After securing a starter voice, Fang Zhao went about renting professional equipment to engineer the voice. Naturally, the label had the best equipment of this kind. It also had other types of top-notch devices and tools. But everyone—regardless of rank or department—had to pay to rent the equipment.
Some of the more popular devices had to be booked in advance. The good thing was that there was no competition for the type of equipment required for a virtual idol project, so advance bookings weren’t necessary. Fang Zhao talked to Bu Lai and requested the necessary gear from the property department.
Fang Zhao also loaned a technician from another department to work on the voice. She was a young woman, a fresh graduate who studied music post-production, voice engineering, and so on. She had just been hired by Silver Wing. Because she was a newbie, she had been chosen as the sacrificial lamb when Fang Zhao came beckoning.
"He-hello, my... my name is Song Miao. I’m a voice engineer. This is my... my proof of graduation and diploma." Song Miao presented her credentials. She was an anxious fresh arrival who stuttered.
Fang Zhao gave his loaner a look-over. Her slightly lengthy hair was tied in a ponytail; she donned a track suit and trainers—the typical look of a technician. She carried a toolbox and looked tense, probably nervous about her new workplace.
After asking a few questions about voice production, Fang Zhao summoned Pang Pusong. "Take Song Miao to our studio."
"Yes, sir!" It was time to record. Pang Pusong was geared up.
Creating a complete vocal database required a professional system. Now that the equipment was in place, Song Miao would take care of the rest. She would record and process vocal samples and build a vocal database.
The latest sound engineering equipment was highly automated, requiring less manpower than before. Otherwise, Song Miao would have her hands full. With the starter voice taken care of, Fang Zhao paid Zu Wen a visit to see how the look of the virtual idol was coming along.
"That’s right, do we need an eye model?" Zu Wen asked. The virtual idol was an anthropomorphic tree, so they couldn’t count on that many facial expressions. Thus its gaze was all the more important.
Eye models were models who provided eye shots for virtual idols. Actors who weren’t good-looking, lacked influence, or didn’t receive much backing because of bad luck suffered from a lowly status in the industry. It was hard for them to get exposure, movie parts were hard to come by, and the ones that were offered were unsubstantial, so they often took on other assignments, like providing eye shots for virtual idols.
Project teams that weren’t exacting would use existing eye shots form a database, such as eye shots from previous films, and incorporate that acting prowess into their virtual idol. But project teams that were more demanding would shoot fresh eye shots in a variety of settings.
Even award-winning actors and actresses delivered performances within a plot context and drew from their character’s psychology. If the virtual idol were set up in a different context and had a different personality, then those eye shots wouldn’t apply. They would even turn people off.
People who resisted virtual idols often accused them of being blatant acting copycats, but the project teams behind those virtual idols didn’t mind. That was how virtual idols were designed. Everyone did the same thing. As long as they could draw an audience.
Zu Wen asked about eye models because he noticed how serious Fang Zhao was about their project.
"I discussed this with Boss Du yesterday. He said he would try to line someone up for us."
Just as Fang Zhao was speaking, Du Ang arrived on the 50th floor with another person.
Even though Du Ang didn’t want to micromanage the virtual idol project, he was the manager in charge, after all, so he couldn’t be completely oblivious. After asking Fang Zhao about the look of his virtual idol out of curiosity, Du Ang fell into deep thought in his office the rest of the day. He even wondered if he should overturn Fang Zhao’s previous decisions and take over the reins himself.
But Du Ang eventually thought things through. He knew he wasn’t that creative. No matter what Fang Zhao decided, now that the project was under way, he would give Fang Zhao total control. Even if he failed and became the subject of ridicule, he could chalk it up as a learning experience. He was a young man, after all. Adversity was a good thing, and no matter how poorly the dead-end project failed, the label wouldn’t completely put it on a newcomer like Fang Zhao.
So after Fang Zhao showed up yesterday, Du Ang hit up a few friends who managed actors.
Regardless of whether you were a singer or an actor, everyone was ranked internally. They were classified in their contracts from grade D to A, with A being the highest. The top talents were ranked S, which was a different category altogether.
Grade D talents were typically newcomers or marginal players. Du Ang set his sights higher, so when he asked his friends for loaners, he approached agents who managed B- and C-grade actors.
"I can’t give you any B actors. They’re all A actors in waiting. They can’t afford to stumble. But I could pick from my C actors." That was how an old friend had responded yesterday. He brought over the actor today.
A C actor showing up and doing his thing would suffice, Du Ang thought. Even though a C actor wasn’t as competent, he would still be better than many others. If he didn’t work out, then they could use eye shots from the database. That would save a lot of trouble.
"This is Ji Polun. He starred in a movie about the Period of Destruction. He should be able to help you." Du Ang left after briefing Fang Zhao quickly.
Fang Zhao gauged the loaner. He knew Ji Polun was a C actor. He wasn’t entirely clear on the distinction between the different grades and he couldn’t find much relevant information in his new memory, so he was polite. Ji Polun was doing them a favor, after all.
In contrast to Song Miao’s nerves and uptight demeanor, this actor carried himself like a star. Naturally, he was rather good-looking. In this day and age, people who could become stars wouldn’t look too bad. His hair was meticulously combed and he stood straight as a rod. His gestures were sleek and refined. But it was all contrived.
Ji Polun scanned the furnishings of the 50th floor with discerning eyes and glanced at Fang Zhao and company, his gaze brimming with a sense of superiority and arrogance.
"Let’s get started. What kind of shots are you looking for? I’m on a tight schedule." After dusting his sleeves for non-existent dust, Ji Polun started walking.
Zu Wen looked at Fang Zhao, who nodded, so he led Ji Polun to the filming studio. "This way."
Fang Zhao explained the scene to him. He was interrupted by Ji Polun just two sentences in. "OK, I got it. I’ve done this before. Give me some space." He shifted his gaze to Zu Wen. "Get ready. I’m about to start."
Fang Zhao didn’t respond. He retreated and sat in the chair next to Zu Wen. He wasn’t offended by Ji’s attitude, as long as they could get the right shots.
On his end, Ji Polun started acting hard after building his mood.
Lo and behold, even though Ji Polun was an obnoxious prick who looked down on everyone, he was serious about his craft. The only thing was…
"I’m thinking, why don’t we just find some suitable shots in the database?" Zu Wen typed in his bracelet. Ji Polun was still acting, so he couldn’t speak his mind.
Ji Polun was acting with purpose. You could tell he wasn’t holding back, but he still fell considerably short compared to a top actor. It was even more obvious in close-up. Zu Wen had seen quite a few movies set in the Period of Destruction recently. In comparison, Ji Polun’s acting was a bit awkward. They were better off just searching in the database.
Fang Zhao’s frown grew. After reading Zu Wen’s message, he got up, walked toward Ji Polun and tapped him on the shoulder.
"What are you doing? Can’t you see I’m acting?" Ji Polun fumed. "Do you know what being in character means? You’ve interrupted my train of thought."
Ji Polun was furious that he was tapped on the shoulder just when he was getting into character. He turned his head and watched Fang Zhao lift his hand and point to the side. "Step aside."