SEEING WITH THE MODERN EYES OF VFX ARTIST JAMES CHEN
James Chen has spent his entire life looking at things differently. That’s not to say that he has an altered reality view of things but more that he looks at things intently and investigates, he imagines what they could be. As a VFX Artist of recognition with a great deal of success in his home country of Taiwan, he has used his talent to blur the lines between imagined illustrations and real life. Whether he is creating a new robot, enabling the audience to travel back in time, or revealing the way emotions alter our perception, Chen’s work is exhibited with such skill that it’s often difficult to discern where reality begins and imagination ends. While the tools of a VFX Artist are advancing rapidly, there’s no price tag that allows one to purchase the type of imagination that exists in a mind like that of James Chen. He has spent his entire life discovering the means to transfer the ideas in his head onto a platform that allows us all to see the exciting and amazing things he always has.
The harbor city of KaoHsuing is sunny and hot, not where you’d expect to find a celebrated VFX artist to come from. James was the only one of his family to pursue a creative career which goes further to stress the fact that he has always seen things in a different manner, including a path for an acceptable vocation. It takes someone who dreams of a difference for themselves to question how the rest of us should perceive things; this is a perfect template for a VFX Artist. At six-years-old, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” captured his attention with its effects and miniature models that displayed a world of futuristic potential. Chen was 24 years old when he met Hao Fang Wang of future +Akitipe Studios founder and finally entered the world of VFX seriously. This resulted in a four-year long relationship with +Akitipe Studios. James concedes, “The old saying ‘Beginning is the hardest part’ could apply to me. When I started I had a lot of catching up to do since most of my competitors and colleagues had their college education and skills in CG at least 4 years ahead of me. The first two years were very hard for me but I survived and found ways to do creations more freely and with better skills. I’ve always felt that if I worked twice as hard and twice as much, I’d eventually make up for my late start and continue to exceed that goal.”
James considers the work he did on the ASUS ROG promo as perhaps the highlight of his career so far. His passion for mechanical design and robot themed projects perfectly enabled him to be the lead on the project. The promo was originally designed to promote the brand at the COMPUTEX expo. The film Pacific Rim was released at approximately the same time and the massive popularity of giant robots fighting monsters (seen in both the ASUS ROG promo and the Guillermo del Toro action film) resulted in the promo becoming the brand’s ident for at least two years with its “gaming” atmosphere (robot fighting monsters) and designs that reflect their product (the robot and the environments are actually implanted with a lot of the ASUS ROG’s product design language and shapes in them). This could be seen in shop banners, posters, & digital wallpapers. The digital robot (Chen’s design) also became a limited PVC figure as a special promotion. The robot’s image also adorned their limited 20th anniversary VGA card with figure package, the preorder of which sold out almost immediately.
Working with motion capture artists filming choreographed martial arts scenes in Los Angeles, James and +Akitipe Studios Hao Fang Wang created a two-minute trailer for the video game “Legendary Heroes.” The trailer so closely resembled the production value and cinematic awe of a Hollywood film that it garnered copious awards including the Bass Award 2013 “Best Opening Sequence / / Videogames”, the Spark Design Awards 2012 Communications category “Gold prize”, and many others. The combination of Motion Capture filming and animation created a fluidity and authenticity rarely if ever seen in the gaming world or in animated film.
Following this line of reasoning it’s only natural that Chen would find himself working in the feature film world. Design 7 of love is a drama about the protagonist’s life in the design industry. The interactions between the studio staff and clients weave a complex web of relationships, eventually causing the main character to realize that everyone lives under a mask, everything is “designed”. As a part of Hi-Organic Motiongraphics, James was responsible for assets creation, animation, and FX support of CG-integrated shots of the film, as well as VFX supervisor duty. The film depicts the state of mind of Doris (the protagonist) as her emotions alter the very world around her. The unnatural and surreal imagery created by Chen and Hi-Organic Motiongraphics led to this film receiving a nomination for “Best Visual Effects” at the Golden Horse Awards in 2014. James reveals that the environment at Hi-Organic is monumental in empowering their artist to create these type of results. He remarks, “Hi-Organic establishes itself with highly artistic abstractive 3D animations. They won their place in the industry with their artistic minds. It’s a ten people studio but they create their work with great enthusiasm and expediency. They provide surprisingly creative and artistic solutions to the clients, which makes them welcomed by music video directors, advertisement agencies, and others. The industry in Taiwan views Hi-Organic as ‘the only place to go if you’ve got a very tricky project at hand, if you’re in a hurry, or you need something really, really cool.’ To say I enjoy being associated with them doesn’t begin to describe it.” James Chen is that breed of VFX Artist who uses his talent to create seemingly impossible imagery across a variety of platforms; commercials, feature films, whatever is desired…it is a certainty that the creativity of Chen will not fail.