The Making of God of Dance [radio edit]

I THOUGHT I WAS JUST GOING TO DO ROUGH CHARACTER DESIGNS?

As I have noted elsewhere, my involvement in the God of Dance [radio edit] promo was something that evolved out of my rough designing, then clean and color designing the characters and then re-designing, though not to camera ready art, a one-sheet poster.

GoD Poster Final

As with the one-sheet, I wasn’t supposed to be much involved in the promo, but as fate would have it, things were not working out as smoothy as they might have and, as with the one-sheet, I was asked if I could take the promo over and handle the whole thing from Hong Kong (direction and production). This was just after Christmas in 2007, I was free and I liked the idea of making the promo so I accepted the task (I won’t say “job” since I wasn’t hired to do it nor paid). The only downside was that I had exactly one month to make a 30 second promo from scratch. That doesn’t sound like much work, but considering that the only materials that existed up to that point were a few character rotation designs and very little in terms of locked down concepts for the show and virtually no solid concepts of how the promo should play out or look (all to be done within a rather tight schedule and budget), a lot of fast creative decisions had to be made, often on the spot. Everything had to be planned out within about a week so that whichever studio was contracted for production could have enough time to build the character models, sets, etc. and deliver the footage for the deadline of the presentation meeting (Hopefully).

I pow-wowed ideas back and forth with Andrew Tan about what the promo would be. The original idea pitched at me, though it wasn’t Andrew’s, was for two characters to have a dance off (Which also involved some kinds of kung fu “powers”. More on that, later) in a Chinese themed night club complete with Ming vases, dragons, Terracotta Warriors and yin yang symbols (Cue game show “X” buzzer..........NOW!).

I thought that was really lame. Keep in mind, this concept was to be pitched to people in China and not to readers of the 70s Master of Kung Fu comic. This was a show designed to appeal to modern kids in China, who seem to know something about China, I’m told. My feeling was that such a cliched idea like a Classical Chinese themed night club, where young people would frequent, just screamed “fake” and would come off as a white person’s, who has never been to China, idea of what all things Chinese are (Look at almost any given Master of Kung Fu comic and you’ll get the idea of what I wanted to avoid). I wanted the promo to look like something you would see in an actual Chinese city (though hyper-real) and make it urban (More on that later).

One important thing to note before I go any further: The development and organization of this promo all happened REALLY quickly and so the exact order of events may not be 100% the way they played out. Every day involved discussions, practical work and research: always with an eye on the self imposed schedule of “If we don’t get the preproduction work done by the end of the week, the service studio won’t have enough time to build the characters and set and animate the footage in time!!!” It isn’t so difficult if you have an idea of what you plan to do going into it, but this really was the barest of concepts with nothing locked down from day one and so in order to produce a promo that in some way reflects what the series would be like, should it get made, an enormous amount of quick thinking needed to happen. In that kind of environment, one just operates on instinct, guided by experience, and time loses its meaning: results are all that matters in the moment. If I make any mistakes, I’ll back track on them as I write this article.

We, Andrew Tan and I, beated out the basic structure of the 30 seconds. This part was tricky because one key factor of the promo was that we had to pull a sleight of hand: the budget was not high and the schedule short, so as a result, the contracted studio could only build and rig two characters and animate 15 seconds of complete footage in the time allotted them. In fact, their delivery estimate was 3 or 4 days AFTER the pitch meeting when it needed to be ready (More on that later). So we needed to create a storyboard for a promo that tricked the viewer into thinking there are 30 seconds of animation when in fact we would be lucky to have 15 seconds ready in time for the pitch meeting.

This kind of squeezing the lemon/magicians trick process factored into every single decision involved in the making of the promo. Nothing was decided without these two things in mind: Can it be done in time and on budget? If something, even the smallest element seemed like it would burden the schedule or budget, it was discarded or retooled to be created in a way that wouldn’t add time or money. BUT, it had to look great and be entertaining. No small order.

I actually like to work under restrictions and so it was quite fun, for me personally. I find restrictions often bring out the best ideas in creative works.

Our structure then became simple: start with some flashing stills of the two players facing off in order to accomplish the visuals with no animation in order to fill the first 15 seconds of animation without having any actual animation (it’s a trick), segue into full animation of the dance-off (15 seconds or less) and smash to the title and “The End”.

This was a good structure because it meant that we should be able to get away with only a maximum of 15 seconds of actual frame by frame animation, which the service studio should be able to manage (30 seconds would have been impossible on such short notice) and we’d get our 30 second promo done. By having the promo start with slow stills and swing hard into fast action right to the end, the viewer should be left somewhat energized by what they just saw since the most dynamic visuals would be the second half. If the job was all done well, the sleight of hand would work and no one would even notice that everything was done to save time and money and they’d think they saw something more animated and expensive that what was the reality.

Once we settled that, Andrew and I went our separate ways for 24 hours before the next pow-wow. That day, I believe I went out and did some location scouting. I wanted the location to look 100% authentic: I didn’t want to fake anything. I can’t stand cartoons that fake things and I certainly wasn’t going to partake in that level of laziness. So, armed with my loyal mobile phone, I went out in search of a suitable place for a dance off.

Initially, I had thought of a back courtyard I had once seen in Shenzhen that is close to the train station and boarder with Hong Kong. It had the right look of open space, concrete and slight urban decay. But, before taking a 90 minute train to Shenzhen, I decided to check an instinct I had about a back street in Hong Kong. I couldn’t place my finger on why I should go check it out, but it was a slight detour from the Hong Kong train station I would use in order to get to China, so why not take a look?

I found my spot and saved a 90 minute ride to China.

Next: Hong Kong Alleyways, YouTube and Trash Talk



P.S. Although I have never read an actual issue of Master of Kung Fu, I understand it was quite a good to excellent comic for periods of its run. I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m anti-Shang Chi. If someone wants to buy and send me the Doug Moench/ Paul Gulacy run, I’d happily ready it.

-Steve

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