On July 31, 2023, the 17th FIRST International Film Festival, one of China’s most preeminent film festivals, culminated in Xining. Many illustrious movies, amid this year’s festival, entered the audience perspective. Among them, Galaxy Writer has been awarded the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Screenplay, which is undoubtedly like a “dark horse” that cannot be disregarded in this audio-visual feast. Galaxy Writer, through its imaginative narrative techniques, profound comedy skills, and dexterous audio-visual techniques, has sparked a strong resonance among the audience, and has gained recommendations from multitudinous film professionals. The portrayal of real scenes and the creation of details in the movie are attributed to its art director Zhengrong Ni.
Zhengrong Ni, a professional production designer who graduated from Emerson College with the M.F.A. degree, is a member of the China Film Art Direction Academy and a member of Asian Film Awards Academy established by the Busan International Film Festival. In films and advertising, she excels in utilizing profuse colorful elements to create dramatic tension, boldly breaking through cultural boundaries, creating vehement visual impact, and bringing ultimate visual enjoyment to the audience. Her commercials have received recognition from various brand enterprises such as Chanel, Honda, BMW, Huawei, Xiaomi, NetEase, etc. Her films have also been honored with numerous awards. My Old Pal, was awarded the Top 10 in Youth Short Film Season, China Golden Roaster Film Festival in 2022, and was also selected in Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival. Her another work All Tomorrow’s Parties was nominated for the Golden Bear Award in the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival. These works not only focus on the authenticity of scene details, but also on the expression of visual tension and poetic charm. Zhengrong Ni has broken through the boundaries of film aesthetics with realistic and delicate visual effects, and has promoted the development of artistic creation of Chinese Film and Television.
In the interview ahead of FIFF’s official kickoff, Zhengrong Ni expressed her thoughts about her career experiences, award-winning feelings, and future prospects.
What prompted you to become a professional art director?
As a nostalgic person, I usually enjoy browsing the flea market to collect various goods because they carry memories and beautiful moments, and retain traces of people’s past lives. Those antiques remaining in people’s memories, if not recorded in paper or video materials, may only disappear as memories fade away. Movie therefore is a great medium to awaken people’s memories, where we can reconstruct these objectives in memories. When filming news documentaries, I found that using a camera to construct stories was an effective way to record, which motivated me to study film. I then realized that in addition to audio-visual language, the space where characters and objects were located was also a way of storytelling, and artistic creation was also the leader of overall visual presentation of films and the transmitter of aesthetic concepts. From then on, I have embarked on my career in artistic creation.
What new attempts have you made and what difficulties have you overcome in your work?
Film art, in terms of work style, requires continuous learning of new technologies and optimization of workflow. In many projects, I have introduced AI technology for auxiliary work. However, artistic design needs to express these theoretical concepts at the technical level in a more humanistic and readable way in the screen. In practical work, you need to race against budget and time, to balance both business objectives and artistic needs. However, for artistic expression, it’s necessary to consider the responsibility of making visual works vivid and giving them vitality. For instance, the story of All Tomorrow’s Parties happened the day before the 1990 Asian Games, whereas I was not born in that era and lacked understanding of it, so we searched for enough references to extract elements that could be incorporated into the camera. To reproduce the sculpture of the mascot Pan Pan, I considered technological factors based on previous photos, and retained its roughness and sense of reality in that era.
What are the visual innovations or highlights of your work Galaxy Writer?
As the production designer of Galaxy Writer, I collected numerous posters of classic films and actors for movie scenes. Considering that the protagonist is a movie fan, we incorporated many designs related to movies into visual effects. For example, posters of movies, actors, classic lines and scenes mentioned in the movie were hidden in the corners of the protagonist’s house, and they may flash by in the camera, but with these, characters’ experience and background could be more vivid. When designing scenes, we linked the protagonist’s different states with things related to movies in his background, and used scenes or lines of these classic movies to imply characters’ fate.
Your work has won awards in this year’s festival and received praises from the audience. What do you think of it?
I am very grateful for the audience’s recognition. For creators, the audience’s reactions are significant. The biggest value of a movie or literary work is to be seen and resonate with the audience. After each movie screening, if I can hear the applause from the audience or see comments on Web, I will be encouraged. Excellent works must be close to the audience and real life. If my works can help the audience or be liked by them, I will have more motivations to create more works.
What are your expectations for the future?
In the future, I will strive to create more exceptional works, and I also want to become a “teacher” of artistic creation to promote art education, so that more people can understand the film industry. I will move forward on the path of artistic creation, contribute my efforts to the development of artistic creation of Chinese film industry and the realization of a prosperous film country, and spread Chinese aesthetics more widely.