‘Investiture of the Gods’ is to Chinese audiences what The Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare is to Western culture. The epic novel, written in the 16th Century, combines ancient mythology with Chinese traditional arts to depict an epic historical tale. Also known as Fengshen, the tale has now been brought to the screen in a suitably epic trilogy, the first of which, Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms, was released earlier this year.
The fantasy feature spins numerous dramatic plot lines and contains many multilayered battle sequences, but for Director Wuershan and Cinematographer Wang Yu, the most important job was to capture the story’s emotional heart.
“The core of the story is the characters and especially the relationship between a father and his son,” says Wang Yu. “They fight each other, they love each other, and while we have dozens of complex action scenes, we knew the story would only work if audiences could feel the passion of the performances.”
Kingdom of Storms features 2,400 shots, including 1,800 VFX shots, and was filmed back-to-back over 438 days with A/B units with the other two parts of the series beginning in 2018. Wang Yu was intimately involved with preproduction and previz, which entailed massive amounts of research and meticulous planning, including a trip to Digital Domain in LA with the director for VFX tests. Wuershan sought advice from Director Peter Jackson while The Lord of the Rings producer Barrie M. Osbourne participated in the production.
It was the creation of extensive VFX with storytelling grounded in organic performances that led Wang Yu to shoot exclusively on RED cameras.
“This is a story about heaven, earth and demon. The story needs to be grounded on earth if we are to feel moved about magic.”
The project was conceived to be shot in stereo 3D, requiring multiple, compact digital cameras suitable for stereo rigs. Although this idea was later abandoned, the project retained a requirement to shoot digital high resolution.
“We wanted to capture the absolute best image against blue and green screen that could hold up through the VFX pipeline. So, my choice of RED MONSTRO 8K VV was this perfect combination of large format sensor, ultra-high resolution capture and postproduction resilience.”
He adds, “There are so many moving parts in this production that I wanted to have something reliable and best in class at the core of everything we did. To me, that meant RED MONSTRO.”
Wang Yu’s main and second camera unit worked with up to 10 MONSTROs with multiple cameras arrayed on some of the most complex action sequences. They recorded full frame 8K in REDCODE Raw into an IPP2 workflow.
“We primarily used three sets of Leica Thalia full frame lenses because I found the image to be very sharp while the out-of-focus is soft and the color feels moist,” says Wang Yu. “I used Angenieux Optimo Ultra 12x 36-435mm T4.2 zooms to match the clarity and color of the high-resolution images.”
The production built 20 large-scale sets, including one for an entire forest at Oriental Movie Metropolis in Qingdao, and also shot on location including in Xinjiang and Tibet provinces in the west of China.
The mammoth production was made with 8,000 crew and a cast drawn from a pool of 15,000 applicants, many of whom had not acted before. This included Yu Shi, who plays hero Ji Fa, who learned not only how to act but to do so while performing his own horse-riding and archery stunts.
“In the ancient world, warriors were incredibly skilled horse riders and went to combat on a horse. Our actors trained extremely hard for months so that we could capture this realism without having to resort to clever editing, stunt work or CGI. To do justice to the strength and power of their performance, it was especially important to me that we capture this in camera.
“For all the immense action sequence and the scale of this project with hundreds of extras, the magic that the story conveys is only possible if we believe in the emotion of the characters.”
The climactic scenes of Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms were among the very first to be filmed in 2018. “After we filmed that, I knew we could bring truth to the audience across the whole of the film,” Wang Yu says. “Using the camera to dance with the actors and using images to join the actors’ performances is what I am most proud of as a director of photography. Not only to be the Lord of the Rings in China, but also to be the Fengshen to the world."
Special thanks to Wang Yu for generously sharing behind-the-scenes of the making of "Creation of the Gods" with the RED team.