Yan City – ‘The Past Meets The Future’ by Spinifex

The principals of Spinifex Group, worldwide leaders in creating and delivering cutting-edge experience media projects, are very proud to continue their collaborations with Director Han Lixun, famous for the print-block segment of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, and Yvonne Ho, producer on the Beijing Olympic Games, in creating the cinematic multimedia feature attraction at the heart of Yan City, which just opened in China’s Chun Zhu Province.

This latest spectacular high-tech storytelling achievement, uniting the talents of Director Han with those of Spinifex Group creative director Richard Lindsay and his colleagues, builds upon their joint efforts during the historic Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, wherein Spinifex was distinguished as one of the only non-Chinese production company involved.

“A state-of-the-art vision for the Water Show Spectacle provides a beginning to a whole new way of Chinese storytelling using new digital technologies,” said Director Han.

The magnificent Yan City attraction features a stunning re-creation of the ancient city, a museum, a world-class zoo, a philosophers’ garden, and a theme park. Each night, thousands of visitors will simultaneously experience a spectacular, 45-minute water show, which features Spinifex’s multimedia rendering of “The Past Meets the Future.” The content begins on the 250-meter-wide wall of the museum, then appears on a unique 100-meter-wide retractable scrim array, floating on a man-made lake. The content is choreographed to a wide variety of state-of-the-art show effects, including fireworks, water screens, laser and fog machines, and surround sound.

(click here to view multimedia on Vimeo)

According to Lindsay, the first challenge for Spinifex was to concept the story, and the storytelling techniques, to artfully treat the ancient Chinese Spring/Autumn period. “Through our experiences on the Beijing Olympics, we proved we could romantically bring ancient storytelling to life using modern techniques,” said Lindsay. “This is where we came to greatly appreciate Director Han’s strengths in theatre, lighting, innovative sets and mechanics. The brief he gave us for this project was to reflect on the ancient philosophies of Spring/Autumn with an abstract, spirited, and very romantic treatment. As we progressed, he looked to us to help express the nature and storytelling aspects of the show using large format projection across various, large-scale screens.”

To address the need to cover a long period of history in sweeping fashion, Spinifex proposed a stylistic approach that allowed the visual storytelling to be both abstract and dramatic. Typical for the group’s assignments, where the end-product is most often a one-of-a-kind immersive experience, the deliverables were custom tailored to suit the unique venue.

As mentioned, the viewing experience of “The Past Meets the Future” involves the presentation moving across different media: The content first appears in 16:9 HD format, until the screen grows in width to a 7:1 ratio, displaying 7k images. Building upon its track record for presenting audiences with stories that seamlessly make historical use of digital technologies, Spinifex designed this project’s cinematic content to expand and maximize the changing presentation media.

According to the Spinifex production leads, art director Jamie Tuffrey and motion director Matt Lock, the project represented a unique challenge in delivering to the clients’ high expectations within a conservative budget. Live-action production involved a single day of production on green screen, where the source footage was then composited into the digital world, comprised of matte paintings, visual FX and limited 3D elements.

“We decided not to go into a full 3D world, but rather to create the scenes with clever use of 2D motion graphics and matt painting,” said Lock. Working with Director Yang Qingsheng, with whom Spinifex also collaborated on numerous projects, such as the Beijing Olympics, Shanghai World Expo and Hennessey, original footage was captured on the Red Digital Cinema camera at 4K, which allowed great latitude in the composite. China was chosen for the location due to Director Yang’s expertise in Chinese culture, and the ready availability of costumes and props.

To create the project’s ambitious slate of original design elements and animated content, including swords, arrows and flags, Spinifex 3D lead Pepin Portingale and his fellow artists used Autodesk 3ds Max. Matt Lock handled the project’s complex motion design, compositing and VFX challenges, finishing the HD content using Adobe After Effects as the predominant compositing platform.

“We are very thankful to Director Han and everyone involved for making us part of this amazing project,” added Lindsay. “We have deep respect for China and its people, and we feel very fortunate to have contributed to such a world-class show. We are very proud to know that, for every person who goes to Yan City now and in the future, ‘The Past Meets the Future’ will help them to fully experience its wonders.”

Sydney-based Spinifex Group is a creative communications company that partners with agencies, event companies and corporate clients worldwide to blend creativity and technology into experiences that are impactful, relevant and enduring. A true concept-to-completion creative group, Spinifex nurtures original ideas from production to delivery in an environment of innovation and uncompromising integrity, combining time-honored storytelling traditions with the tools of the digital age. Diverse, inventive, and often entrusted with stories of cultures not our own, our creative interpretations continue to be celebrated by local and international audiences alike.

With recent projects ranging from immersive interactive experiences to global broadcast events and epic big screen corporate communications extravaganzas, we are very proud to have resolved some of the most ambitious and complex storytelling challenges of our times, with historical results.


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