Animating the News – Jimmy Lai | Next Media
When the Tiger Woods scandal broke, it was utter mayhem. Every media outlet covered the story trying to put their own spin on the situation. Unfortunately the event already occurred and everyone had the same pool of limited information. There were police reports, interviews with neighbours and plenty of speculation. But with no footage of the actual event, news reports were dull. Throw in candid photos of the couple, mix in some video of a spectacular golf shot by Tiger, maybe a few family portraits? It was all very boring. Here was pop culture’s story of the year and there was no eye-catching visual to accompany the report.
Enter Chinese media mogul Jimmy Lai and Next Media; Asia’s billionaire tabloid king and publisher of the Apple Daily, a widely read tabloid in Hong Kong and Taiwan. His brilliant idea was to create a CGI animation factory capable of churning out video reenactments of the day’s juiciest stories. What traditionally took weeks and months was being completed in hours. Armed with a humorous and eye-catching visual, the wild stories provided the perfect narrative to these crude yet hypnotic animations. Of course the first of these videos to break the mainstream Western psyche was the reenactment of that one crazy morning of November 27th, 2009…
Below is a small collection of classics from Next Media Animation:
The CNN report below provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look at Next Media
Jimmy Lai – Wired Excerpt
Lai was born poor in mainland China in 1948, during the civil war that eventually saw the Communist Party take power and the Nationalist Party flee to Taiwan. Smuggled into Hong Kong by his mother’s arrangement when he was 12, Lai eventually got rich manufacturing apparel at the same factory where he had toiled as a child for $10 a month. Lai courted controversy, launching a magazine called Next, which criticized the Beijing government, and producing a line of T-shirts that featured the student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests. It quickly became impossible for him to sell merchandise on the mainland or deal with factories there. Ultimately, the Chinese government forced Lai to divest himself of his garment business. That left him free to focus all his energy on becoming the Rupert Murdoch of Hong Kong. Lai soon built a stable of the raciest, muckrakingest, most popular publications in the area. He expanded his operations to Taiwan a decade ago and now has a top-selling newspaper there.
Stories like the one about the Chloroform Killer are typical fodder for Lai’s tabloids. “Seedy crimes with lots of action are very popular for us,” he says. A devout Christian, he named his Apple Daily newspaper after the forbidden fruit in Genesis; Lai reasons that if Adam and Eve had not eaten from the tree of knowledge and introduced sin into the world, there wouldn’t be anything interesting for his writers to cover.
Lai has continued to provoke outrage as his media empire has grown. No mainland Chinese companies advertise in his papers. Someone threw a bomb onto his front lawn. And he earned the ire of millions of teenage fans of Cantonese pop star Gillian Chung—and a censure from the Hong Kong Journalists Association—when one of his tabloids ran photos of the singer taken by a hidden camera in her dressing room. Just two years ago, someone offered a bounty for killing Lai. “It was a triad guy looking to do Beijing a favor, a favor that Beijing didn’t actually want,” says Mark Simon, Next Media Animation’s commercial director.
When Lai decided to create NMA, it seemed natural to build the studio in Taiwan. Unlike Hong Kong, the island nation is beyond the reach of Beijing. Labor is also cheaper there, and the rise of the videogame industry in China had put many CG experts on the island out of work. “Our animators in Taiwan make $20,000 a year,” Simon says.
Within nine months of ramping up its CG assembly line, NMA created more than 4,000 videos. Employees have completely internalized their boss’s love of sensationalism. “I’ve told them that they go too far sometimes,” Lai says, referring to clips depicting rape and child abuse. (The latter resulted in a $30,000 fine and a rebuke from Taiwan’s National Communications Commission.) But Lai waves his hand as if to dismiss all the criticism. He gazes through the glass wall of his office, taking in a sea of people hard at work. “When you are an Apple newsman, you know that you need to be on the edge and make a splash,” he says. “Readers want things to be less subtle. You need to overstep.”
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