As far as Fang Zhao was concerned, drawing out a certain mood depended on a passage of music, not a certain visual.
Just like how a programmer turned everything into code, Fang Zhao could turn everything into music.
He already had a song in mind for the music video. It was a song he'd written during the end of days. It wasn’t complete—he'd only gotten around to finishing it recently. He'd also rearranged it and modified parts to better fit Pang Pusong’s voice.
When he was shooting, he did recall certain scenes, but his memories of the first few years of the apocalypse were blurry. However, the music he composed during that period remained fresh in his head.
Every time he recalled those broken melodies, Fang Zhao could remember how he'd felt at the beginning of the apocalypse.
After projecting the eye shots onto the virtual character, Zu Wen showed Fang Zhao a draft.
He had juxtaposed on his computer screen shots of Fang Zhao’s eyes and a pair of brown, wood-colored eyes surrounded by rough, cracked bark.
"Don’t they look the same? Happy?" Zu Wen asked.
Fang Zhao nodded.
They were clearly two different sets of eyes but they conveyed the same gaze and mood. It was as if two people were injected with the same soul.
Reg Dimension—such amazing technology!
Perhaps that was why virtual idols created with the Reg Dimension drew so many fans. Even though they often looked very different from humans, it was easy to forget that they were virtual images and instead believe that they possessed real souls.
"As long as you’re happy." Zu Wen stretched his arms. "The basic look is also complete. The only thing is that I could use more help on the music video, even one extra person would be great. If it’s just me, Lord knows when I’ll finish the CD. If you want to see a completed product by the end of the year, then get me a loaner." Zu Wen was so busy these days he didn’t have time to game.
"I’ve asked around. The people you mentioned who know how to use Reg Dimension don’t want to transfer. The company hasn’t made any new hires this year and they fired a bunch of people last year. We can forget about an internal loaner," Fang Zhao explained.
"Then poach someone from one of the smaller or independent record labels, or outsource to a contractor, although the company usually frowns on outsourcing on a project like this. The bosses prefer that you take care of things internally. But see if you can poach some people from other companies. There are so many fresh graduates out there. There must be quite a few who haven’t landed jobs, no? Let’s con a few into working here first." Zu Wen started brainstorming as he organized the eye shots.
Zu Wen’s suggestion reminded Fang Zhao of someone. "How many years of experience would you be looking for in a Reg Dimension technician?"
"Let’s not set the bar too high. The most important thing is to con some people into helping me out. I’ve been so tired."
Zu Wen returned to his office to work. Fang Zhao headed back to his office and sent Zeng Huang a message.
Zeng Huang responded quickly.
"What’s up Big Zhao? Your project isn’t going well?" Zeng Huang knew Fang Zhao was stuck with the virtual idol project and had even offered to help, but Fang Zhao refused at the time, saying he needed to learn more about the project first.
"How busy is your current project? Do you have time to take on another gig?" Fang Zhao asked.
"Yes, we’re short on Reg Dimension technicians. If you aren’t available, do you know anyone who hasn’t landed a job yet or wants to switch jobs? I don’t need someone super-experienced, someone who knows the basics will do."
"A Reg Dimension technician who doesn’t have to be that experienced, someone who hasn’t landed a job or wants to switch jobs…"
"Indeed. Any recommendations?"
"I want to switch jobs. You know I’m a fresh grad—and not from a very prestigious school. I won’t be able to command a very good salary. Plus, I’m looking for a new job. It’s a perfect fit now that you’re hiring."
Zu Wen’s idea was to con people into joining the project, but Fang Zhao was completely honest about the state of his project. Zeng Huang was offering to help out when Fang Zhao was in a tough spot. It would be shitty of him to take advantage of a friend now.
After being briefed by Fang Zhao, Zeng Huang said he needed to think it over. But he ended up calling back in less than 10 minutes.
"Big Zhao, you still hiring? Why don’t both Wan Yue and I help out? She knows a thing or two about the Reg Dimension, but her expertise is post-production. I wonder if she would come in handy too."
"Yes." Fang Zhao smiled. "Thanks!"
"Hey, who’s the boss here? Big Zhao, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. We’re still young. Even if we fail, we can chalk it up as a learning experience. It’s good for us to take risks."
"As long as you’ve put things in perspective. So it’s a done deal—Wan Yue and I will defect tomorrow!"
Just like Pang Pusong, Zeng Huang and Wan Yue would be signed as contractors, not full-time employees. Fang Zhao had explained the temporary and transient nature of the work, but Zeng Huang still insisted on joining. Considering the status of the virtual idol project, Zeng Huang and his girlfriend had no ulterior motives—they just wanted to lend Fang Zhao a hand.
Zeng Huang was actually thinking Lady Luck wasn’t on Fang Zhao’s side this year. Setting aside the theft of his songs, Fang Zhao had worked hard to make a name for himself in the new talent contest—only to be tossed into this death pit. Zeng Huang didn’t want to see a brother begging for help, so he and Wan Yue quit their jobs to help out. They were still young and had plenty of other jobs ahead of them. Now it was time to help Fang Zhao.
The next day, Zeng Huang and Wan Yue tracked down Fang Zhao at Silver Wing. After signing their contracts, Fang Zhao got them company passes.
Besides Zeng Huang and Wan Yue, Bei Zhi, who had just finished training camp, also chipped in. He knew that he owed his success in the new talent contest to Fang Zhao. He'd heard that they were setting up on the 50th floor, so he decided to help out.
"Wow, they actually let you come? They’re not afraid of jeopardizing your career?" Zu Wen asked when he saw Bei Zhi.
Bei Zhi didn’t care. "It’s OK. Training is over and my next assignment hasn’t started. I have three days off, so here I am."
Pang Pusong, Song Miao, and Bei Zhi set up outside as Fang Zhao discussed the music video with Zu Wen and Zeng Huang in his office.
Since the music video was set in the end of days, they would have to feature mutated animals from the period. Zu Wen showed Fang Zhao a batch of images he had compiled.
"Get rid of this," Fang Zhao said, pointing to one of the pictures.
"Why?" Zu Wen asked.
"I’ve never seen it before." Because he had never seen it before, he couldn’t be sure that it existed. Fang Zhao decided to drop all the animals he'd never laid eyes on.
"Wow, you sound like you’ve seen the actual thing," Zu Wen responded. But he didn’t resist, deleting the animal from his screen.
Fang Zhao pointed to another image. "Shrink the head of this one a bit."
"How about this?"
"You overdid it. Allow me."
Fang Zhao pondered the projected hologram, his fingers playing with the head of the animal.
He couldn’t feel the actual object, but the smart design software allowed even a non-technician to tweak the image. It was like altering a clay figurine.
"That looks weird," Zu Wen said.
"Not at all. That’s how they look. Get rid of their mustaches."
"They don’t have mustaches? Are you sure? I remember seeing them with mustaches in many films about the Period of Destruction." A skeptical Zu Wen checked his research. He had downloaded a database from a leading scientific journal that was compiled by scholars who studied mutated animals from the Period of Destruction. The researchers were considered the world’s leading authorities on the subject. The download was quite expensive, but he'd billed the project.
"They have mustaches in the film I starred in." Ji Polun, who had been watching them work, offered his two cents.
"That was fiction to begin with." Fang Zhao had seen the movie Ji Polun starred in. There were way too many inaccuracies, but you couldn’t expect much from a commercial film. It was just entertainment.
"But your virtual idol isn’t real either." Ji Polun remembered that the look of the virtual idol was also made up.
"My version, my rules," Fang Zhao responded curtly.
"Got it. You’re the boss. You have the final word."
At that point, Zu Wen had found a photo of the mutated animal in question in his database. "No mustache indeed."
They went through the other animals. Every modification Fang Zhao asked for was consistent with the database. This time it was Ji Polun, not Zu Wen, who checked. "You’re the man," he thought to himself.
Everyone in the room wondered: how good of a history student was this guy to remember so many details?