Jiaozi to do something for the shot. The result looked very authentic.

“Wenjing and I worked together on Mom is Superman 2. We already knew we had a great partnership and could work together very quickly and efficiently. She is a big star in China, and she has almost 2 million fans in WEIBO, which is kind of like Instagram. She is really nice, and even sometimes when Jiaozi was really out of control, she helped me to deal with her daughter’s problem. She is a patient mother, and after were finished shooting, she always accompanied Jiaozi around the set,” Wen described.

When always aims to work efficiently. When she first got the script, she discussed the possible shooting locations with the producer. They only had five days to prepare the entire production, so after she chose the locations, she used two days to make a storyboard with my director of photography. She wanted to make sure she was involved with every aspect of the production, making sure to keep the client happy.

“Shooting a commercial, the most important part is talking with advertisers. Sometimes they will ask you to do something nonsensical in part in your film to show their product. At this moment, you need balance their intentions and the story telling. Know what they want to show, that’s the key to success when shooting a commercial,” said Wen.

No matter what project she is working on, success is always the end result for Wen. Her work on the web series Mountain Comeback, the Shenzhen television show Ji Ke Zhi Zao, and the promotional video for Red Nose Day of China follow in that same pattern. At the end of the day, however, it is about how her work resonates with audiences that drives this formidable director.

“I’m a storyteller, and I like giving hope to everyone and making them feel love all around,” Wen concluded.

Director and producer Ron Grebler is the real deal while showcasing real food

Ron Grebler is a storyteller. He is a creator. He is a filmmaker. He uses his creativity and imagination to transport others to different places and times. Grebler uses his talent to captivate audiences. As both a Director and Producer from Toronto, Ontario, Ron Grebler has done it all.

With fans around the world, Grebler’s work has been appreciated by many. Just last year, his promotional video for the immensely popular Netflix series Stranger Things went viral, building up anticipation for the show. He has directed and produced several successful commercials, including the innovative campaign for Axe Hair Products on Canada’s MuchMusic, and commercials for Belair Direct, Fuji Instax, and We Day.

“I would like to think that I strive for ‘quiet storytelling’, letting the idea unfold in visual images rather than be heavily driven by dialogue or voice over narration. This is the path more rarely travelled in the heavily direct messaging style of the commercial world, and often embraced by branded content. Visually, there’s something fascinating to me about extreme close-ups with limited depth of field. That perspective can take the subject and add a dimensionality to it that’s almost abstract, which I believe connects with viewers. Given that I work in the commercial world, it’s not often that I can use shots like these, but at the right moment, they can really make a spot pop. I’m very cognizant of color and contrast. There is high pressure when creating a commercial because ultimately, it’s about ‘selling’ and for many viewers there is a reticence to that. That’s why I always try to layer a spot with cues for the unconscious mind to find them entertaining, engaging and if possible, playful,” said Grebler, describing his style of directing.

With such a commitment to his craft and an appreciation of the nuances, it is no doubt as to why Grebler is considered one of the best. When working on a promotional video series for Thermador, Grebler showed his abilities to go beyond what is typical, and create something revolutionary. Real Food with Thermador was a four-part web series that was an early foray into the world of online branded content video featuring celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy.

“There was a very unique approach in the development of this project as it was meant to truly be branded content, meaning we weren’t pushing the ‘hard sell’ of Thermador products,” said Grebler. “It was really meant to focus on passion for locally grown seasonal ingredients, especially as perceived through the eyes of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy.”

The series was shot similarly to an HGTV show or a Food Network program, educating viewers as well as entertaining. Acting as both producer and director for the project, Grebler’s vision was imperative to its success. Mike Codner, former Studio Manager with DDB Canada , sought-out Grebler to be the director and producer, knowing of his creativity, work ethic and passion for the job.

“Ron has a flexible approach to production, whether it’s a big budget or small, he treats it with the same respect. He’s a director and producer first, but he sees the big picture in terms of the clients’ needs and the reality of working within budgetary constraints. He’s passionately engaged in the process, from pre-production through the shoot and will sit in on all post production too. He takes ownership of all that he does,” said Codner.

The campaign was very successful and won both the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award and Ovation Award, the Canadian Marketing Association Award, and the Canadian Public Relations ACE Award. Grebler says he didn’t even consider awards while making the video, he just wanted to focus on the client’s goals while making something visually outstanding.

“Honestly it felt odd at first. I was told we were nominated and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. The agency told me that it was a bigger deal than I realized and when we won I was quite proud. Maybe I was naïve but I had no idea how important it was to win awards,” Grebler laughed.

Taking on the vital roles of director and producer, Grebler was responsible for implementing his vision. By making the videos appear like a television show it helped connect the audience to the product in a way that other commercials couldn’t. The videos were made in 2008, and in those early days of branded content, it was essential that the video not feel like a commercial. By giving viewers compelling content, great visuals and passionate discussion about the topic of real food, Grebler knew they’d be engaged. When the chef ended up describing some of the specific Thermador products, it was part of the flow of the show and made sense, not just like a ‘stop-and-sell-the-product’ moment.

“It was flattering to be selected to work on this kind of programming. After the scripts were written, it was less about thinking and more about doing. We had a lot of locations to cover in only a few days, so it was about maximizing our time and getting the most powerful content. It wasn’t until the edit that I really grasped how seamlessly everything cut together and that it really flowed like a segment for a TV show, nothing at all like a commercial,” Grebler described.

Grebler also succeeded in making the videos a work of art. Shooting in picturesque Prince Edward County, venturing from Jamie Kennedy’s to an artisanal cheese factory, he set up each shot to have stunning imagery. The outdoor shots showcased the perfect late summer weather, from the golden light over a tomato farm to mouth-watering close-ups of prepared dishes. The passion and depth of knowledge shown by on-camera talent Jamie Kennedy and those he would speak with also shone through.

“It was a great pleasure working on this because it was as much an on-the-fly learning process about local foods and farming and food production as much as it was the logistics of video production. We had a small and very talented crew and we had to think on our feet quickly because of limited access and time at the locations as well as working with real people. I trusted them completely and the visuals and content we got was quite captivating while engaging in passionate conversations about food with local farmers and artisanal cheesemakers,” he described.

Working with a celebrity chef and farmers was initially concerning for the director and producer, however, as he was concerned about their ability to articulate in a way that would connect with audiences. Grebler eventually learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him today.

“Find someone’s passion when you’re speaking with them and they will give you gold,” Grebler concluded.

Watch Grebler’s work on the first episode of Real Food with Thermador here.