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Kawamura's filmmaking, from content and VFX perspective

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HONG KONG: The Digital Entertainment Summit 2017 was held on 15 March as part of the annual HKTDC Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (FILMART) organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 13 to 16 March.

The Summit invited industry leaders to discuss the latest developments under the overarching theme of “The Past and Future of Filmmaking, from Content and VFX Perspectives”. The conference opened with Japan’s innovative producer Genki Kawamura providing attendees with a fascinating insight into how he goes about choosing content for his films. The Summit then focused on visual effects (VFX), inviting three leaders in the field to offer their views on the industry.

Philosophy behind movie-guru’s success

Kawamura, producer of ground-breaking Japanese animated movie Your Name - a story about body-swapping, took part in a panel with producer Takafumi Yuki, DigiCon6 ASIA Headquarters International Alliance Officer & DigiCon6 Magazine Editorial Office Editor-in-Chief, and Aki Yamada, Festival Director of Digicon6 ASIA Headquarters.

Internationally acclaimed Kawamura said when it comes to producing films he looks for some fundamental elements - visuals, music and story. “These are the most important elements of the movie and these are things I try to focus on when I produce my films,” said Kawamura. “I often use rock music in my films and sometimes it’s not even from Japanese music but foreign bands such as British group Radiohead.”

Kawamura said he was inspired to make movies after watching Steven Spielberg’s ET: The Extra-Terrestrial when he was three years old. He said the three elements he described earlier were used effectively by Spielberg in that movie and were fundamental to the movie’s worldwide success.

“I remember watching that movie and that scene when they fly across the moon on the bicycles, it was something I always remember,” said Kawamura. “I remember when I was three years old and I actually stood up. It was very inspiring.”

Kawamura, despite his popularity overseas for movies such as Your Name, Confessions and Wolf Children, said he does not consider his audiences preferences when he comes up with ideas for his films. “I make movies that I like to watch,” he said. “I’m from Tokyo and I know what people from Tokyo want and what I want, so I try to produce movies to satisfy what I think is a good movie. I don’t really think about what the people may want.”

Kawamura related the story of how he once lost his smartphone and it benefited him by allowing him to see the world. “I was on the train and I saw a rainbow and I looked around to see who else could see the rainbow but I was the only one because everyone else was looking at their phones,” said Kawamura. “I realised that sometimes you have to lose something to find something that is more beautiful.”

Development of VFX

The second part of the Summit turned to special effects with three executives from top Asian-based VFX companies joining moderator Eddie Leung, Senior Teaching Fellow at the City University of Hong Kong (School of Creative Media).

The speakers were Zhou Yifu, Executive Director of Digital Domain; Daniel Son, Head of VFX Division for South Korean company Digitaidea; and Felix Xu, CEO of ILLUMINA Technology (Beijing) Co. Ltd. The panel discussed the status of VFX in Asia and the technological advances made by companies in the region, particularly in China.

Son’s company is South Korean and he talked about his experiences working in China and the cultural differences between the two countries in terms of work practices. “Korea is between Japan and China but we don’t really have any collaborations with Japan,” said Son. “About half of our projects involve cooperation with China. There are cultural differences that result in Koreans and Chinese doing things differently.

“For instance, China is more interested in fantasy and they are very creative with their ideas. China is more or less following Hollywood and they are quite well-advanced in their technology.”

Xu agreed that Chinese VFX companies are technologically advanced and are continually working to improve the tools they use to create visual effects. However, he said the pressure to produce movies quickly and on low budgets means quality is sometimes lost. “The Chinese market is booming,” said Xu. “Many Hollywood and international companies are now paying attention to us. But in China, there are special situations. We only have a limited time to produce films so we may not pay that much attention to content.

“Also, a large share of the investments are paid to actors, so we have to cope with that. On the plus side, the low budgets force us to conduct more R&D to cope with the challenges, make up the gaps, enhance efficiency and hasten the cycle.”

Zhou’s company has offices in Los Angeles and Beijing and it is known around the world for the initial development of the NUKE compositing software. “We have developed the NUKE software and now a lot of companies are using it,” said Zhou. “I agree that we must perform much R&D to develop our technology and we have been successful in doing that and it has resulted is Digital Domain winning academy awards.”

The panel came to the conclusion that VFX companies in Asia are gradually catching up with Hollywood and Western production houses in terms of technological advancement and it was now a case of improving the quality of their content in order to produce films and shows that cater to global audience.

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