‘The Sick Rose’: VR Film Showcase For Taiwan’s Old and New Skills

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What could be more of the moment than a film about a sick girl searching for her mother in hospital during a pandemic, and a virtual reality presentation that can be accessed by viewers unable to travel to the film’s festival premiere?

“The Sick Rose,” a stop-motion animation work combining traditional Taiwanese dough figurine handicraft and VR technology, makes its debut this week in the VR competition section of the Venice Film Festival. Accredited Venice delegates can also interact with “The Sick Rose” after the festival has finished, via the Viveport portal until Sept. 19.

Co-directed by Tang Zhi-Zhong and Huang Yun-Hsien, production of the film involved 14 months of studio work, use of high-end 360 8K stereo 3D micro-photography, 35 character designs, ten sets comprised of urban buildings and tens of thousands of hand-made components. The undisclosed budget is reported to have run to tens of millions of Taiwan dollars.

“The Sick Rose” was jointly produced by HTC Vive Originals, the content arm of tech firm HTC Vive, and TurnRhino Original Design Studio. It is HTC-Vive’s seventh film selected for Venice since the festival began showcasing VR.

The companies say that “The Sick Rose” represents a significant stride compared with their previous efforts as it “enables the viewers to immerse themselves deeper into another world in a different time.” It is also a better merger of traditional handcrafts and the warmth and proximity provided by integrated technology.

The directors locate the film in more cinematic terms. “We found ourselves overwhelmingly influenced by ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’,” said Tang.

Huang describes the model-building craftsmanship as combining the arts of dough figurines and movable puppets. Together they offer a handmade texture and dismountable and assemble-able component quality.

“The Sick Rose” tells a story of a sick little girl’s fantastic journey during the pandemic. Along the route to her mother in hospital, she encounters an array of fantasy characters and strange incidents, including a meeting with singing and dancing skeleton birds.

Running for 17 minutes and involving 13,000 frames of content, production inched along at between two and ten seconds per day. “Each component had to be cut, polished, trimmed, and colored, before being enveloped in protective paint, therefore increasing the overall workload by 4 to 8 times compared with the conventional 2D stop-motion animation,” said Huang.

Filming took seven months and required three reshoots after earthquakes in Taiwan knocked the stereoscopic cameras out of focus. The directors summed up the process as “painful yet fruitful.”


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