Animation: this word conjures notions of Pixar, Disney, and a host of productions based on the youth market. In truth, modern day animators wield skills that are applied to much more progressive and ground breaking projects. Xiabo “Daniel” Ma is a much in demand animator who likes to test his talent with diverse productions, as in the recent “Better More” experience presented at the Art Beijing Exhibition and the National Agricultural Exhibition Center in Beijing China. A testament to how versatile and exceptional Ma’s abilities are is the fact that he was contacted for this art exhibit based on his work for the PR company Weber Shandwick on a video they used in presentations to companies like Universal Studios and Budweiser. FN’s “Better More” and its exploration of the modern people of China is a world away from pitching to mega-billion dollar companies like those previously mentioned but artists with extraordinary skill like Daniel Ma find that the 2010’s are welcoming to what they can offer.
“Better More” is a creative photography exhibition which explores the relationship between individuals and their living environment. The work of more than a thousand of China’s progressive independent young fashion designers adorns hundreds of regular Chinese citizens in 10,000 photos which have been rendered into GIF animation for this exhibit, juxtaposing the ordinary and extraordinary. The subtext here is how people and fashion can integrate for a mutually positive experience. “Better More” is a fusion of personal style and popular trends that combines for a spectacular aesthetic, offering perhaps the most broad and creative displays of fashion in modern day China.
The possibility of even considering the question required the proper presentation of this exhibit under the post-production creative direction of Daniel Ma. Contrasting his title, Ma’s work began at the onset with the designing of hundreds of portraits from scratch, working with the costume team, photography team, and modeling team. After over 10,000 photos were taken, he led a team of twenty digital effects artists who edited the photos and applied visual effects and time-remapping for two hundred individual pieces. The final step involved supervising the construction team that placed two hundred television monitors that would display the GIFs in the exhibition hall.
To assume that the realization of this exhibit is as simple as displaying some photos on televisions is a gross underestimate of the work and creativity required. To illustrate, one photo featuring a woman using a round saw required Daniel to conceive of the best possible presentation for its final form in the exhibition. He reveals, “Her up and down movement is a perfect loop to create a peaceful moment within the noisy world. However, the photos that we initially received did not fully cover her movement, meaning that there was no sense of movement at all if we simply put them together. Additionally, due to some safety issue, the saw was not actually running so there was no motion blur; no smoke or dirt coming from the saw and the cutting objects. In order to match our design, the solution was to treat the photos like a stop-motion animation. We calculated the movement and drafted out the in-betweens, tweaking each frame in Photoshop to match our animation motion line in order to make it move properly. After the animation, this shot was handed to the VFX team to add smoke and more particles in each frame. Since we wanted to get a ‘bumpy’ animation, compared to a smooth full frame rendered animation, the VFX team artists needed to hand pick their rendered out frames and add them into the shot frame individually.” Considering that this was only one of hundreds of photos in the exhibit, the foresight and creativity needed on the part of Daniel and his team was massive and essential to achieving its final form.
Between the Art Beijing Exhibition premier of “Better More” and its presentation at the opening to the general public at the National Agricultural Exhibition Center, this production was viewed by tens of thousands who were captivated with the fashion and the story behind these images. As a vital part of “Better More”, as an artist, and as a Chinese citizen, Daniel Ma sees the exhibit as much more than images of people in interesting clothes. He communicates, “I believe that in this particular case, fashion is a media that connects people and tells stories. We are building a connection between the fashion world and ordinary people’s lives and try to see what chemistry is. More importantly, what we are actually doing is conveying people’s stories in a different art form.”
Writer: Arlen Gann