Friday, March 1, 2013
Plano West grad worked on visual effects for Oscar-nommed Beasts of the Southern Wild
She had no idea the film would win Sundance or receive four Oscar nominations.
Not many 24-year-olds can put a critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated motion picture on their resumes. Plano West graduate Anwei Chen is an exception.
While attending classes at San Francisco's Academy of the Arts, Chen was the visual effects production manager for her school's part in Beasts of the Southern Wild, the Sundance-winning 2012 film that snagged four Oscar nominations.
Chen headed up a 33-person team responsible for 81 of the film's 120 visual effects shots, working directly with professional visual artists both at her school and in New York as part of the Academy's compositing for production class.
Chen said she had no idea how big the movie would eventually become while putting in the long hours to complete its sophisticated effects shots.
"My main focus was just to finish the film, because it was pretty big for somebody who had never worked on a feature film by [themselves]," she said. "... I was completely shocked when they won Sundance, and I think I was even more shocked when they were nominated for the Oscars."
The final scene was the most difficult part of the process, she said, involving placing the main character, played by 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, onto a computer-generated background and placing two pigs -- blown up to gigantic sizes -- in front of the actress.
Once Chen saw the final result, however, she knew it was well worth the effort.
"You have to understand the movie to understand why, because that moment, when she's looking straight at the pigs, everyone cries," she said. "I even cried when I saw that part."
Chen, born in New York, moved to Plano from Guatemala with her family in 1999. She attended Robinson Middle School and Jasper High School before going to West, where she was involved in orchestra, Peer Assistance and Leadership, and the student newspaper.
While her interest in film started in junior high, she didn't make her first move toward a film career until attending the University of Texas San Antonio, where she majored in communications and interned at the Austin Film Festival one summer.
Ultimately, Chen wound up at the Academy in San Francisco, where she initially pursued work in animation; her interest in visual effects production almost came about by accident while working on a project for the school's fall animation festival.
"I spoke to a couple of people in production, and they said that if I really wanted to pursue production I should really go into the compositing for production class that they offer at the school," she said. "... I decided to give it a try, and in the process I found that I like visual effects more."
Having graduated last summer, Chen is still living in San Francisco and working on various projects. One of her latest films, Fruitvale, won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
"This industry is not easy; it's actually very hard," she said, adding that many visual effects artists and producers regularly put in 12-hour days. "It's harder to try to get your foot in the door, but once you're in, it's amazing -- all the things that you're learning, all the professionals that you're meeting."
While some in the industry have accused the film industry of using college students for "free labor," Chen said the project was an asset in getting her name out in the industry.
"That's the whole purpose of the class," she said. "It's to help [artists] have good stuff on their demo reels ... For production people, it's something good for their resumes. If you just go to an everyday class, you don't get the same experience. It's like going to college and doing an internship versus just going to class."
To follow Chen's career, read more at IMDB.
Pegasus News Content partner - Star Local News