Doing your own original animation is probably the dream of most animators.

Jian Xu, founder of UDA, has been working in CG industry for 20 years. He spent five years as the head of game art at Ubisoft in Shanghai and Montreal, but his passion for animation stayed with him. “WHEN games were at their best, I was still thinking about animation,” he says.

Like millions of other animators, he always sticks to his original animation and strives for it, and also breeds his original animation works. Today, let us come to know the CG road of this animation person.

1. Introduction of guests


Senior 3D artist in China

Participating Works:

Assassin’s Creed 2, Strange Magic, The Blade, Baahubali 2: The End, Honor of Kings, and more

Published books:

“Legend 3DS Max/ZBrush Extreme CG Character Creation Analysis”, “Legend 3DS Max/ZBrush Extreme CG Character Creation Analysis 2”, “3DS Max+ZBrush Film animation CG Character Creation Reveal”

1. The opening of CG road

Xu jian has been fond of drawing since childhood and began to learn professional sketch in high school. I studied in School of Design, Wuhan University of Technology. In his freshman year, he was exposed to 3D production and used computers to present art, which inspired xu’s interest and love for CG.

In 2004, Xu was working for a start-up company in Suzhou, making games and taking charge of art. At that time, Xu jian was not clear about his future plans, but he treasured the opportunity to work, which also started his CG career.

Xu Jian’s personal practice works

2. Join Ubisoft, the benchmark for CG games

In 2005, Jian Xu joined Ubisoft Shanghai, a world-renowned game company, where he was the head of CG brand art for several games, including Assassin’s Creed 2, Splinter Cell, etc.

Xu recalls working on Assassin’s Creed ii in 2009 as one of his most impressive projects. Xu was sent to Montreal, Canada, to help ubisoft’s local team, and he was mainly responsible for the art work on the project. He stayed in Montreal for several months and experienced the working and living conditions of the local team. They knew how to enjoy life and how to work as a team and give full play to their individual strengths. Working at Ubisoft allowed Xu to participate in and learn the full process of game project production, which gave him valuable experience in the CG journey.

3. Learn from the top international team in ILM

In 2010, Xu jian moved to Singapore to work as a senior film character artist at IlM, one of the world’s leading film and television effects studios. He was mainly responsible for the CG design and production of Strange Magic.

Working in ILM, Xu jian’s biggest feeling is that their film and television team is very professional (including software, system, process management, etc.), and it is very important to standardize cooperation.

They used Linux and ilM’s own Zeno software, Mr. Xu said. At the time, the software was much more advanced than Maya, and the programmers would write in everything you needed. The software is updated with new features based on demand almost every week, which is very efficient. Their computer can also be accurate enough that if you are not using the computer for a second, the computer will start rendering.

From the gap between domestic and foreign process management, Xu Jian learned a lot of knowledge about production process management, learning how to make a film quickly and safely. Xu jian could not help but sigh at the professional, standard and healthy development of foreign production companies, and also gave him more prospects for the development of domestic animated films.

4. Set up “Uta” and do their own original animation

In 2011, Xu Jian returned to China and founded his own company — Shanghai Youta Digital (UDA).

Uta focuses on high-end CG production and training of top CG talents. Main business includes CG production, CG training, 3D printing, original animation IP movies. In the past 10 years since its establishment, the company has cooperated with Tencent, netease and other well-known domestic companies for nearly 100 projects, including King of Glory, Tianya Mingyue Knife, Crossfire, The Bright Moon of Qin, Daily Flying Car, Daily Legend and so on.

Role design poster of “Tianya Mingyue Knife”

Even though he has participated in the production of game projects for many years, Xu Jian still does not forget his original ambition — he wants to make animation, and he wants to make his own original animation!

Holding the enthusiasm of science fiction theme, Xu Jian and uta team spent two years to carefully create the first future interstellar science fiction theme animation in China — The 2D setting, detailed sub-scene outline and 3D sample film of Star Express. This project also won the excellent project of 2020 China Youth Animation Venture Capital Conference.

2. Introduction of original projects

In 2016, Yota launched the original science fiction animation project “Star Express”. The background of the story is the future interstellar science fiction theme. It tells the story of Noah, a rebellious teenager, who inadvertently betrayed his father Oswalt to get moby Dick ticket in order to pursue a better life on an alien planet, hoping to leave the heavily polluted Earth to live on Milo. But find themselves involved in the alien business tycoon Jago human trafficking conspiracy. Accidentally broke into a star named halfway star planet, in the help of small partner Bean na, Noah came to miaole star rescued his father Oswald, liberated the enslaved human, led them to return to the earth to rebuild their homes.

This project is the first interstellar science fiction theme animation in China. The script is rigorous and conveys correct values. Science fiction theme is the trend in the future.

3. Exclusive interview with Ruiyun

01. Ruiyun Rendering: What is the original intention of the UTa team to create star Express IP?

Xu Jian: Science fiction is my favorite direction in my heart. I often watch videos and books about science fiction. Science fiction is very suitable for 3D performance, unlike martial arts, which can be filmed in real life. However, science fiction requires a lot of design, a perfect world view and solid performance, so that the audience can be convinced of the science fiction world. I like challenges, so I want to do something with a high threshold so that the sense of accomplishment will be stronger later on.

“Star Express” is chosen because a project is responsible for the investors, at least let him make money. For domestic, an IP can do, in fact, depends on whether it is good at developing games, can there be other development possibilities. First of all, the star genre is easy to make games, do casual, adventure, shooting can be done. Star class can also do a lot of hand-made, “cool” things, such as design a lot of alien pets, cute objects, and then cooperate with blind box. Besides, the theme of star trek is very imaginative, and there are still many possibilities for follow-up, so I want to achieve development in many aspects.

02. Ruiyun Rendering: What challenges did the team encounter during the early development of the original IP of Star Express? How did the team overcome them? Be alert for the second wave

Xu Jian: The challenge is to build a world view. Because this is a new and unknown thing, we talked with many friends about science fiction. I actually have a very good partner, teacher Xu Yiran, we create this work together, Teacher Xu Yiran is a professional animation scriptwriter, the quality of the script determines whether the content in this world is established. Then we also found 2D original paintings, we need original artists to understand the content related to science fiction, so that the design can be more accurate. Creating an accurate world is the difficulty in this creative process.

3. Ruiyun rendering: Did Star Express make any reference during the creation process?

Xu Jian: In fact, in our world view, there are three locations, the earth is the “doomsday earth”, this (reference) is actually relatively easy to find. There is also a planet called “Halfway Star”, which is a commercial transfer station. This is actually a reference to “Star Wars”. There is a similar scene in “Star Wars”, where many aliens put their goods to do trade. Then “Mille Star” is a rich planet with enough to eat and wear. With such a specific background, it is easier to find a reference. I found some science fiction films, including pixar’s WALL-E.

04. Ruiyun Rendering: How is the current project progress of Star Express? How is the production cycle structured?

Xu Jian: It took us about two years to complete a detailed outline of the field. Outline xu Yiran and I changed about 14 editions. And the field outline as long as we refine a bit, is a complete script. Part of the original 2D painting, some character design and scene design, and a five minute 3D demo, something like that. The plan is to take two years to make, if funding comes in. Despite the perception that animated films are hot, few have actually received funding.

05. Ruiyun Rendering: You have served as the head of art for many ubisoft game brands. Can you share your feelings about working with foreign teams?

Xu Jian: I was sent to Montreal, Canada, and experienced the working and living conditions of the local team. My personal feeling is that North American artists pay great attention to their personal living conditions. They don’t work overtime, and basically go to and from work on time. For example, if your strength is pre-2D, you will be assigned to pre-2D. In TERMS of 3D, it may be divided into roles, scenes, games and other parts, and each post is particularly detailed. In China, there may be more kinds of jobs a person needs to do.

06. Ruiyun Rendering: In your senior CG industry experience, what is the person or thing that has a profound influence on you, can you share?

Xu Jian: I had a teacher at ILM in Singapore who was specialized in sculpture. His name is Andrew. He worked on Star Wars before. When he worked on Star Wars, one of his hands got tenosynovitis and couldn’t use the mouse because he used it too much. Then he used the other hand to do, the other hand also got tenosynovitis, two hands are basically equal to the nearly useless. Then he used the sphere mouse to create. Later, maybe the mouse could not be used so much, he would knead the mud by himself, he made a lot of sculptures, many of us art students will buy his body sculpture as a reference. I think I have to really, really love what I do to get things done. And when he was working on “Avatar,” Director Cameron hired two people to do design in his house, one for setting and the other for 3-D. There are a lot of monsters in Avatar, and Andrew needs to design the muscles of those monsters at home, and design them reasonably, so I admire him.

Andrew Cawrse, digital concept artist and sculptor, has worked with IlM for over 9 years as CG model Supervisor.

As a matter of fact, the foreign film process, whether pixar or Disney, includes some realistic animated films. They all make sculptures first, because sculpture is relatively more intuitive, and the director will have a better understanding of the visual appearance of the role after seeing it. And then what we did was we scanned the sculpture, and we topologized it based on that form.

07. Ruiyun Rendering: Can you give some learning advice to the newcomers who want to be engaged in CG industry?

Xu Jian: CG is actually the same as painting, one is your observation ability, one is your hands-on ability. It’s the same with CG. Observation is essential. Hands-on ability is really your ability to use software. Your hands-on skills are quickly attainable, but the hard part is your observational skills and what you want to show.

So I think sometimes genius is the ability to see. This talent can also be cultivated in the later stage, which is that you should pay more attention to things, good visual things, good movies. This is actually more to improve your art and creative ability. This is not a month and a half can improve, it must be a lot of time to accumulate. When you need it, you can pull it out a little bit. So I think software, for half a year, you are absolutely familiar with the work, but more time is needed to watch the work.

08. Ruiyun Rendering: What are your expectations for China’s future animation industry?

Xu Jian: I have been doing animation, I think animation will have a good development. Given the success of Monkey King: Hero is Back and Ne Zha, Chinese animation audiences have high expectations for Chinese animation and are very inclusive. “Monkey King: Hero is Back” and “Ne Zha” did well, of course, but it was far worse than Hollywood than Disney. But his score is actually very very high, even higher than some foreign blockbusters. Therefore, based on this point, I think first of all, such a high box office means that the audience is very, very large, and these audiences are very recognized, and they are tolerant of some shortcomings and problems in the movie, so I believe that the market is very large.

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