China still turning to Hollywood for special effects

Updated: 2010-12-14 14:42

By Lian Mo (China Daily)

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China still turning to Hollywood for special effects

Experts said It is impossible for China's filmmakers to deliver
good 3D visual effects without depending on overseas teams.
Provided to China Daily

BEIJING - China has produced its first 3D IMAX movie with the help of Hollywood experts to bring some of the film's most spectacular scenes to life.

Producers of the Legend of Daming Palace, a story about a foreign prince who fell in love with a Han princess in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), brought in Reed Philip Smoot and Peter William Anderson, among others, to shoot and work on the film and its 3D effects.

Smoot, who has shot dozens of films, specializes in large format cinemas such as IMAX. Anderson has been director of photography for several 3D films.

Jin Tiemu, the film's director, said China still does not have qualified and experienced 3D visual effects engineers. "It is impossible to deliver good 3D visual effects without depending on overseas teams," he said.

Earlier this year, several non-IMAX 3D movies were released by Chinese companies, but most failed to impress, resulting in poor box office returns.

Nearly every one of China's blockbusters hired overseas teams for special effects, said Xiao Yongliang, professor of Beijing Normal University's Arts and Communication School and a former general engineer of Fox's Blue Sky Studio.

"For example, this year's box office hit Aftershock hired South Korean companies and a French company for the visual effects," he said.

Yang Xuepei, head of China Research Institute of Film Science & Technology (CRIFST), said China needs another 10 years of growth to be able to achieve the visual effects seen in films such as Avatar.

Yang Yongan, curator of China National Film Museum, said the shortage of professionals is the biggest problem in China's film visual effects industry. The museum and CRIFST organized a forum about special effects this month to facilitate communication in the industry.

He said China has similar high-tech equipment as Hollywood, but "our special effect artists are only able to use about 20 percent of those equipment's functions".

Yang Xuepei said capital is not a problem as the prosperity of China's film market has attracted a lot of money.

In 2002, China's box office sales was 800 million yuan ($120 million), but is expected to reach 10 billion yuan this year.

"The development of film technology in China has been very fast, but we started paying attention to digital visual effects quite late," Yangsaid.

"And we did not value research and innovation enough. We do not have our own equipment and software."

Xiao said it was only about 10 years ago that filmmakers began to look at special effects, and that they need time to grow.

Members of Hollywood team for Legend of Daming Palace have all worked in the field more than 20 years, with an average age of 55.

Garman Herigstad, a Hollywood special effect director, said research and innovation are the keys to the development of special effects industry. "If you don't develop your own software, you will be always several years behind the US," he said.

This year, foreign films in China with more than 100 million yuan in box office receipts in China all featured special effects, including Avatar and Inception.

"If we do not catch up with quicker speed, we will be left far behind," Yang Yongan said.

While many Chinese filmmakers ask overseas companies for better visual effects, some China companies are doing low-end postproduction for Hollywood films.

Xing Xing Digital Corporation, a Chinese animation company, took part in postproduction work of many Hollywood films, including Tropic Thunder, Twilight and Fantastic Four.

"The best way to catch up on digital film technology is to cooperate with the overseas companies with advanced skills and experience," Yang Xuepei said. "It is not a bad thing to do low-end and simple work for Hollywood. It is a start."

Xiao said China's filmmakers also need to change their concept about special effects. The cost of special effects and postproduction in a US film could reach as high as 60 percent of the budget, but in China that takes less than 10 percent.

"They need to realize how important special effects technology is as an expression of film and invest more in it," he said.

Zhang Lei contributed to this story.


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