We’ve all heard of Jackie Chan, Wong Kar-wai and the like. But there’s more to the Hong Kong film industry than just those few industry titans. More than 16,000 people work in our city’s motion picture and entertainment industry and the small folk are just as essential for the creation of a great film as those with their names in lights.
In this series we take a look at the less heralded individuals working in Hong Kong’s greatest creative industry. This time out we meet storyboard artist Luk Wai-cheong, a man who’s worked on some of the biggest Hong Kong movies of recent years like Cold War II and Golden Job. Additional reporting by Priscilla Lee
Photo: Calvin Sit
Interview: Luk Wai-cheong (陸偉昌)
What’s a typical day’s work like for a storyboard artist?
Since I work from home, after I go about my usual morning routine, I sit down in front of the computer and go through the notes taken during previous meetings with the director. I then proceed to draft the storyboard based on the plot and requirements of the director. After finishing the back-breaking drafts, I revisit them after lunch and adjust the pacing of the story if needed and check to see if there’s a need to add or cut scenes. I then proceed with the actual storyboard drawing. Usually I manage to finish about four to five pages of the storyboard by around 7pm.
How did you end up in this particular role?
My father played a big part in inspiring me to take this path. He was a tailor when he moved to Hong Kong from Shanghai. He’s rather artistically inclined. I used to get really good grades in art class thanks to him. He’s a cinephile too and he used to take me to the cinema a lot to watch all my favourite Disney animations like Snow White, Pinocchio and so on. After each movie, I’d go home and reproduce drawings of these characters based on my memory. Subsequently, the habit of going to the cinema became ingrained. I developed a liking for movies and animation. After I grew up, I studied in the UK for several years learning about celluloid and computer animation. After I came back to Hong Kong, I joined Centro Digital Pictures. My very first job was working with director Andrew Lau on his film The Storm Raiders.
What’s the best thing about the work you do?
Being able to travel while on the job. We usually need to be out with the director to scout for potential shooting venues before official filming starts. If these places are in Hong Kong, they’re also less visited locations – a hotel’s presidential suite that overlooks Victoria Habour; the darkest corner of Chungking Mansions, somewhere that even most inhabitants there wouldn’t dare to venture. If it’s overseas, it’s places that you wouldn’t visit even if you were there on vacation. For example, a set 3,000ft up Shennongjia, a unique forest district in Hubei. All these locations are eye-openers to me. A group of people, having the same aim, giving it their best and embarking on a journey to achieve that aim. This is the best job that one can ask for.
Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka-fai in Cold War II, one of Luk’s projects.
And what about the worst thing?
Probably the same thing that makes it good. At Shennongjia the view was magnificent. But after a week in extreme temperatures, our equipment stopped working in the sub-zero temperatures. Our accommodation there was remote and nothing to speak of. We only had a small vat for warm water and during a shower the water could turn icy.
In another instance, our accommodation was approximately two hours from the set. On the ride back, one of the minor actors had to answer the call of nature. Since there were no toilets along the way, he had no choice but to relieve himself in the open. When he came back, everyone who was asleep in the vehicle was awoken by the stench. It turned out that he was too embarrassed to relieve himself near the vehicle so he went slightly further and accidentally fell into a cesspool. We tried to help him with tissues while holding our laughter but it was a drop in the bucket. He was made to remove his trousers and one of us sacrificed his frock for the actor. Can anything be worse than this? I’m not sure. But these are the instances that make it memorable.
What might the public not know about the work you do?
Production budgets in Hong Kong are relatively low. Even if the budget allows for the hiring of a storyboard artist, a Hong Kong company would only hire one. For Mainland productions, with their bigger budgers and large productions, they can hire up to four or five of them.
Any advice for anyone looking to get into the local film industry?
The job of a storyboard artist is definitely one that’s outside the spotlight. Our work is just about drawing, drawing and more drawing. Sometimes, it can get a little lonely, hence not many people get into this profession. Another reason for that is, if a capable storyboard artist is good with interpersonal relations and possesses good communication skills, he can become a director really quickly. So why would he want to continue as just a storyboard artist?
I’m an introvert and this job suits me perfectly. If you are not good with being around investors, fighting for more budget and wrestling with famous actors in the industry, I encourage you to take on the challenge and become a storyboard artist. It’s a really fun profession to be in.