The visual quality of commercial work made for the China market is increasingly impressive, due in part to more collaborative and creative relationships in the production process. To celebrate the positive evolution, SHP+ presents 3InFocus a series in which China-based postproduction companies showcase three recent projects of which they are particularly proud.
Marcus Roth来中国已有十多年了，他现在是image unit公司联合创始人兼总经理，他对自己给公司的精细定位很满意。“最初我们只是想做一家小而精的工作室，不想每个项目都接，只想做那些真在不错的项目。”
After more than a decade in China, image unit co-founder and general manger Marcus Roth is comfortable in the niche he has carved for his company. “From the beginning our plan was to stay as a small, boutique-like shop. We don’t want to do every project. I’d rather just make the really nice ones.”
Image Unit联合创始人兼总经理Marcus Roth | Marcus Roth, Co-founder and General Manager of Image Unit
A ten-year China veteran, Roth founded image unit in Shanghai in 2013 to create high-end video content for live events, with a focus on complex CGI, working with international clients for the China market. About 70% of the work is video content for car events and trade fairs, with an increasingly important focus on showrooms of major architectural projects. The third area is visualizations and 3D builds for products like mobile phones, laptops and coffee machines for TVCs and print.
但image unit也不是什么都做 –他们没有制作，不做调色，不做剪辑，也不做线上。Roth对虚拟现实没什么兴趣，对主题公园的也只是三分钟热度。但是一旦做起什么，他们就会努力做到无懈可击。
image unit don’t do everything – no production, nor color grading, editing or online. Roth is not fussed about VR, and theme parks present only a passing interest. But what they do, they strive to do to an impeccable standard.
Roth来自德国斯图加特，1994年，他跟人合作创立了MACKEVISION公司，专做CGI和后期，此后12年，他一直在德国担任公司CEO，2005年，上海工作室成立。后来他又短暂回到德国，加入Realtime Technology （RTT）公司，2009年，他再次返回中国，担任Pixomondo上海新公司总经理。这家公司专注活动视频内容、电视广告CGI制作和电影特效。虽然参与了这么多高端项目（其中还包括奥斯卡获奖影片《雨果》），但公司还是陷入了财政危机，不得不关掉柏林、多伦多、伦敦和上海工作室。“我看到到（电影制作）其实很难赚到钱”，Roth如是说。
Stuttgart native Roth co-founded CGI and postproduction company MACKEVISION in 1994, acting as CEO in Germany for 12 years and launching the company’s Shanghai’s branch in 2005. After a stint back in Germany with Realtime Technology (RTT), in 2009 he returned to China as general manager of Pixomondo’s new Shanghai branch. The studio offered video content for events, CGI for TVCs and visual effects for movies but, despite working on high profile projects including Academy Award-winning film Hugo, the company ran into financial difficulties and was forced to close its offices in Berlin, Toronto, London and Shanghai. “I’ve learnt [movies work] is a very difficult business to earn money with”, says Roth.
Image Unit上海办公室 | Image Unit Shanghai Office
Roth’s response was to rally eight of the core team and, with Daniel Rajcic, form image unit. The full time Shanghai team has since grown to 12, and is able to double in size with freelancers coming in from China or Europe, or working remotely around the world, as projects dictate.
In late 2015, the company opened a second studio in Stuttgart, Germany, both to handle high-end briefs from local clients and to fill talent gaps when they arise in projects for the China market.
Work isn’t, however, outsourced from Germany to China. Roth explains that that model is dead, with rising wages in China and the strength of the Yuan against other currencies making production in Shanghai at least as expensive as Europe. Besides, there is more than enough work for the Shanghai team from the enormous domestic market, where opportunities abound and budgets are, he says, “very sufficient. They started too small but now they are in a very good situation.”
Despite the abundant work, Roth still doesn’t feel much local competition. “China looks easy from outside”, he says, “but it’s a very difficult market with very demanding clients. I guess some companies feel it’s too difficult to make profit here.”
Roth’s response to the challenges is typically sanguine. He concedes the difficulty in dealing with clients that often avoid clearly identifying the goals, and in finding the single person able to make decisions, but he is too experienced to let that frustrate him, noting simply, “It doesn’t mean western is better, it’s just a different culture and approach.”
The German’s serenity can be partly attributed to the fact that, working for events with fixed dates, his company is protected from the “uncontrolled, ongoing revisions, without additional payments” that blight the schedules of other post houses in China.
He prefers to highlight the fact that things are improving, with growing experience in the market, including better all round communication. “10 years ago people really didn’t know how long things took.” he says, “But now, if they make a schedule that’s totally unrealistic, you can tell them and they accept it. [Clients] are more flexible, at least in the early stages.”
Roth does point to the enduring challenge of scarcity of talent. “We still have a lot of international artists after all these years,” he says, “because we still just can’t find the local people with the skills to replace them”. The situation is exacerbated by a relatively tiny pool of domestic freelance artists, partly because it is not a widely understood or respected status in China, and partly because there are no legal constructs for artists to work independently. Companies are forced to handle freelancers in what Roth calls a “half-legal” grey area that he says is uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Bringing in talent from overseas to plug gaps is complicated, with visas becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, especially on a long-term basis. As a result, post houses are generally obliged to employ local artists full time and accept the inconvenient reality of poaching and a high staff turnover.
Inflexibility is problematic in the project business, especially in China where typically short project timelines necessitate jobs to start immediately. Roth’s answer has been to establish the facility in Stuttgart to enable him to quickly and efficiently bring a team together without any visa or inter-continental flight issues. On the ground in China, he says, “The best solution is to hire young, talented people hungry for education, then raise them up yourself.”
Ever the optimist, Roth believes the pain points are easing year on year. One of the keys, he says is communication, which is why he regularly holds Friday night meetups for the Shanghai creative community. “We can grow together”, he smiles, “It will take time, but we are patient.”