China READIES digital production base

The newly opened China Film Group Digital Film Production Base is proving to be a boon for China film makers with its full range of production and post-production services

China’s production and post-production scene is developing rapidly, driven by a combination of government support and robust growth in film and advertising. State-run film industry giant, China Film Group (CFG), set up the largest digital production base in China – and, they claim, Asia – in July last year. Located about two hours drive northeast of Beijing in Huairou, the base covers 530,000 square metres and boasts 16 indoor studios and a digital production studio. The CFG invested RMB2 billion (US$292 million) on the base, which incorporates and expands on the facilities provided by the former Hua Long Digital Post-production Base in Huairou. The CFG Digital Film Production Base provides a full range of production and post-production services for film makers. Television producers and advertising clients are also welcome, although they currently account for a small proportion of the work. The film studios at the base are equipped with advanced film and lighting equipment, including the Arricam ST, Arricam LT, Arri 435 Xtreme, Arri 235, Arri 535B and Movicam cameras, plus Panther film equipment. The post-production equipment includes Arriscan and Arrilaser units, a Thomson Spirit 4K DataCine, Celco Film recorder, Sony HDCAM-SR5800 video recorder and Panasonic D5 video recorder. The base uses Motion Analysis for motion capture plus HP and Dell equipment for the render farm. Staff use Autodesk Lustre, Quantel, Film Master and da Vinci colour grading hardware and software plus Autodesk Flame, Autodesk Inferno and Autodesk Smoke for special effects. 2D and 3D animation is carried out with Autodesk Maya. The sound studio at the CFG Digital Film Production Base covers 10,535 square metres and comes equipped with Pro Tools and Digidesign, SSL Duality and Harrison audio mixing desks. Editing work is carried out with the aid of Avid Media Composer and Pronto DVS, while non-linear editing is carried out on Avid Symphony and Final Cut Pro. Data storage solutions have been provided by DataDirect Networks and Avid Unity, while the screening facilities include Barco and Kinoton equipment. Every year, the CFG Digital Film Production Base can handle up to 80 films, 200 made-for-TV films and 500 TV drama episodes. It has worked on a steady stream of big budget local productions and co-productions since it opened, including 2009 hits Red Cliff II, If You Are the One and The City of Life and Death. Lei Zhenyu, the general manager of the base, says this illustrates a growing trend for Chinese film makers to carry out their production and post-production work in China. “Chinese film makers face a lot of difficulties when they do their production and post-production work overseas. They have to deal with language barriers and they are not accustomed to foreign living habits or work practices. So film makers prefer to do their production and post-production work in China whenever possible,” he said. The options for both Chinese film makers and foreigners shooting in China have expanded dramatically in recent years, thanks to an upsurge in local facilities and international firms such as Pixomondo, The Rooster and Soundfirm setting up offices in China. Kodak and the Beijing Film and Video Laboratory, a wholly-owned CFG subsidiary, opened their joint venture Cinelabs Beijing in December 2006. Set up with the aim of providing a world class film laboratory to support the growth of China’s film industry, Cinelabs offers film processing and printing services for 35mm and 16mm B&W and colour film, as well as traditional negative matching and colour grading. The facility has achieved level one certification under the Kodak Image Care program and plans to attain level two by the end of the year. The facilities at Cinelabs were inaugurated by The Kite Runner, an international production shot in China. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Red Cliff and Korean film The Good, The Bad and The Weird have since passed through the facility’s doors. Kai Cheong Yeung, Cinelab’s general manager, said the lab is working hard to improve its services for international as well as local clients. He also believes that China’s post-production industry has received a boost since Cinelabs opened. “In the past, some producers felt that the local processing facilities were not good enough, so they sent their films overseas for processing. That meant the local post facilities lost business because the negatives were outside China,” said Kai. “Now producers can keep their films inside China for the processing. The negatives stay in the country, so local post facilities and digital facilities benefit too.” Advertising agencies also have a much larger range of production and post-production services available to them today than one year ago, thanks to the Olympics-driven advertising boom. Several high end production and post-production houses catering to 4A advertising agencies and their clients have sprung up in recent years, including Gwantsi Productions, A New Life Films and Give Me Five. However, the industry is still far from mature. “The biggest challenges we face occur because the latest technological advances are not always available here. Sometimes we need to consider other ways of shooting or doing post-production work to gain an effect that could be more easily achieved with the new technology,” said Nelson Cho, production manager at A New Life Films. The lack of the latest technologies and the shortage of talent mean producers may still need to go overseas for technically demanding post-production work. The Red Cliff producers, for example, outsourced their VFX work to The Orphanage in San Francisco, CA, the sound to Australian company Soundfirm and the DI to Park Road Post Production in Wellington, New Zealand. To remedy the situation, both CFG Digital Film Production Base and Cinelabs Beijing place a great deal of emphasis on attracting and training highly skilled employees. Despite the challenges, many professionals in China’s production and post-production industry are positive about the future. The local industry offers producers some major benefits, including relatively low costs, a diverse range of fantastic locations and a growing market for both film makers and advertisers. “We believe that the production and post production facilities can only get better as we gain more work and experience. The industry is slowly developing and maturing,” said Cho. “The biggest benefit in producing ads in China is the ‘we can do it’ attitude. Everybody is up for the challenge of trying to create and produce a great spot.”

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