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July 17, 2016

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New frontiers in art appreciation

THE beautifully haunting world of Vincent Van Gogh is now closer than ever thanks to one Shanghai-based digital media company.

In “The Starry Night: The World of Van Gogh,” a three-minute virtual-reality (VR) film experience created by local digital giant Motion Magic, viewers can simulate the experience of walking through three of the Dutch artist’s most iconic paintings.

Wearing VR goggles, audiences can wander around the mountain village of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, view pictures hanging on the painter’s bedroom, and look out the window onto a swirling Van Gogh-inspired starscape. A 2D film version of this immersive experience is also available online.

Located in the Shanghai Media Group complex, Motion Magic has been recognized as a local leader in television post-production. The studio’s credits include after-effects and motion graphics for several of China’s most successful reality shows, as well as New Year’s Eve 3D light shows on the Bund.

It’s latest Van Gogh-inspired production adds to the company’s growing list of forays into the burgeoning world of VR, a realm where it is considered an early leader.

According to company executives, Motion Magic’s goal is to help develop the domestic VR market with high-quality content.

“Feedback from the Van Gogh film has given us a lot of confidence,” said Tang Hao, deputy manager of Motion Magic.

In the five days following its release, a video clip of the “Starry Night” experience was viewed over 100,000 times, mostly via WeChat sharing.

This hasn’t been the first time VR technologies have been used in China to add a new dimension to fine art.

“The Night Café: A VR Tribute to Vincent van Gogh” recreated one of the artist’s most recognizable interiors for HTC Vive users in June.

Looking ahead, Motion Magic plans to unveil VR recreations of other post-impressionist masterpieces, as well as the surreal landscapes of Salvador Dali, the wistful worlds of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints and even the majestic Buddhist grottoes of Dunhuang in Gansu Province.

“Hopefully one day, we will come up with original virtual reality artworks of our own,” Tang said, adding that his company’s motion graphics artists are already “itching for a try.”

Recent technological advancements have made creating a fully-imagined VR environment easier than ever, at least from a technical point of view. According to Tang, three to five designers can create an experience on par with “Starry Night” in just two weeks. The real hard part is developing a strong, compelling artistic concept.

“It’s more than just simply transformation a 2D painting into a 3D image. There’s much to develop and create,” he said. “That’s where the artists will come in and offer most of their input.”

Motion Magic intends to develop about 20 fine-art inspired VR environments, the first of which are expected to hit online stores at the end of the year.

Artful gadgets

Over recent years, many of China’s top technology companies have reached out to cooperate with high-profile artists, designers and up-scale brands.

For example, Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei recently unveiled a sleek smart watch co-designed by Swarovski. The device eschews the chunky design cues seen in many tech-centric timepieces, and instead features a rounded face embellished with gemstones.

The design of the watch “is consistent with the brand’s design language DNA, which is to provide a feeling of exquisite materials and detailing,” Anthony Smith, Huawei’s global design director, told Shanghai Daily. “That’s something we believe we can truly add value and differentiate, something we don’t see very much in the competitors we benchmark.”

The watch is one of roughly a dozen recent products from the Shenzhen-based company that reflect an increasing emphasis on design sophistication.

In April, Huawei unveiled the P9 smartphone which features a double-lens 12-megapixel camera endorsed by Germany’s Leica Camera AG. This is the first time the legendary camera manufacturer has cooperated on a smartphone.

One month later, Huawei’s Honor V8 smartphone appeared at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016, where it was included in a major VR display focused on works by Chinese artists. The company also announced its plan to enter the VR market at that time.

Google’s 3D Tilt Brush is another new tech-savvy art tool making waves in the VR world. When hooked up with a VR helmet, artists can literally paint in virtual worlds.

They can switch the canvas in 3D space, use various brush strokes, and even paint with virtual laser lights, stars and fire.

New tools

Filmmakers and tech brands aren’t the only ones recognizing the potential of VR technologies. Fine artists, designers and art educators are also incorporating these technologies into their practices.

In May, seniors majoring in art of engineering and technology at China Academy of Art showcased a VR artwork as part of their graduation design project.

The work, titled “If,” features three mythical monsters adapted from “Classics of Mountains and Seas,” a collection Chinese mythology.

Designed with geometric tangram elements, the work unfolded as three monsters form an alliance that later falls apart and leads to their extinction.

Described as one of the first VR works of its kind in the country, “If” presents the possibilities technology endows art expression, said Zheng Jing, a professor with the academy as well as an instructor of the students behind the creation.

“Art has long deviated from technology development. It’s time we look back and review what we have achieved in technology advancement, and by aid of it, enrich our approaches of expression,” he said in an online interview.

As Tang from Motion Magic sees it though, technological advances have historically produced new tools for expression and new ways of thinking.

“The classical linear perspective in graphics art later evolved with contrasts of light and shadow in impressionism; then comes with the reconstruction of space and time in abstract art. The thinking ability of artists differs as the technology of the time allows.

“Today, VR presents a great advantage for motion graphic artists and those who can catch up,” he reckoned.


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