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Texture Artist | Frank Chen

  • Date:2023-02-01
Texture Artist | Frank Chen

‧ Chinese Name: 陳新發

‧ Year of Birth: 1968

‧ Place of Birth: Taichung County (Central Taiwan)

Did You Know?

A "texture artist" is like a makeup artist for film sets. They are primarily responsible for making sets, props, and other items look like they fit in with the environment and time period of the film. Texture, says Frank Chen, creates atmosphere, not only helping the actors get more into character, but also helping the audience believe in the truth that lies behind the images on the screen.

After graduating from his high school art program, Frank Chen went to work as an apprentice painter to make a living. He never expected he'd end up working as a painter for over a decade before being snatched up by a film company to work as a painting manager. However, the work consisted of just waiting to be told what to do by the production designer, and gradually Chen started to get numb to the work. Having always had the soul of an artist, Chen began to question whether he could continue to accept such never-changing work.

Then, surprisingly, his love of historic monuments opened an unexpected door for Chen. In his spare time, Chen likes to visit Lukang in Changhua, a place rich in cultural heritage, to explore the mottled temple door panels from past centuries and run his hands along the cracks in the walls of Gentlemen's Alley. After returning to his studio, he would try to duplicate the same textures using wooden boards, Styrofoam, and other materials. Later, he began to pick up texture work sporadically and gradually made a name for himself.

In 2010, after 12 years of preparation, director Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖) spent NT $700 million to produce his film "Seediq Bale." Due to delays in progress, the art team from Japan had to leave early due to their work schedule, leaving nearly 20% of the sets unfinished. Frank Chen appreciated Wei's enthusiasm for and commitment to the film, joining the team via recommendation near the tail end of the work despite the project being short of funds at the time. He was impressed by the Japanese team's meticulous texture work, and while his own results didn’t quite reach full marks in his mind, the film became Chen’s first masterpiece as a texture artist.

In 2011, when director Ang Lee (李安) returned to Taiwan to film "Life of Pi" with a Hollywood budget of US$120 million, Chen was invited to join the texture team led by production designer David Gropman. Thinking this would be a great chance to show off his talents, reality hit him hard. Even with more than 10 years' experience, Chen was asked by the production designer to redo his work several times, making him look like an apprentice despite already having a small reputation in the industry in Taiwan. Begrudgingly, he had to admire the efficiency, technique, vision, and experience of the Hollywood team.

Gropman said to Chen that he had to rethink the concept of "texture," explaining how the impact of an environment creates the hues that you see in that environment, and that those will never be just a single color." Citing human skin as an example, Gropman continued that skin has at least eight or nine colors, and that only by thinking about color in levels can you really get into the "textural atmosphere." Chen realized that painting had to take into consideration time and space for sets to be able to tell stories, and so he set about going back to square one, confronting his own lack of ability, and learn from the Hollywood masters with humility. The experience of this transnational cooperation once again convinced him that texture art truly is a specialization of its own, and he began to tackle his work with renewed diligence and seriousness.

In the past, in Taiwan’s film and television industry, texture work was included in the art department, within the scope of the work of art assistants, leading Chen to not really consider it a special field of his own. Working with the crews on "Seediq Bale" and "Life of Pi," he saw the kind of demands film crews had of textural work, which was what emboldened him sufficiently to consider what he did to be a field unto itself. Now, Frank Creation Co., Ltd., which he leads, has become the leader of Taiwan's texture art industry. Adhering to the principle that knowing how to pass on knowledge makes your own knowledge stronger, Chen has also started teaching in universities in recent years, with a number of students joining his team after graduation and several others setting up their own companies and studios.

For a film to come together requires a lot of behind-the-scenes professionals to work together. Among them, art, sets, and props are key to setting the tone for the film's setting in time and space. In 2021, at the 58th Golden Horse Awards Ceremony, Chen was honored with the Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year award for the first time, helping bring the important role of texture artists behind the scenes to the attention of the wider public.