With healthy budgets and creativity among brands and agencies on the rise, the Chinese commercial environment is ripe with opportunity and increasing numbers of postproduction studios are entering the market to capitalize. However, those companies should be aware that operating in China comes with significant challenges.
For this three part series, SHP+ interviewed a selection of China’s most experienced commercial postproduction leaders to discuss the industry in 2015 and what it takes to thrive in the China market. International or foreign-managed are dominating the market and provided our focus for the series, though we spoke with a number of Chinese practitioners and studio bosses along the way. Since SHP+ is focused on the craft and creativity in Chinese advertising, our primary interest was in postproduction for commercial projects, with movie VFX referenced primarily in its relationship with the commercial work.
Included throughout the article is a selection of examples of recent postproduction work done in China.
SHP+采访了一些在中国最富有经验的商业后期制作公司的领袖，探讨2015年后期制作产业的格局以及如何能够在中国市场蓬勃发展，我们将文章分为 三部分呈现给大家。虽然我们也采访了一些中国的从业人员和工作室老板，但这次讨论的一系列重点均来自于国际公司或是外国人管理的公司，因为他们是中国市场 的主导者。SHP+关注的重点是中国广告业的技巧和创意，主要感兴趣的是商业项目的后期制作，同时也探讨了电影特效和商业作品之间的主要关系。
Part Three 第三章
Talent Crisis 人才危机
“Talent is the rarest resource in China. It sounds funny with so many people, but to find people to work on our projects is very hard.”
– Jan Heinze, Executive Producer & COO Asia, Pixomondo Beijing
– Jan Heinze，Pixomondo北京，执行制片人&首席运营官
Whilst every postproduction company faces their own unique challenges, all company leaders cite the issues surrounding their artist base as cause for serious concern. Put simply, there are not enough artists to meet the demand, not only in the postproduction industry, but also in the rapidly growing, broader creative industries. This article will look at what some post house leaders refer to as the ‘talent crisis’ and the manifold and complex reasons behind it.
Happy Finish for Credit Suisse. Images courtesy of Happy Finish｜Happy Finish为瑞士信贷制作的广告。图片由Happy Finish提供
Happy Finish for LOS & CO｜Happy Finish为LOS & CO制作的广告Happy Finish for Noritz｜Happy Finish为能率制作的广告
Happy Finish for River Island｜Happy Finish为River Island制作的广告
Image Problem 形象问题
Despite the glamour of Hollywood VFX blockbusters on cinema screens and a flourishing domestic film and commercial industry, would-be students increasingly believe that a career in postproduction means long hours and low pay, deterring them from choosing related degrees. Vice Dean and Associate Professor of the Communication University of China’s (CUC) School of Animation and Digital Arts, Wang Lei explains, “Fewer and fewer students are enrolling in 3D classes in recent years. One hour online researching the life stories of former shows students that it is not attractive to work as a modeler, rigger, lighting artist or compositing artist.”
The expectations of those who do enter the industry are often in stark contrast to the reality. In some particularly bad cases, Wang recounts reports of former students being taken advantage of by bosses selling them hollow dreams of being a part of the company growth or phantom future wage increases. VFX Supervisor Brian Dowrick outlines a disturbing working culture within some studios, “Western studios reward passion and loyalty, Chinese studios actually take advantage of it by offering pay cuts or longer hours to see how much the person will take before trying to leave.”
The results of the negative stories are to the detriment of those companies that do aim to provide a fair and attractive working environment. Pixomondo EP Jan Heinze suggests that the key is to offer inspiring work and opportunities to develop, “We aim to give artists chances to work on cool projects and a fair working environment where they can really contribute. If you involve them early in the process of meeting a director or developing visuals, the more they learn, the more fun they have.”
而那些自身致力于为毕业生提供公正又有吸引力的工作环境的公司，也被这种消极的状况所影响。Pixomondo 执行制片人Jan Heinze表示，给员工提供一份有吸引力的工作的关键是，要让工作鼓舞人心，让人有发展空间，Pixomondo北京就致力于为员工提供这样的机会，“我们的目标是给制作人员提供很棒的项目机会，打造公平的工作环境，真正可以让他们发挥自身技能。如果能够尽早让他们跟导演见面，或者尽早参与视觉制作，他们就会学到更多东西，也就会更享受工作过程。”
Lack of Freelancers 自由职业者匮乏
Heinze explains that the western model of scaling up and down by drawing on a large pool of freelance talent isn’t possible in China, “It’s not like in Europe or LA where it’s easy to staff a production within a couple of days and get it rolling” because “there is no freelance mentality here. The entrepreneurial idea of working from one place to another doesn’t exist yet.”
Unlike in the west, where a freelancer is highly regarded as a specialized professional, Image Unit CEO Marcus Roth explains, “the freelance status in China is not respected. He has problems communicating with his family. They ask ‘Why don’t you have a contract? Does nobody want to employ you?”
而在西方，人们都认为自由职业者是一个非常专业的职业，Image Unit的CEO Marcus Roth表示，“自由职业者在中国并不受人尊重，无法让家人理解。别人会问‘为什么不找份工作，没人愿意用你吗？”
Another reason for the shortage is purely practical; freelancers are not able to issue an invoice and there are no legal constructs for them to operate as one-person businesses. Most freelancers have to be handled in a half-legal grey area which is, as Roth explains, “uncomfortable for the company and the freelancer; both have the feeling that they are doing something wrong.”
Moreover, companies can be reluctant to work with freelancers due to a particularly prevalent, innate fear in China that artists will take knowledge to rivals.
Pixomondo for Zihua｜Pixomondo为Zihua创意制作的广告
Pixomondo for Volkswagen. Images courtesy of Pixomondo.｜Pixomondo为大众制做的广告。图片由Pixomondo提供
Pixomondo for Volkswagen. Images courtesy of Pixomondo｜Pixomondo为大众制做的广告
In spite of the obstacles, Chinese artists are gradually beginning to go out on their own. Heinze sees it as a positive development that will ultimately benefit the whole industry because “clients will want to produce their work here because they know they will get high quality. That happens if you have a more open community where people exchange ideas and skills.”
Bringing in overseas talent to fill the gaps is by no means a simple solution. With a different language and culture, and an often negative portrayal in the western media, China can be a tough sell. Bringing in senior artists, particularly those with families, is also an expensive business. Most importantly, the studio has to contend with obtaining the necessary working visas, which requires a lengthy, complex application process. Through it all is the risk that the individual will not be able to integrate with the language and culture once they arrive.
The problem is exacerbated by the notoriously tight Chinese project timelines. Once a project is confirmed, it must start immediately. International companies are able to deal with any missing roles in their China studio by sending that portion to their other offices worldwide, bringing in freelancers there if needed.
China’s alternative to freelancers is an increasing number of ‘focused skill’ companies; specialists in a particular discipline, like modeling, effects or rigging, clubbing together with their counterparts from other companies and forming small, specialized studios. The artists can operate like freelancers and their specialty gives them leverage; they can dictate the relationship, choosing the price, hours and type of work they want to do. Whether this benefits the studios is debatable, “it takes artists off the payroll that would be idle, but also makes it more expensive to keep an artist full time,” Dowrick explains, adding, “We only use them when we get a surprise project and have little time to prepare. They’re useful, but I prefer having artists that can grow with us.”
Phenom VFX Supervisor Sam Khorshid explains that, in reality, the situation is not so different to the west, “it’s the equivalent of the hiring and firing in the US, except that’s not culturally done here,” adding that “we tend to work with outsource teams when we need to ramp up. They will work as their own company at our studio and they’ll get a credit.”
The situation is less desirable in the commercial business. Even if the small studio works in-house, using their services is technically a form of outsourcing. Clients may not be happy to learn that the company they hired did not handle the project exclusively.
Turnover, Poaching & Maintaining Stability 人才流失、企业挖人&留住人才
The conventional wisdom is that there is a high turnover of staff in China. This goes for artists jumping between companies and going out on their own to start studios. Dowrick feels that artists in China have ‘accelerated egos’ and thus don’t stay long in their jobs to hone their skills, “in the west, you work for ten years, then start a studio. In China, it’s two”. On the other hand, Khorshid reports that Phenom are in fact relatively successful in holding on to their artists, “I’ve been here four and a half years and maybe only 20% to 30% of the staff have turned over, which is very low compared to any Hollywood studio.”
人们普遍认为，中国的人员流动率很高。员工要么就是跳槽，要么就是自己单干开工作室。Dowrick 觉得中国的制作人员“越来越自我膨胀”，不会在一个工作上待很久来磨练自己的技能，“在西方，你工作个10年，之后开创自己的工作室。但是在中国，干个两年，人们就自己单干了。” 但是Khorshid指出，事实上，天工异彩在留住人才方面做的相对较好，“我来这家公司已经四年半了，人员流动率可能只有20%-30%，相比任何一家好莱坞工作室来说，这算是很低的了。”
Phenom Films for Don’t Mess With Texas. Images courtesy of Phenom Films｜Phenom Films为 Don’t Mess With Texas做的广告。图片由Phenom提供
Phenom Films for the California Lottery｜Phenom为加州彩票制作的广告
With a dearth of talent supply in a thriving industry, inter-company staff poaching is inevitable. The companies that provide artists with top project experience are frequently seen as talent generation sources. BaseFX CEO Chris Bremble explains, “There are a hundred companies that would like to hire one of our artists because we do a really good job of developing talent. The nature of the work we do challenges them to perform at the very highest level. Our competitors don’t have the benefit of those projects.”
然而，虽然行业发展欣欣向荣，但人才供应匮乏，因此各个公司相互挖人的情况在所难免。通常那些可以让制作人员参与顶级项目的公司都被视为人才库. BaseFX的CEO Chris Bremble解释说，“几百家公司都想从我们公司挖人，我们在人才培养方面真的很棒。我们的工作内容激发制作人员极尽发挥自己所能。我们的竞争对手的项目往往达不到这样的效果。”
The key to engendering a long-term workforce, Heinze suggests, is about recruiting artists early and educating them in-house, “Most of our hires are coming straight from universities. They start as interns, we train them up and now they’ve been here for two, three or four years.”
In the nineties, to discourage artists from leaving, US studios would sometimes offer signing bonuses – a lump sum of cash that would need to be paid back in full if they left before completing the term of their contract. I ask Dowrick if the same strategy could work in China, “If you gave someone here 15,000 RMB, they’d leave and say ‘catch me’. Out here, whoever has the cash, has the power.” Indeed, some companies are even reversing the roles in a bid to lock staff in, “Studios are making the employees pay them. They say, ‘you give us 10,000 RMB and we’ll hold it. If you leave we keep it’”
在九十年代，为了打消员工离职的想法，一些美国工作室有时候会提供一笔签约奖金 – 这是一大笔现金，如果合约未到期就提前离职的话，需要全额退还给公司。我们在此询问了Dowrick，这样的战术是否适合中国，“在中国，要是你给谁15000块钱，他们说想走，但是会让你挽留他们。出了这个门，谁有钱，他们就找谁。”实际上，有的公司为了留住人才，甚至调换了角色，“他们会压工资。会说，‘你要付我们10000块钱，我们押着。你要是走钱就不给你了。’”
MPC Shanghai for Lynx. Images courtesy of MPC Shanghai｜MPC上海为制作的广告。图片由MPC提供
MPC Shanghai for Harbin.｜MPC上海为哈尔滨啤酒制作的广告
Burning Out & Rising Costs 员工精力消耗殆尽&成本上涨
The shortage may yet worsen, with artists burning out and leaving the industry. After ten years running an exclusively Chinese-staffed post house in Beijing, Chen Gang is familiar with the situation, “Artists are leaving the industry because the pay is lower and the work more difficult than they had anticipated. The Chinese post industry is unique in that the artists are very young compared to foreign studios, where you see older, more senior staff.”
A part of the problem is what Bremble calls the ‘15 year lag’, namely, 15 years from the time the visual effects industry begins in a country, when young, formerly inexpensive artists start having families and needing greater income. At that point, wages must rise or talent will quit.
With an insufficient talent supply, combined with the relative strength of the Chinese Yuan, wages are being forced up and production in Shanghai is becoming at least as expensive as western countries. The danger is that clients will start shopping around for more competitive prices. Bremble warns that things must change, “If China doesn’t ramp up its training and talent development, wages will spiral out of control and it’s going to become too expensive to do work here. That is only going to benefit Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand where, by population, there are fewer options for artists, meaning wages will remain lower.”
Chinese young people are not helped in their creative development by the system of education at primary and secondary level, a rote learning approach that does not nurture critical, independent thinking. Students that have been drilled to simply memorize facts from a young age become accustomed to being told precisely what to do.
China boasts several world-class art universities and institutions, but also a significant proportion that falls below the requisite standard and breadth of training. Storytelling and character performance are typically weak areas. Students often enter into higher education and the industry lacking the culture of pro-active self-education needed to fill the gaps.
Having led numerous teams and run an animation school, Dowrick sees the shortcomings of many emerging artists, “Graduates don’t realise the underlying reason why the character does what they do. They take what I say and follow it exactly. If I say change frame 25 and frame 30, they will do it, but they won’t change the frames in-between.”
Employers also report issues of graduates unprepared for highly collaborative work, partly attributable to a competitive, individual-focused education system with relatively fewer group projects. “The ramp up process to get people working closely in a team here is longer and harder. It takes a lot of training,” explains Khorshid.
Compounding the issues, Dowrick suggests, is the perception of the nature of animation, and the reasons many young people enter into the profession. He believes the art form is often seen as a mechanical, rather than creative profession, “People think you can train animators in a week, like a factory worker”, something he ascribes to China’s ingrained ‘manufacturing mentality’.
However, company leaders note a strong will among young Chinese artists to break free from this mindset to become creative artists. Wayne England, Phenom Executive Producer, recounts his experience during a recent lecture at Wuhan University of Technology, “I suggested to every student in the audience that it was simply a decision for each of them to individually choose to define themselves as an innovator. To my welcome surprise, the entire room spontaneously erupted into applause and smiles.”
Brian Dowrick, Animation Director & VFX Supervisor, teaching at the Bai’An Animation Training school, an institution he founded in 2009｜动画导演和视觉总监Brian Dowrick在Bai’An动画制作学校授课。该学校由Dowrick于2009年成立
Developing Artists 人才发展
To address the urgent need to encourage more artists to enter the industry, leaders are taking action. Post Production Office are working with the Zhejiang Media University to develop an industry focused training program, while BaseFX have announced plans to build a high-end training base in Beijing. Bremble explains, “the goal is how to build careers for professionals because China is ready for that moment. We initially stayed away from training on scale because we didn’t think that there would be enough companies that would pay well enough to justify investing in a career. Now the industry getting healthier, I think that will change.”
The training school is both a benevolent move to help artists, and a pragmatic measure to ensure their production team is not constantly seen as a talent generation source.
Bremble believes top-level western experience combined with Mandarin-speaking ability is the golden combination needed to develop the domestic industry, “Take an artist that has worked overseas and come back with knowledge and skills, multiply that by a thousand, and you start seeing how this industry becomes viable.” As such, the school aims to provide students with opportunities to work abroad.
Base’s target is to start recruiting from the students graduating from university in the late spring of 2016. Bremble urges patience and emphasises that the standard of teaching must be even better than world leading western schools because “a student there has probably got a pretty good art education already.”
All students will undertake a paid internship upon graduation, giving them time to consider in which area they would like to specialize and, critically, ensure they will be able to manage the emotional and creative stresses of the business. Bremble outlines the rationale, “how do you develop resilient talent that won’t burn out at 27 and leave? Companies need to feel that if they invest in that person, it’s a relationship that will carry on for years.”
Pixomondo for Huayi Brothers ｜Pixomondo为华谊兄弟制作的短片
Pixomondo for Alibaba Pictures｜Pixomondo为阿里巴巴影业制作的短片
Years of broken promises and subsequently disillusioned artists have given postproduction in China a bad name.
It is easy to cast blame on the education system for the shortage of talent, and there is no doubt that there is significant room for improvement in standards at many institutions. There are too many sub par training schools and programs that would prefer to grab quick money than properly, fully educate artists in preparation for a long-term career. But, in any country, widespread improvement in education is a slow process and the ‘talent crisis’ is an immediate problem.
The international posthouses with relatively fewer numbers, particularly those doing short term commercial work, agree that it would be preferable to employ local artists, but the degree to which they are willing to invest in the long-term sustainability of the local industry varies. Some are tackling the root causes of the issue by developing training programs, whilst others are content to ride the wave as best they can with what they have, importing foreign staff or sending work to other shops worldwide where necessary.
The burden then falls to the companies that are heavily invested in the Chinese industry, that rely on a local, lower-cost talent base to keep their work competitive. A handful of companies are already taking the lead in inspiring and nurturing a new generation of artists. The future sustainability of the Chinese postproduction industry hinges on their success.
Parts One and Two of Commercial Postproduction in China are at the links below:
- Commercial Postproduction in China – Part One: Landscape | 中国的商业化后期制作格局 － 第一个部分： 格局
- Commercial Postproduction in China – Part Two: Clients | 中国的商业化后期制作格局 － 第二个部分：客户篇
Executive Producer & COO Asia, Pixomondo | Pixomondo 亚洲区执行制片人兼首席运营官
Jan Heinze joined Pixomondo in Germany in 2000 and played a key role in the establishment of their Beijing studio in 2009. He has since been undertaking strategic and operational management for the company in Asia, with a focus on the Chinese market, taking on roles including business development, facility development and integration, project management and intercultural communication.
Pixomondo is an international creative design, media production and visual effects studio, best known for award-winning visual effects work. The company maintains a diversified portfolio of business activities including corporate communication, interactive digital content, live events, theme park entertainment experiences and original IP. Pixomondo China operates in Beijing and Shanghai to serve the domestic film, entertainment and advertisement industry.
Pixomondo是一家集合了创意设计、媒体制作和视觉特效的国际化工作室，最为人熟知的当属其视觉特效获奖 作品了。公司业务涵盖了多种多样的商业活动，包括企业传播、交互式数字内容、现场活动、主题公园娱乐体验以及原创IP。Pixomondo中国在北京和上 海均设有工作室，旨在为中国的电影、娱乐以及广告行业提供服务。
Animation Director & VFX Supervisor｜ 动画导演兼视效总监
Brian Dowrick has twenty years animation experience, including twelve years with Rhythm & Hues and almost ten in China, during which time he has run his own training school and led animation departments for five studios in Beijing.
Brian Dowrick在动画行业已有20年的从业经验，曾在Rhythm & Hues工作过12年，而且在中国待过近10年，在此期间，他还开办了自己的培训学校，而且在北京担任五家工作室的动画部门负责人。
Chen Gang 陈刚
Founder & Director, Cgfish Beijing｜Cgfish北京创始人、总监
Chen Gang is a VFX artist, director and producer with over ten years experience, entirely in the China market. He founded Cgfish in 2003.
Cgfish is a Beijing company founded in 2003, offering high-end animation and visual effects work for commercials, events and television.
Founder & CEO, Base FX ｜ Base FX创始人兼首席执行官
Chris Bremble founded BaseFX in 2006 in Beijing and has since guided the company to create visual effects for over 150 movies and television series from both Hollywood and China.
BaseFX is an award-winning high-end visual effects company with offices in Beijing, Wuxi and Xiamen serving the film, television and commercial industries, with 450 full time artists and staff. The company has struck up a strategic alliance with Hollywood visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and content agreements with Tencent.
General Manager, MPC Shanghai ｜ MPC上海总经理
Steven Marolho has been executive producing visual effects for over ten years, first coming to China in 2009 as EP for Smoke & Mirrors before joining Technicolor in 2012. He has been General Manager for MPC Shanghai since they opened for business in January 2015.
Steven Marolho十多年来一直担任视觉特效制作的高管，2009年他来到中国，最初担任的是Smoke & Mirrors的执行制片人，后于2012年加入特艺。自2015年1月MPC上海工作室创立以来，他便一直担任总经理。
MPC, a Technicolor company, has consistently won the highest industry awards for both their commercial and feature film work, having a hand in numerous household-name blockbusters. Headquartered in London, the company has facilities in ten locations worldwide, most recently opening a studio in Shanghai.
General Manager, Image Unit ｜ Image Unit（上海）总经理
Marcus Roth has been managing VFX and visual production studios for over 25 years. He has over ten years experience in China, including four years as General Manager of Pixomondo Shanghai before co-founding Image Unit in 2013.
Marcus Roth有着超过25年的视觉特效和视觉制作工作室的管理经验。在中国也有着10多年的经验，其中有四年担任Pixomondo上海总经理，之后在2013年与人共同创立了Image Unit。
Image Unit focuses on visual design, high-end CGI and visualization located in Shanghai, serving clients in China and around the world. The company has just opened a facility in Stuttgart to serve their German clients.
General Manager, Post Production Office (PO) ｜ PO朝霆总经理
Amanda Wu is a Shanghai native with ten years experience in marketing and project management positions including four as General Manager of Post Production Office Group.
Post Production Office (PO) is one of Asia’s largest and longest running postproduction companies offering CG, visual effects, offline and online editing through to color grading for commercials, television and film. Established in 2003 in Hong Kong, the company has since expanded to offices in Shanghai and Beijing, recently adding two more in Hangzhou and Taiwan.
Managing Director & Executive Producer, Fin Design + Effects, Shanghai ｜ Fin Design + Effects上海 总经理&执行制片人
Billy Becket has been the Managing Director of Fin Design + Effects Shanghai since the office opened in September, 2014. Originally from New York, Billy was a producer for some of San Francisco’s top ad agencies prior to joining the Fin’s Sydney team in 2005.
Fin Design + Effects上海办公室自2014年9月成立以来，Billy Becket就开始担任总经理。Billy来自于纽约，此前曾在几家旧金山的顶级广告机构担任制片人，后于2005年加入Fin Design + Effects悉尼公司。
Fin Design + Effects is a boutique design and VFX house based in Surry Hills, Sydney and Shanghai, China. Established in 2001, Fin is home to Australia’s most highly awarded, close-knit team of VFX artists, designers and producers.
Fin Design + Effects是一家精品设计及视效公司，在悉尼Surry Hills和上海均有办公室。该公司于2001年成立，很多在澳大利亚获得过最高奖项的视效师、设计师和制片人都在此任职，团队紧凑有致。
VFX Supervisor & Creative Director, Phenom Films ｜天工异彩视效总监兼创意总监
Sam Khorshid has spent 15 years in the entertainment industry, including five in China, working in feature film, commercials, television, ride films and games. He has worked on such feature films as 2012, Alice in Wonderland, Iron man, and Kung Fu epic Flying swords of Dragon Gate Inn.
Creative Director, Ride Film & Commercials Director, VFX Supervisor & Producer, Phenom Films ｜ 天工异彩创意总监、动感电影与广告总监、视效总监兼制片人
Wayne England is a CG and VFX artist with over 20 years industry experience, now serving as Creative Director, Ride Film & Commercials Director, VFX Supervisor and Producer for Phenom Films, moving between Beijing and Los Angeles.
Phenom Films, based in both Beijing and Los Angeles, is the largest privately owned production company in China. The studio offers a complete start to finish post production solution including award winning VFX operations for major motion pictures, commercials and game cinematics. Phenom also specializes in stereo interactive ride films and immersive themed installations.