Singapore’s numerous visual-effects experts have been catering almost exclusively to foreign productions rather than local ones. But that may be changing….
TEXT BY JO TAN
Published on 19 January 2015
TEXT BY JO TAN
For the first time since audiences were underwhelmed by 1998 Singapore superhero VR Man and his powers of virtual-reality projection, local TV has an ambitious new science-fiction series. 2025, now showing on MediaCorp’s Ch 5, features driverless sports cars, super-strength exo-skeletons and laser guns, wielded by stars like Lim Kay Tong and Pamelyn Chee.
“It has got many different types of effects, lots of green-screen scenes,” says Jaymeson Olivero, a computer graphics (CG) generalist at XXX Studios (creators of 2025), who helped materialise futuristic cars, animate robots and composite numbers and images onto walls and windows to make it look like display screens. “I think this is the first time something like this has been done for local TV. Not that you can’t find people to do it — there just isn’t this type of work.”
Indeed, Singapore’s not short on effects experts. Andre Tong is one of several local animators at Lucasfilm Singapore, the local arm of the world’s leading film and TV production company, Lucasfilm. “I’m a graduate from the Jedi Master programme, which gives young artists very relevant training and exposure, and yes, a good number of them are Singaporeans,” says Tong with a grin. He goes on to explain that the apprenticeship programme has young talents learning from the best in the global film industry, working with them on prolific projects.
“In the five years I’ve been working at Lucasfilm, I’ve been privileged to have worked on Rango, Transformers 3 & 4, Avengers, Pacific Rim and Strange Magic. That scene in Avengers, when Iron Man is flying around trying to lose the aliens chasing him, and he goes into a tight tunnel to out-manoeuvre them… I animated that tunnel shot. It’s mine!” says Tong happily.
Several local companies also have a considerable track record when it comes to visual effects. Take Infinite Studios (IS), which not only co-produced HBO’s international TV series Serangoon Road, they also worked on two effects-intensive upcoming Hollywood movies, partly shot at IS sound stages in Singapore and Batam. These massive hangar-like structures measure up to 18,000 sq ft (30,000 sq ft in Batam) and can be transformed into whole different worlds for films and TV via backdrops or green screens. They also boast accompanying backlots, production offices, dressing rooms and equipment rooms.
Says Freddie Yeo, IS Chief Operating Officer, “While the expertise has always been here, the Batam and Singapore sound stages, completed in 2011 and 2014 respectively, have perhaps been a catalyst for visual effects to be done on a bigger scale. In the past, big-budget, effects-intensive projects were hard to shoot in Singapore because there just weren’t facilities available. Now, our sound stages have been shoot locations for 20th Century Fox’s upcoming Agent 47 (starring Zachary Quinto) and Ridley Scott’s upcoming Equals (with Kristen Stewart). Hollywood having a presence here means local talents can come onboard to work on these big projects. In the past few years, our own post-production and visual-effects facility has had the opportunity to create some effects we’re very proud of, like gigantic caves for HBO Asia’s Dead Mine, or merging scenes from old Singapore into the scenes of Serangoon Road.”
IS has also previously created eye-popping effects for local and regional projects, such as Singapore-Indonesia co-production Rumah Dara, a gore film requiring lots of grisly blood-and-death scenes, as well as Gilbert Chan’s Ghost Child, which required a demon baby. But these effects-heavy homegrown projects are in the minority. “Effects need money”, says Yeo. “When investors hear you are doing a Singapore production, their first question will be, can the show travel since the local market is so small? Our actors and directors don’t have that Hollywood appeal yet. If you can’t sell a show to foreign markets, investors won’t give you S$50 million. When you don’t have S$50 million, you can’t do crazy effects. I’m in favour of people aspiring to better effects, though. If you have limited resources, the key is to focus them on your ‘hero shots’ that have the most impact on the story and performance. I admire XXX Studios for going ahead with 2025 because TV budgets can be even lower than film ones. Some of their shots are quite interestingly executed.”
2025 definitely maximised XXX Studios’ resources, which include the can-do Olivero. “I started off as more of an animator with less experience in some aspects of CG. But I learnt on the job since everybody in the small team was helping out with everything.” He also enhances the show in non-digital ways, by doing stunts in 2025’s elaborate fight scenes masterminded by actor/fight choreographer Sunny Pang. “About a year ago, I joined Sunny’s stunt team, Ronin, for fun. Since they were involved in 2025 and I had to be on set anyway to set up and supervise the green screens, I figured, I might as well do the stunts, too.”
Hopefully, doing double-duty to beat budgets will be strictly optional for Olivero’s next effects-intensive local project. Says Yeo, “With more international collaborations and co-productions taking place in Singapore, our actors, creative teams and crew are all getting opportunities to learn from, work with and introduce themselves to world-class film professionals.”
“There’s a lot of cross-selling taking place and a day may come when Singaporeans are big enough names to attract the investments needed for a big-budget, effects-intensive local production. In the meantime, things augur well for the industry.”
2025 airs every Sat, 9.30pm, Ch 5.