Monday, January 5, 2015

Working on The Journey – Hard Work, Good Times

 The Journey: Tumultuous Times (信约:动荡的年代,) is into its second season as part of MediaCorp Channel 8's ambitious nation-building trilogy. It stars Shaun Chen, Romeo Tan, Andie Chen, Jeanette Aw, Felicia Chin, Chen Hanwei and Carrie Wong as five young people who live through World War II and the Independence of Singapore.

From left: Arthur Chan, Nicole Goh, Lim Pei Yi , Koh Ming Hui, Kabilan Panneerselvam, Leong Chee Loong and Jame Woon.
Visual effects play an important role in creating an authentic-looking, historical period drama, so MediaCorp turned to our School of Interactive & Digital Media (SIDM) for help.

This season, the team had to produce visual effects for over 250 scenes, and this massive undertaking would turn into a Journey in its own right for our students.

Mr Daniel Tan, Director of the School added that, “We are very appreciative of this opportunity given to us by our partner MediaCorp. It may be hard work but the actual experience can only be claimed by those who worked on it.  Every scene created is REAL and once broadcast becomes a part of history. Such opportunities should never be taken for granted. The experience can only make our students better in what they learn and do.”

Shooting on Location

Having worked on the first season of The Journey, SIDM staff were able to prepare the new batch of students for this project, to hit the ground running. This was certainly useful as several scenes had to be shot overseas and students went prepared.

From left: Ken, Nicole and Pei Yi on location in Malaysia.
SIDM Lecturer, Mr Jame Anderson Woon led the student team of Nicole Goh, Lim Pei Yi and Ken , on a two-month, on-location shoot in Malaysia.

Jame and Pei Yi interacting with the cast behind the scenes.
Jame said, “On the ground we need to advise the filming crew on how to shoot the scene so that we can add the visual effects. Communication is key as we don’t want a situation where they shoot, but we can’t use the footage, so we had to act as Visual Effects Supervisors.”

Jame’s 18 years of industry experience proved to be an invaluable asset on the ground. He said, “MediaCorp did not use story boards, so for example, they will go on location and say, ‘Let’s shoot at this tree’, then you have 5 minutes to frame the shot. You have to think on your feet. A great learning experience for the students.”

At the end of each shoot, the students had to retrieve and log the footages shot, determine which shots needed Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI)), and then decide which work could be done locally on their laptops, and which needed to be transferred to the team in Singapore who had more powerful desktop computers that could do the “heavy lifting”.

The hotel’s spotty Wi-Fi didn’t help.

It made it difficult for both teams to communicate and transfer large files. To get a stronger Wi-Fi signal, the team occasionally had to upload the footages from the hotel lobby. Yet another wonderful experience that can’t really be taught in the classroom.

Hard Work for Both Teams
Working on this epic drama proved to be a trial by fire for the students. On average, they worked 6 days a week during this period. Pei Yi said that when she had to digitally remove the life-jackets the actors were wearing during an 8-second river scene from the video footages, she had to edit 200 frames.

Arthur, a student who was a part of the team in Singapore, said, “Time management is important, because shots keep coming in, and you need to learn how to prioritize. If you learn how to do that, maybe you can go home a little earlier.”

The team also had to work smart. After they created the visual effects, they still needed the computer to render the effects. The fastest render took 5 minutes, and the longest 4 days. If the computer crashed or lost power, the rendering had to be restarted  from the  last completed frame.
But no amount of time management could ease the sheer amount of work required to produce the visual effects for over 250 scenes, and the team had to work through the night on several occasions.

Fun, Pizza and Celebrity CrushesIt wasn’t “all work and no play” for the students. Mr Leong Chee Loong, the Lecturer who oversaw the team in Singapore, said that when the students worked overtime, he ensured that they received a day off.

He said, “I had to make sure that they are happy, their morale was high and they did not overwork; when they worked on the weekends, I bought pizza for them.”

In Malaysia, the experience was especially delightful for Pei Yi, whom her team mates describe as “Romeo Tan’s Number 1 Fan”. When Romeo and Pei Yi worked together, she said that she found the MediaCorp artiste to be approachable.

As luck would have it, her hotel room was also right next to Romeo’s, who is a SIDM alumnus from the class of 2007. Jame said that the team jokingly advised her to throw her teddy bear onto his balcony so that she would have an excuse to knock on his door.

Work That Makes Your Parents Proud

When the students’ parents learnt of their involvement in this drama, it gave them more incentive to watch it. Nicole said, “I watched it with my mum because she wants to know which shots I worked on.” She said that when her parents saw how proud she was of her work, they understood why she wanted to work in an industry that requires plenty of overtime and all-nighters.

Kabilan, the only Indian student in the team, could also relate. Thanks to subtitles, his parents also watch the show. He said that when he first enrolled in this course, his parents didn’t fully understand what he did. This changed after they watched the show.

On the other hand, Arthur’s parents may have taken their pride in their son a little too far. He said, “Once they asked me to WhatsApp them a photo of my work, and the next thing I know, they are going around telling all my relatives and neighbours that, ‘My son did this!’. Now the whole neighbourhood knows!”

The Journey: Tumultuous Times NYP Credits:
Digital Visual Effects

Lim Pei Yi
Goh Hui Yan, Nicole
Wang Haijing
Ng Chee Qing
Koh Ming Hui
Tan Chin Guan
Chan Qing Wei Arthur
Chua Min Er, Sherry
Kabilan Panneerselvam
Lin Zefan
Neo Jia Lin, Kalyn
Eng Boon Kiat
Nonis Brian Lincoln
Nurul Farhana Bte Mahbut
Tan Zi Xiang, Ken
Tan Xin Yi
Tan Su Ting Joey
Teo Rui Jun, Hannah
Leong Qian Yi, Emilee
Leong Chee Loong
Jame Woon
Ron Bernard
Annamalai Sridhar
Sankar Thiyagarajan
Michael Ng

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