Technology

The man with the 3D ambition

By Chen Jie (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-10 09:43
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The man with the 3D ambition

A scene from the 3D simulation film Lotus Countuard which uses 3D techniques to create a visual effect that looks like a Chinese ink painting. It won Best Film at the 2009 Imagina Awards. [China Daily] 

Entrepreneur aims to exploit an interest in computer graphics to make blockbusters

BEIJING: Many people who watch sport know that the green jacket symbolizes a golfer's entry into the exclusive club of Masters champions, while the frontrunner in the Tour de France bicycle race wears a yellow jersey.

Now it seems other professionals are receiving items of clothing to mark their achievements.

One is Deng Bohong, managing director of Shenzhen Dans Digital Technology Co Ltd, who has just been given a black leather jacket by Autodesk Inc, the world leader in two and three-dimensional design software for the construction, media and entertainment industries.

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The company has just awarded the title Max Master to Deng at an award ceremony in Beijing in recognition of his talent as a 3D artist making a significant contribution to the development of the computer graphics industry. Shenzhen Dans Digital Technology was the only Chinese company represented on the candidate list.

It was not the first time Deng had been honored by his peers. In February 2009, his three-minute simulation work Lotus Countuard won an Imagina Award that recognizes the very best use of 3D modeling, simulation and visualization applied to a particular sector, whether it is artistic, industrial or engineering related.

It put him in good company. Last year along with Deng's works were Disney's animation movie Wall-E, Warner Bros' The Dark Knight and the hot video game World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Winners in previous years included Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2008), X-Men: The Last Stand (2007), Batman Begins (2006) and The Day After Tomorrow (2005).

"We didn't realize what the Imagina Awards meant until we found ourselves standing alongside these big names at the ceremony last February in Monaco," Deng told China Business Weekly.

"Like this year's Avatar, many movies won Oscars for cinematography and visual effects. We are now doing cinematography and visual effects in short advertisement works but would like one day to make a Chinese blockbuster worthy of winning an Oscar," Deng said.

Although Deng and his company mainly work on short architecture and urbanism advertisements, they use the same software and techniques as Hollywood productions and the artistry and special effects are equal in quality to big motion pictures.

In Lotus Countuard, which was produced for a housing project in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, Deng used the latest 3D techniques to innovate a visual effect that appeared to be a flowing Chinese ink painting. In a three-minute animation, he created a paradise-like housing community in spring, summer, autumn and winter. Typical Chinese details such as a bridge, pavilion and flowing water were accompanied by a Chinese melody and poems.

"What we do is half art, half science and technology," Deng said.

The semi-artist, semi-engineer has never received any professional training in either field. An obsessive interest in video games led him to change career when he was 30. Before that he was just another second-generation boss of a family business that had noting to do with animation, arts or entertainment.

"Having adventures and exploring new things is something in my blood, possibly inherited from my ancestors," 37-year-old Deng said.

Tracing back the family's migration over the last century, he found every move occurred exactly at a unique time in China's social development. In the 1920s, like millions of poverty-stricken Shandong residents, Deng's family moved to northeast China as they sought a better life. In the 1950s, following the government's call to work in very remote areas, Deng's grandfather moved the family to Inner Mongolia. Deng was born there in Baotou in 1973. After the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), Deng's father, a craftsman and architect, moved to Beijing and worked on the construction of the Beijing Hotel. In the mid-1980s, many people embarked upon "xia hai," which literally means to "go into business" and involves giving up a stable job to become an entrepreneur. Deng's father moved the family to Shenzhen where he opened Haina Wood Industry Co Ltd.

As the only son of the family, it was natural and easy for Deng to become the second-generation boss. But he packed it in after working there for five years and entered the computer graphics industry, then a brand new business in China.

Deng spent one year traveling, visiting friends and thinking what to do. By chance he found some 3D software and books at one of his friends' homes where he often played video games. A strong and immediate interest led him to learn how to use 3D software to create "amazing, vivid, real and imaginative scenes from the video games".

He said: "It was around 2000. The computer graphics industry had just started in China. I taught myself to use the 3D software to do short animations. Whenever I saw my imagination realized on the screen, I felt even more excited than I did playing a game. What an interesting job it could be: I could work and play at the same time."

In 2003, Deng invested 5 million yuan, rented a 100 square meter office in Shenzhen and hired nine young people who all loved playing video games to launch Shenzhen Dans Digital Technology Co Ltd.

"We had no ambition. If we did a good job, we could make a living from it. If not, it was at least an interesting job that we enjoyed. We were all young and it was worth trying," Deng said.

Starting with a desire for fun but thirsty to learn, within a few years Deng and his team finished the calculations on a series of performance simulations and received two patents. Deng soon became an experienced 3D engineer, expert in post-production editing, hydrodynamics applications (a computational method used for simulating fluid flows), particle flow and other 3D techniques.

Now the company has grown to some 50 staff and moved to a new office of 400 sq m. Deng has become well-known in the industry and was voted chairman of the TV/Film Animation Specialist Committee of China International Real Estate Research Institute in 2006. He remains involved in designing every project himself.

"Creation must be supported by the technology so I keep learning and exploring the advantages and disadvantages of various applications. As an animation director it helps me to create wonderful ideas for projects," he said.

"The 3D animation industry is just beginning in China but people have realized it has a promising future. Every day dozens of similar companies are born but how many of them can survive? Nobody dares to say. What we can do is to provide best quality productions."

Deng has loyal support from his staff. "Deng never pushes us too much, never makes us work overtime. He always says that a masterpiece takes time. Anyway, the industry needs inspiration and creation. To some degree, it is an art. The message Deng gives us is to enjoy the job as he does," said Tang Mengyu, technical director of the company.

Chinese movie directors may have no idea that there are Chinese companies that can create the same special visual effects as those in Western films. Deng's company is currently primarily engaged in producing architectural advertising animations. In the last seven years he has directed and produced some 70 pieces of work. Ninety percent of them were of housing projects or shopping malls for domestic real estate companies.

After he won several important international awards, some Western companies, including two from Hollywood, contacted him. He plans to train his team, learn the necessary procedures and gain experience through collaboration with them so he can prepare for his own movie productions.

"My final goal is to be an independent producer to make Chinese blockbuster movies. China has so many wonderful legends and stories. I believe if we can use 3D animation techniques to shoot movies based on classic works such as Journey to the West or Granting Titles to Gods, it would be terrific," said Deng.

The man with the 3D ambition