Leading Hollywood visualization studio The Third Floor (TTF) has opened its first Beijing office. It seeks to create a hub in China on par with its other main outposts in Los Angeles and London that will cater primarily to local projects.
TTF specializes in the pre-production process of pre-visualization, or pre-viz, which uses digital tools to plan complex film and TV projects shot by shot. The firm is known for its work on titles like HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.”
Its new Beijing outpost will be led by Maggie Lu, who comes off years in the theme park side of the entertainment business with stints at Dalian Wanda and Dalian Haichang. She will command a staff of around 20, many of whom have been in training for the past year both in China and Los Angeles.
“The coronavirus pandemic will influence the speed of our team-building, but right now we’re starting with 20. We also have a strong talent pool ready,” she said.
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Pre-viz is a new concept to many working in China’s film industry, where even large-scale blockbusters often conduct much less planning and preparation ahead of shooting than their U.S. counterparts.
TTF says it opens with a few projects already in hand, but that they’re mostly coming from clients who already understand their work and know what they’re looking for.
The shift to a more widespread use of pre-viz may be accelerated by the ongoing threat of COVID-19, since carefully pre-planning shots and ideas can reduce the need for travel and help optimize crew sizes, streamlining shoots to diminish the risks of virus transmission.
“It’s a great opportunity for a company like us, since the services we provide can reduce people gathering together, helping directors and teams build their work in-house,” Lu said.
Though continued cinema closures in China may have at least temporarily doused investors’ appetites for big-budget, theatrical fare, the market for pre-viz services is for now still relatively unaffected, since such work occurs at an early stage in the creative process, she added.
Her new Beijing team will include Joker Huang as creative director and Martin Ma as visualization supervisor. The former was filched from his turn as art director of Pixomondo’s Beijing office, where he worked on films including “Midway,” “The Wandering Earth” and “The Longest Shot.”
A TTF statement said that Ma will focus on “applying The Third Floor’s virtual tools and workflows [to] the traditional process of Chinese filmmaking” — a nod to the learning curve to come as Chinese productions get used to employing such strategies.
TTF’s CEO Chris Edwards had his first contact with China in 2010, when he was invited to sit on a film festival jury in Shenzhen. He has since discovered the market potential of catering to the country’s homegrown projects.
“From the outside, China was being looked at for its large labor and distribution markets, whereas from the inside, what many creators really wanted was to develop their own ideas, driven by Chinese artistry, and deliver them with the high level of production value that their audiences would expect,” he said.
TTF has worked with China remotely from Los Angeles in recent years. It has already designed live-action sequences for director Zhang Yimou and animation scenes for Guo Jingming’s “L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties” franchise. It has also contributed to animation hit “Nezha” and actioners “Animal World,” “800 Heros,” “Airpocalypse,” and “Legend of the Ancient Sword.”
Additionally, it has worked on games for Tencent and Netease, and media for a number of Chinese theme parks.
“The Chinese film industry is now dying to learn film industrialization from Hollywood, in both the management and the technical aspect,” said Lu. “For us, we [plan to] help the Chinese directors and market build their dreams.”