Wow, how lucky are we? Securing Vong Yonghow was a special treat for us because he has contributed to some of the biggest films of the past few years. Not only that, but because of his love for photography, animation and film, he has tried his hands on many different fields and has worked as an animator, Inferno artist intern, as well as a fashion photography assistant. He is currently attached to Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Lucasfilm Singapore as a Lighting Technical Director. Some of the films I’ve worked on include Gore Verbinski’s Rango, Transformers – Dark of the Moon, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and The Avengers. Read below for the full interview…
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is up for an Oscar this year for sound editing, sound mixing and visual. Did you personally have a hand in any of those achievements?
Vong: Industrial Light & Magic was one of the visual effects companies that worked on the film, and I contributed in a small way working on about 10 visual effects shots in the film. As a lighting technical director my task was to render and light the CG robots, blending them seamlessly with the live action footage.
We are really excited to be nominated for an Oscar – although ILM has already 15 Academy Awards – this is the first nomination where the Singapore studio contributed to a significant portion of the film.
For you, why are movies inspiring?
Vong: I am deeply attracted to beautiful visuals and imagery, and Cinema, which is essentially moving pictures with sound intrinsically fulfills that part for me. But when filmmakers imbue these images with a deeper meaning that triggers emotional resonance, the resulting product takes on a whole different dimension that is truly awe-inspiring. Its that glowing, happy feeling you have after watching a great film – you might not be able to say exactly why it was great, but a connection between you and the filmmakers have no doubt been made. I continually seek out these wonderful connections.
You spent quite a few years in Japan. How does the industry in Tokyo differ from that in Singapore?
Vong: One notably difference is the very long working hours in Japan – A typical working day in an animation studio in Tokyo starts around 10-11am and ends around the same time at night. During crunch times its not unusual to work 18 hours a day, for weeks on end. There was an occasion when my colleague did not go home for a week – thankfully there’s a public bath near our studio. It’s also a really tight knit industry in Japan – if you can speak English and have a fantastic portfolio you can find work in many countries like Australia, UK and the States, but unless you speak Japanese it’s quite a big challenge to work in Japan. Besides big studios like Polygon Pictures who have in house translators, most studios communicate solely in Japanese.
What kind of work was involved with Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol? Tom is very hands on as a producer and, from my perspective, was always trying to protect the vision of his films. Were there any particular challenges or hurdles you encountered?
Vong: Industrial Light and Magic contributed to some of the visual effects shots for the film, including the creation of the giant sandstorm in Dubai. The ILM Supervisor from Singapore, Mohen Leo, went on location and was directly involved with shooting some scenes with Tom Cruise. For me I had the chance to work on a couple of shots in that sandstorm sequence as well, under the leadership of ILM visual effects supervisor John Knoll.
One of the challenges we faced fairly often is the need to turn over shots in a very short period of time – this can happen very suddenly because of editorial or scheduling changes. Problem solving is part of our everyday work – in situations like this we really need to devise the best way to deliver a shot in the shortest time possible, but still maintaining the highest caliber of quality of work that ILM is known for.
You are very vocal about your interests and documenting your film viewings. As a blogger, do you feel it is important to stay relevant in the digital world as a open means of communication with your audience?
Vong: I get very excited and inspired when I see beautiful cinematography and well crafted mise-en-scene in films, and have an indescribable urge to share it with like-minded readers who frequent my blog. Interesting discussions usually follow, and very often exposing me to new films, artists that I grow to like.
These days, I seem to get the latest news on films, updates on work by artists as much, if not more from Twitter messages than websites, so the importance of staying relevant to development in social media simply cannot be overlooked.
What did director Gore Verbinski show to you at Industrial Light & Magic, so the animation could be created? I heard he had an unorthodox approach.
Vong: Concept artist Crash McCreery’s amazing designs for the characters in Rango really inspired us greatly before work started on the film. To create the stylized, yet photo-realistic world of Rango, our whole lighting team watched a number of inspirational films like There Will be Blood [and] The Good, The Bad And The Ugly to study the lighting and mood of a classic Western film. Although we did not work directly with Gore Verbinski, we had video conferences daily with ILM visual effects supervisors Tim Alexander and John Knoll, who really shared with us their wealth of knowledge when working on our shots. It was a truly rewarding and enriching experience.
Being a lover of photography, do you apply your love of photography to cross over into cinematography? I would imagine have a photographers eye gives you an advantage when it comes to have a keen attention to detail.
Vong: Both photography and cinematography adhere to the same rules in framing, composition, depth of field and so I believe the same techniques are applicable to both of them. When working in cinematography my initial ideas and concepts do not necessarily stem from the eyes of a still photographer because of the added element of movement, but a keen eye for detail, as well as for good framing and composition will definitely serve one well in cinematography as well. Many of the best cinematographers working out there today started out as still photographers.
What are some of our favorite Asian films or Anime?
Vong: Probably too many to list ! I love veteran Japanese director Yoji Yamada’s works, films like Twilight Samurai, Bushi No Ichibun, and also his older films like The Yellow Handkerchief. Ichikawa Jun’s brilliant film adaptation of Murakami Haruki’s short story “Toni Takitani” also left a big impression on me with its unique visual narrative. For Korean cinema I really love films by Hur Jin-ho ( One Fine Spring Day), and Bong Joon-ho, whose masterpiece “Memories Of Murder” is nothing short of spectacular.
What future films or projects can we expect to see from you?
Vong: I am currently working on Marvel’s Avengers film, (directed by Joss Whedon) contributing to some of the visual effects shots. The film will be released in May.
Want to keep tabs on Vong’s work and topics of conversation? Follow his cookie crumb trail below: