History Comes Alive in China

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor

Animated films projected onto walls inside China’s great ancient cities pull Chinese youth into historic tales.

In cities across China, peasant troops slice the air with decorative swords in the Chu Han War, peonies bloom while an emperor parties during the prosperous Tang Dynasty and monks follow the famous Silk Road.

These stories, which were projected on giant brick walls in the ancient capital of Xi’an in December, are traveling to cities across China, where people can experience the ancient past in a whole new way.

The History Comes Alive event uses new 3D facial scanning technology, inviting visitors to these cities to travel back in time and be part of Chinese history.

“You become the hero, you become the bad guy,” said Pierre Nelwan, animation director at Media Monks. “You become part of history.”


Through an unprecedented marriage of art, history and technology, history comes alive for generations across China. Attendees at these special events can stand in front of a kiosk built with Intel RealSense cameras. The cameras capture 3D scans of the person’s face, which can then be seamlessly integrated onto the faces of characters in a series of animated films.

Anyone who had his or her face scanned at the sites can download the videos onto a smartphone and share with friends. Anyone who missed the Xi’an event can view the live feed via Youku (China’s version of YouTube). Some 60,000 viewers tuned in to watch the Xi’an walls come alive.

“We have a long history, a very rich history,” said Intel China’s Paul Lu. “The problem is that young people are getting to know it in less and less.”

So Intel teamed up with J. Walter Thompson (JWT) creative agency in Beijing and Media Monks, a creative digital production company based in Holland, to create animated depictions of historical events and legends from China’s vast 5,000 years of history.

Chinese youth are social and embrace technology, said Lu, so the team wanted to create a fun, immersive experience that would not only inspire interest in ancient history, but also allow people to become a part of it.

“What reaction we want to see is from their eyes to their hearts,” said Polly Chu, JWT’s chief creative officer, emphasizing that the desire was to foster an emotional connection. “We wanted to show that history is not just far away. It’s me, I am the history.”


Starting this month, more events will take place throughout the year in cities including Beijing, Nan Jing, Hang Zhou, Cheng Du, Da Li and Guang Zhou, as well as on university campuses and in retail centers around the country. The stories correlate to the cities in which they’re shown, inviting the public to embrace the history in a way that feels personal, relevant to their daily lives.

Making the Impossible Possible

“The process of setting up an event like this, on a scale like this, is insane,” said Nelwan.

Lu said the teams from the U.S. and China spent months developing the facial scanning software to enable faces to seamlessly integrate into the animated characters. The result is astonishing.

“You can see yourself 360 degrees moving in the animation,” he said. “It’s not just plain animation. You can actually see yourself acting.”

“Intel RealSense technology is very unique because it mimics a human being’s two eyes,” said Zhenyu Tang, director of RealSense China. RealSense brings depth perception, gesture control and other capabilities to PCs, laptops and tablets. “It has two cameras so you can get exactly the 3D information into a 3D world.”

For the event in Xi’an, not only did the team manage technical challenges of integrating real faces into large-scale 3D animated movies, they had to navigate government bureaucracy and massive logistics.

“To hold a big event like this in China, we needed to foster a lot of relationships,” said Lu. “It was a huge effort.”

The teams worked with historians and social experts to make sure every detail depicted in the films accurately reflected history. Chu said they studied everything from clothing and hairstyles to weapons and the physical details of the palaces.

“We did a lot of homework,” she said. “We wanted to make sure everything was true to history.”


Editor’s Note: In this Experience Amazing series, iQ explores how computer technology inside is enabling incredible experiences outside. We look at how computer technology powers new experiences and discoveries in science, the maker movement, fashion, sports and entertainment. To learn more about the tech behind these stories, visit Experience Amazing.

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