Anyone who’s had a look at our Yez concept car story will know that the Chinese Government haven’t taken any half measures with Expo 2010 in Shanghai. In an absolutely frightening display of power and wealth it splashed out roughly US$60 billion on the event – that’s more than the GDP of two thirds of the world’s nations. China’s foreign currency reserves currently amount to the greatest fortune ever assembled anywhere at any time on planet earth – US$2.5 trillion – and they're only just getting started with accumulating wealth. The theme of the Shanghai expo is “Better City – Better Life” and, while a lot of the focus is on technological inventions and advancements, the goal of the Chinese Pavilion is to show the past, present and future. There is no better illustration of this than the centerpiece of the Pavilion – a stunning digital tapestry that takes one of China’s most famous paintings and updates it for the 21st Century. If you were impressed by the beautiful moving scroll that wowed audiences at the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies in 2008, then prepare to be blown away all over again.

Original painting

Produced for the Expo by China’s premier digital agency,
Crystal CG, which also created the moving scroll seen at the Beijing Olympics, the display takes
Qīngmíng Shànghé Tú (Along the River During the Qingming Festival) – a panoramic painting by Zhang Zeduan (AD 1085 and 1145) – and brings it to life by turning it into a 130-meter-long, 6.3-meter-high animated digital mural. The 5.28-meter-long original captures the daily life of people during the Northern Song period (AD 960-1127) in the then capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng.

The entire piece was painted in hand scroll format and the content reveals the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor, as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city. Painted on light-colored silk measuring 24.8cm x 528.7cm and bearing Emperor Huizong’s signature it depicts 814 humans, 28 boats, 60 animals, 30 buildings, 20 vehicles, nine sedan chairs and 170 trees. The painting is famous because of its geometrically accurate images of boats, bridges, shops, and scenery. Because of its fame, it has been called "China's Mona Lisa".

Digital version

To create the electronic version, Crystal CG borrowed the original from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City and kept it for three months – under tight security mind you. From inception to completion it took the Crystal CG team almost two years to complete and when they were done they created a dynamic version that was 30 times the size of the original. It also had more elements than the original because, unlike the painting, which displays a only a daylight scene, the digital version alternates from day to night and back again every four minutes – two minutes for the day view and two minutes for night view. Enlarging the painting so much also meant that the team had to inject much more detail to the already detailed scene.

During the daylight scene, 691 characters go about their business. They are so detailed their facial expressions can be seen changing as a team of camels walks slowly by, or as they go about the task of taking down the masts of their vessel as they sail along the river. Then at night, lanterns and candles come alight for the 377 characters visible in the nighttime scene. As an example of the attention to detail, the creative team used more than 10 kinds of lanterns because historical records show that they varied in size and shape according to where they were hung – be it the gates of homes, government offices, stores or other places. Still, Crystal CG went to great lengths to stay true to the original work and more than 60 percent of their display is identical to the original.


The first step in creating the display involved removing all the characters and concentrating on the background. Buildings, pavilions, terraces, rivers, fields and trees were laid down first to which details such as swaying trees and crops and the flowing river were added. The team then moved onto designing and animating the characters in 3D, before adding color and converting them back to 2D. Finally, the 2D characters were mixed with the background. The animation was then ready for the Chinese Pavilion where 12 projectors running simultaneously provide visitors with the stunning finished product.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Established in 1995 in Beijing, Crystal CG grew quickly as a provider of digital image services for the real estate industry. The success of its digital tapestries has prompted Crystal CG to focus on the culture industry with plans to interpret more classical paintings and calligraphy through multimedia. The company has also been named as an official service provider for the London Games and will provide digital animations for the opening closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2012. Additionally, the company will do 3D visualizations of all 36 London venues as well as non-competition venues including the Olympic Village and the International Broadcast Center. It will definitely be interesting to see what they come up with.
View gallery - 6 images