Ang Lee, Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Wang Jiawei and John Woo’s classic movies are all related to him.

When Ang Lee, Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Xiaogang Feng, Wong Kar-wai, John Woo, Tsui Hark and other names are mentioned, everyone is familiar with them. Behind the scenes of those classic films they made, there is an unknown creative hero, who is a master figure in the field of film and art-83-year-old Zhanjia Yang.
Zhanjia Yang
He once drew design drawings for Hengdian Studio. His works range from Yi Hong Yuan in the movie A Dream of Red Mansions, to Liyuan Opera Troupe in Farewell My Concubine, from Western architecture in Singing at midnight to Epang Palace in Overlord of the West, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee to Seven Swords by Tsui Hark, from Red Cliff by John Woo to Golden Flower in the City by Zhang Yimou. He is also production designer of the TV series Empresses in the Palace’s to the sky kingdom, and has participated in the art design of forbidden kingdom, Mummy 3 and other films.
After retirement, Zhanjia Yang was confined to bed all day because of leg problems, and had to leave the film crew at the age of 79. Taiji was his last film. In recent years, he has compiled and published his own manuscripts, and Yang Zhanjia’s Collection of Film Art Design has become a model for art teaching in Beijing Film Academy. Recently, he published his own memoir "Because I have a life" in Houlang Publishing House. For this reason, the Red Star journalist interviewed the witness of China’s film history and talked about his 40-odd-year career and movies.
"I have worked in movies for more than 40 years, drawing pictures for more than 40 movies". When computer special effects can’t be so vivid now, real-life building is the key technology, while Zhanjia Yang draws the most professional architectural design manuscript with the pen in his hand, drawing blueprints for every director who dreams.
The past with Chengdu
Wear a pair of torn shoesI traveled to more than a dozen counties.Restore western sichuan bazi in Li Jieren’s Works
Zhanjia Yang is a warm and cheerful old man, who talked for hours and laughed constantly. He was born in a small village in Wuqing, Tianjin. He loved painting since he was a child. Without a pen, he painted on the wall with white ash. From the east end of the village to the west end, the primary school began to paint wall newspapers. In junior high school, an art teacher from Beijing saw Zhanjia Yang’s talent and became his first teacher. In high school, Zhanjia Yang’s goal was to study architecture in Tsinghua University, because he liked art and got very good grades in science. But later, art colleges were admitted in advance. In 1958, Zhanjia Yang was enrolled in the Department of Architectural Decoration by the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts before Tsinghua University enrolled students. In 1999, the Central Academy of Arts and Crafts was merged into Tsinghua. By coincidence, his dream of high school was fulfilled.
At that time, his graduation design was rural architectural design, which he said was his forte. Later, Zhanjia Yang stayed in school as a teacher for 9 years. In 1972, he switched to film and went to Beijing Film Studio.
An atmosphere map for the movie "Madness"
When it comes to Chengdu, Zhanjia Yang can’t wait to tell the story of his past with Chengdu. The film Madness is adapted from the representative work of Li Jieren, a famous writer in Chengdu. In the early 1990s, Zhanjia Yang, who was the art designer for this film, came to Chengdu, Sichuan with director Ling Zifeng. They visited dozens of counties around Chengdu. "I have great feelings for Chengdu, and everyone likes to gather in teahouses and have a dragon gate array."
After receiving the script, he must go to the place where the story takes place to experience life and collect information, usually for half a month to a month. Why is his new book named "Because I have a life"? He said that because he regards art as his life, it may be because of life that the audience will be credible about the environment in which he created.
An Atmosphere Map for the Movie Madness —— Xingshun, Tianhui Town, Chengdu
Design of the movie "Crazy"
Finally, a scene of "Madness" was selected in Yaoba Town, Hejiang County, Sichuan Province. Based on the data and life accumulation, Zhanjia Yang drew the appearance of Xingshun grocery store and old teahouse in Tianhui Town, a suburb of Chengdu described by Li Jieren’s novels, relying on his impression of Chengdu streets, bazi, teahouses and fairs at that time. Director Ling Zifeng is particularly fond of this, and his plaque is also inscribed by Zhanjia Yang. Later, this place continued to be filmed by many crews.
"At that time, this film was also the first cooperation between my great apprentice Chen Haozhong and me." Zhanjia Yang’s apprentice Chen Haozhong later became a famous film and television production designer. At that time, the art group was in charge of the four departments of clothing, makeup, props and scenery setting, and had to go out to choose scenery, draw design drawings, supervise the scenery setting and make props.
Later, Chen Haozhong recalled the image of Zhanjia Yang: "He was wearing a overalls of labor cloth, a pair of dark gray khaki uniform pants on his lower body, a pair of old white sports shoes on his ankle, and a hole in the front face of his right foot." Chen Haozhong gave Zhanjia Yang the rubber shoes he brought with him, but he didn’t expect him to send them to his younger brother who was doing farm work in his hometown.
Chen Haozhong clearly remembers seeing Zhanjia Yang’s design drawings for this film, including engineering drawings and atmosphere drawings. "I was suddenly silly when I saw them. The standard beautiful architectural construction drawings and the delicate and vivid pen-colored atmosphere drawings were wonderful. Seriously, I have never seen it before, and I feel respect and worship in my heart. "
For Farewell My Concubine
He has traveled all over the quadrangles and theaters in old Beijing and drawn more than 100 design drawings.
More than 20 years ago, Zhanjia Yang made a composition for Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine. Zhanjia Yang took a big notebook. With a ruler, pen and notebook, he traveled all over the gardens in Beijing. Only by drawing one stroke at a time can all kinds of scenes be matched. It takes a day or two to draw a page, but it takes longer to build a scene. For example, after the plan of the grandfather’s yard was released, trees were transplanted. The crew prepared for this for more than a year, just to create a realistic scene and leave the light and shadow of the century.
A Street View of Beijing for Farewell My Concubine
Farewell My Concubine is full of flowers.
In the film, there are quadrangles in the old Beijing Liyuan, opera theaters and even streets in old Beijing. Zhanjia Yang also made various inspections and drew nearly 100 design drawings. In order to find an antique theater, he rode to Hufang Bridge in Beijing to visit an abandoned theater in Huguang Guild Hall. Later, he found out that there was another guild hall with a similar antique theater, so he went again. So when designing the theater in the film, he used the stage of Huguang Guild Hall and the box of Yangping Guild Hall, each with its own advantages.
Farewell My Concubine Theater
In addition, he also mentioned that the film Farewell My Concubine was the first collaboration with Leslie Cheung, and later he collaborated with ashes of time and the remake The Night Singing. Leslie Cheung gave him the impression that he was conscientious, modest and low-key. Although he said few words, he was polite and considerate, especially to strangers and lower-level staff. Zhanjia Yang said: "When filming Farewell My Concubine, the director asked Leslie Cheung not to act in other films at the same time. Like our art department, he joined the group three months in advance. The film crew specially assigned a production comrade to take care of him, and asked two Peking Opera actors, a man and a woman, to teach him Peking Opera performances. Leslie Cheung is very smart and hardworking. In just three months, Farewell My Concubine and Drunkenness of the Imperial concubine, with hand-eye posture, one stroke and one style, is a professional Peking Opera actor with a regular background, which is simply amazing. "
Farewell My Concubine In Cheng Dieyi’s House
In this play, Zhanjia Yang got to know Huo Tingxiao, a royal artist in Zhang Yimou. Later, whenever Huo Tingxiao needed art design, he asked Zhanjia Yang to make a landscape drawing, because his drawings were taken to the film factory, and the landscape workers knew what to make at a glance, and there was basically no error. Unlike some artists, the atmosphere was beautifully drawn, but it could not be realized. "After all, Teacher Yang has been painting for decades. If your design is not perfect, he will directly correct it for you." Huo Tingxiao believes that Zhanjia Yang’s drawings are the most scientific, and no one in China film art can compare with him in drawing skills and professionalism.
Create many famous scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee was very satisfied and invited him to participate in the next film again.
"Ang Lee is a very good person. He often goes to the art group to see our designs. He has no shelf at all. He is a very kind director. Chow Yun Fat always comes to communicate with us. To be honest, I have special respect for them." There are many stories about Zhanjia Yang and the director, especially about Ang Lee. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, director Ang Lee wanted to design a refreshing martial arts scene with fencing floating in the sky. This scene lasts more than four minutes, which is a fulcrum to prop up the martial arts part of the film. For this scene, the crew set up this house in the studio. In the manuscript of Zhanjia Yang’s design, we can see that the design drawings of this roof are all expressed by line drawing, which is not the end of roof design. "Concept drawings are all virtual and must be practical". In the roof detail drawing, it also contains the specific design drawings of each house. The door and window shapes outside the house, the door head, the pier and even the couplets on the door are all marked with detailed size design and drawing. These drawings are all hand-drawn.
Design of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
There is also a scene where Yang Ziqiong and Zhang Ziyi sparred. At that time, the scenery of Huizhou architecture was set up. Because the patio was used for drainage, a ditch should be set up. When Ang Lee asked to remove the ditch and pave a flat road with stones, Zhanjia Yang’s heart refused, because in real life, this patio is to have a canal, and he was very distressed to remove it. "But the director must listen. Although the demolition is unreasonable, the patio has become flat, but it is artistic." Later, Zhang Ziyi and Yang Ziqiong can really be seen fighting here in the movies, and there is indeed a gap filled in the back. In the antique charm, the graceful martial arts movements of the two protagonists show a unique aesthetic feeling.
In the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, many famous scenes were created. For example, the seven-star building was painted by Zhanjia Yang, so it had to be built in the shed, and the real scene could not be filmed, because in the end, all the stairs would collapse. It is relatively simple to shoot in the shed, just hold the steel wire and pull it, and it will fall down as soon as it is pulled.
Zhanjia Yang holds a golden statuette and takes a photo with Ang Lee.
He said that after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the Oscar, Ang Lee was very interested, and specially invited the whole team to hold a celebration party in Beijing, and each person was given a customized gold medal engraved with the movie name, including the field workers. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon later won the Oscar for Best production designer, and it should be said that Zhanjia Yang contributed a lot.
After the film was finished, he left a deep impression on Ang Lee. A few years later, when Lust, Caution was being filmed, Ang Lee wanted to invite him again, but at that time, Zhanjia Yang had promised John Woo to join the Red Cliff crew, and Ang Lee came to see him. He also felt sorry that he could not cooperate with Ang Lee again.
Treasure grandpa’s notes manuscript
Implant the drawing method, concept and aesthetic concept of architectural art into the film.
"To learn art, you should always carry a sketch book, a pen and a ruler with you, so that you can draw what you see useful and take a ruler to measure the size, how wide the house is, how high the pillars are and how deep the depth is." Zhanjia Yang painted wherever he went. Once he saw that the cooktop in Suzhou Museum was a separate one, unlike the one connected with the kang in the north, he wrote down the diameter of the pot and drew a picture. Later, when the crew of A Dream of Red Mansions wanted to shoot a kitchen scene, he immediately knew how big the pot was and how high the table was.
Zhanjia Yang’s work notebook and new book.
In addition to surveying the scene and measuring the map, he will also write down his thoughts on the film, the experience of the script, the director’s requirements, the list of props and the price. Today, there are dozens of notebooks in his home, which contain some old photos. Postcards, newspaper clippings, tickets, old stationery, notes, maps and other memoranda, the artist’s work is really complicated and trivial.
In addition, there are thousands of scanned drawings and atmosphere maps preserved over the years, and many original manuscripts have been taken to exhibitions.
Zhanjia Yang also participated in the production of many films. The fame of lion roars, bodyguards and assassins, Seven Swords and Huo Yuanjia gradually spread to Hollywood. When he participated in the production of forbidden kingdom and Mummy 3, the American art director saw Zhanjia Yang’s pictures and specifically told him, "Don’t learn computers!" Because in the era of computer graphics, Zhanjia Yang has always maintained the principle of hand-drawn creation. Seeing his hand drawings, each one has clear lines, fine dimensions and various labels, which is almost unimaginable in the computer age.
Design of Seven Swords
When Zhanjia Yang first entered the film industry, almost all the film arts at home and abroad drew pictures on the Fang Gezi, but Fang Gezi couldn’t copy them, which was inconvenient. So Zhanjia Yang brought the drawing method of architecture into the film arts. Chen Haozhong, his great apprentice, commented: "In the film art industry, there are very few people who don’t know Mr. Zhanjia Yang’s name. Teacher Yang’s greatest contribution to the film art circle in China is to implant the drawing methods, concepts and aesthetic concepts of architectural art into the film art design, which greatly improves the norms and criteria of film art design. The "architectural drawing method" gradually replaced the widely used MiG paper drawing method, and this method is still used today, except that the computer replaced the hand drawing. "
"forbidden kingdom" design
Nowadays, young people are drawing by computer, and there are few such "ingenious hand works" as Zhanjia Yang. Because he was painting at his desk for a long time, Zhanjia Yang had a problem with his cervical vertebra, which oppressed his nerves and made him unable to draw in bed. This made him feel very sorry, but it was a pity to introduce his works to young people and give them some experience. "I have seen through this life, and fame and money are not the main things. Now I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see these manuscripts left by myself eventually become movie pictures."
[Dialogue with Zhanjia Yang]
Red Star News: Tell me about the most satisfying and regretful film you participated in?
Zhanjia YangYuan Ye, starring Liu Xiaoqing and Yang Zaibao, and A Dream of Red Mansions, are all art designs by myself. I spent five years on the movie A Dream of Red Mansions, several years by myself. I made a big scene called Rongguo Mansion, and did a lot of work. I spent two years studying the original work, and went to Suzhou and Qufu to integrate the architectural features of the north and south gardens into the design of Daguan Garden and Rongguo Mansion. Unfortunately, the TV series was broadcast first, but there were six movies, which lasted 14 hours, which was equivalent to going to the cinema six times. Unfortunately, this film was put into storage because few people knew it. Fortunately, it was filmed on film and can be used as teaching materials.
The film A Dream of Red Mansions
A Dream of Red Mansions
Red Star News: What do you think of your own behind-the-scenes work in film aesthetics?
Zhanjia Yang:In fact, the art department of a film is particularly important. The main creator of a film is the director, who is responsible for the quality of the whole film. His right-hand man is a photographer and the other is an artist. The artist is mainly responsible for turning the text into tangible. For example, when filming the costume drama "The Place of King", the script reads "Thousands of Horses". Simply writing four words is enough to make our art department lose a layer of skin and thousands of dollars. It is up to the artist, his subordinates and the costume props makeup department to find 500 horses and 500 actors for props, make 500 sets of saddles, weapons, battle flags, engineering chariots, etc., prepare 500 sets of armor for costumes, prepare 500 headgear and hairstyles for makeup, and the scenery is crowded with troops, which requires walls, towers and moats. At that time, the first shot of this film was crowded with troops, and we began to prepare for it three months in advance.
Design of "Golden Flower in the City"
Mulan design
A good artist should have artistic accomplishment, solid life experience, skilled painting skills and drawing skills. Some people say that I am the first and last person to promote standardized drawing in the film and television industry. I still don’t know how to use computers, but the times have improved. Young artists draw less by hand, and even many people don’t pay attention to drawing and making pictures. It is wrong to make pictures to reflect the design. As the old saying goes, sharpening a knife does not mistake a woodcutter.
Today, three generations of our family are filmmakers. My eldest son works in an office with me, and my second son studies film photography. My daughter is my alumnus and now works in film costume design. My grandson, Yang Hansen, is studying film in the United States and will soon graduate and return to China. He is the third generation filmmaker in my family, so it’s a good time to catch up.
Red Star News reporter Chen Mou interviewee Titu
Editor Zhang Li