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The Fascinating Family From Tang's Guangtao Pi

Fusion; the word elicits definitions ranging from energy to food and even rock/jazz music but it essentially is the process of two things which change form to become a new creation unto itself. This is very appropriate when referring to the show Family from Tang. Filmed in Hollywood but heavily reliant on a mixture of Chinese and American cast and crew, the story itself is a Hodge-Podge of comedy and action which takes place in China of old. Before you get ahead of yourself and think you have an idea of the story, it combines Science Fiction and Aliens presented by an almost exclusively Asian cast who speaks English. Director Majik Jingwei Zhou called his ace in the hole, compositor/Visual Effects Supervisor Guangtao Pi to create the visual mastery for which he is famous and contribute it to the look of Family from Tang. There are so many adjectives applicable to this production but the most appropriate is transfixing.

Sometimes you just know that what you’re working on is something special. The team creating Family from Tang knew that this premise was…unusual but that’s precisely what made it so intriguing. It’s also obvious that entertainment has reached a point in time where marketability is much less about being generalized than it is about being exceptional. The public seeks out unique stories, both domestically and internationally. The action of this story takes place in the Chinese Tang Dynasty around 730 CE. Robbers break into the tomb of China’s first emperor to steal valuable artifacts but inadvertently discover and release a very talkative alien in the process. The robbers lay low, posing as a family, and run a noodle shop. The alien (named Sparkle) takes on human form while protecting his identity from others becomes the family’s focus. Between the townspeople and a group of other aliens who arrive looking for Sparkle, it’s nearly impossible to keep him and the felonious deed which released him a secret. Award-winning actor Maximillian Schlossberg (Best Actor Award Idyllwild Arts Film Festival 2018) stars as the well-meaning and affable Sparkle who proves to be a benefit AND detriment to the family of tomb robbers.

Family from Tang recently received a number of awards including the Hollywood international film festival (winner for visual effects), Global film festival Awards (winner of the best series pilot), and a nomination from the Utah Film Awards for best visual effects. Because of the setting and the Sci-Fi aspect of the story, the visual effects are prominent and ubiquitous in this production. To recreate China of the past on a Hollywood soundstage, Guangtao worked with the prop master to create architectural elements of the time period. The action takes place in olden times yet the presence of aliens and their technology is interspersed. Pi visited an alien museum in Las Vegas to extract credible ideas and designs. Mixing traditional Chinese elements with Sci-Fi style is highly uncommon…and highly satisfying in Family from Tang. One of the best examples of this in the program is the scene in which the robbers first discover Sparkle in his natural form. Guangtao describes, “The robbers find Sparkle in a coffin. The director’s idea was to have him appear as if made out of water but in a somewhat human form. In order to perfectly integrate the CG character with the real scene, we used motion control technology. The actor had no idea how to act with the CG character so in order to ensure the eyeline is right, I personally sat in the position of the CG character (in the coffin) acting with the actor. I’m not usually acting on set but this was fun. Sparkle should appear to be made of running water but the director and I both thought that the water should be boiling and thus require some steam. I had to play with the opacity of the steam quite a bit [with software] to get it to work properly for the scene but the final results more than justified all of the work.”

Family from Tang is such a perfect analogy for where the film and television production world finds itself these days. The collaboration, specifically between American and Chinese production industries and professionals, is at an all-time high; that’s primarily due to the exceptional talent and work being produced via their integration. This production shows that varied and perhaps unintuitive elements make for a highly pleasing outcome; a fusion that we can all enjoy.

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