Rising Star Michael Tan: “Why we need a movement for more transparency in food and agriculture”

Transparency in food and agriculture is something that has increased in importance for me over the year. The way that food is grown, harvested, and made available to consumers (packaging, labels) should be as ethical, honest, and as pure as it can be. Food is medicine. Eating real, nutritious food can increase productivity and overall […]

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Transparency in food and agriculture is something that has increased in importance for me over the year. The way that food is grown, harvested, and made available to consumers (packaging, labels) should be as ethical, honest, and as pure as it can be. Food is medicine. Eating real, nutritious food can increase productivity and overall wellness of people by decreasing the incidence of disease.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Tan, a 29 year old visual effects supervisor and cinematographer from Neymarc Visuals. Currently based in New York, Michael has been working in the industry since 2011. His noteworthy projects include commercials for a variety of well-known companies in food and drink (Dannon, Vitamin Water, Pepsi, J&B Whiskey, Lipton Iced Tea, Tropicana, Nestea), cars (Toyota, Chevrolet, Cadillac), real estate (SL Green Realty Corporation, One Vanderbilt, One World Trade Center), and organizations like the American Red Cross, and the World Wildlife Fund. He and the Neymarc Brothers have also made a visual effects focused short film named Happy Valentine’s Day, the first under the company’s name. Due to the challenging cinematography and complete animations, the CGI film has won in several film festivals such as Siggraph, Cannes Lions, and most recently, the Webby’s in 2019.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me! I was born and raised in Paris and I guess you can say that film has always had a heavy influence in my life growing up. My younger sister is a singer, so we would make a lot of home videos. She’d perform and I would direct and film her. This would not make my parents very happy of course since we would record everything on tape and that was pretty expensive back in the day, but thankfully they were supportive enough to encourage our early forms of expression. My grandfather was also one of the first French documentary filmmakers for Kodak, and I think that’s why choosing film as my eventual career path has come instinctively for me. It is both sentimental and meaningful because I feel like I am following in my grandfather’s footsteps.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always enjoyed creating and building things in order to bring to life worlds and stories. Like many kids, I was addicted to Legos and cars. Because of that, I was pushed into a mechanical engineering path right after high school and after graduating I found myself wanting more than just mechanical creativity. Influenced by my friend Remy, I decided to give American college a try and so I spent 3 years getting a Computer Science degree in Georgia. While in college, Remy contacted me to help him out with some visual effects videos and I loved the process of using my technical knowledge to create a narrative. Soon after graduating, I decided to give filmmaking a try and moved to New York to join the Neymarc brothers and after our first commercial I knew I had found my path.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have had many! It’s hard to choose! Most circumstances are interesting since my projects are very varied. I would have to say though that the most interesting story would be having to climb on top of all these huge skyscrapers in Manhattan, having my feet dangle over the edge, just to get the right shot. No harnesses or safety equipment. I am a perfectionist when it comes to my work and a bit of a daredevil so it works out.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not really a big mistake, but I was flown out to a studio in Hollywood by the producer of The Lion King. It was a big deal for me. They needed me to build and operate a brand new camera and Steadicam rig technology. I said yes right away without knowing what I was really getting into. The technology was new and complicated and there were no online tutorials. I had to learn, assemble and operate in just a few hours on the day of the shoot. In the end I made it work but the whole thing was very stressful. I know people usually say “fake it until you make it” but in this case I was very lucky to have things going for me so I do not always recommend that! Most of the time though, “experience can be your best teacher” and I definitely learned on the job for this one.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am in the process of modeling the entire lower Manhattan in 3D. This is very time consuming since I’m recreating real life and I want to make it as realistic as possible. I need to be extra meticulous and thorough. I have never worked on such big, complex, and wide scale CG environments in the past, so this is both interesting and intense for me!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity in film and television is important because it lends a certain relatability to the audience. One of the most important things to me as a filmmaker is the impact of what I create. Diversity makes the film more tangible to a wider audience, allowing a connection to be formed across gender, age groups, and cultures. There is representation. Diversity also makes makes the material more interesting and adds an extra, atypical layer to the otherwise mundane and expected. There is more depth and complexity because of it and this exposes the viewers to a world which may be totally unlike their own. I think it’s culturally enriching.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Be open, you can learn important lessons from both experienced and non experienced co-workers.
  2. Ask questions. None of us started as experts. Don’t feel ashamed for not knowing everything.
  3. Make as many connections and friendships as you can. No need to go through things alone.
  4. Balance is so important. Work is as necessary as leisure and rest.
  5. Pace yourself and enjoy the ride!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

The world we live in is so fast paced, with new information, discoveries, and technology coming towards us in a speed humankind hasn’t completely evolved to adjust in just yet. Flexibility is an important skill to possess. The experience of burnout is so common amongst everyone! My advice is to remember to take small breaks during the day, no matter how busy you are, and eventual longer, week-long breaksto enjoy life outside work. It refreshes the mind and leads to more inspiration, creativity, and productivity eventually.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Transparency in food and agriculture is something that has increased in importance for me over the year. The way that food is grown, harvested, and made available to consumers (packaging, labels) should be as ethical, honest, and as pure as it can be. Food is medicine. Eating real, nutritious food can increase productivity and overall wellness of people by decreasing the incidence of disease.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The entire Neymarc team is crucial for sure, but I am most grateful for Remy in particular. Without his influence, I would never have experienced studying and working in the US, nor would I have fully discovered my passion and enjoyment for expressing myself creatively through film. I get to collaborate with one of my closest friends on a daily basis and get a living out of it, what more can I ask for?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Your thoughts shape your decisions. Your decisions, your actions. Your actions, your habits. Your habits, your character. Your character, your destiny.” It is a domino effect that shapes purpose in your life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Christopher Nolan is amazing and I admire his storytelling style because it is unique, unconventional, multi-layered, and thought provoking. It would be very cool to have brunch with him. Working with him would be totally out of this world! No pun intended, but Interstellar is one of my favorite films. ;D

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I don’t have personal social media accounts, but they can follow Neymarcvisuals on Instagram.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you!

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