STRASBOURG – It is an amazing video, lasting for just eleven seconds.
Three mahjong tiles are spread out on a typical French red-white checkered tablecloth. They have red, white and blue backsides: the colors of the French ‘Tricolore’. The camera seems to move upward, the tiles start to dance and turn around. The one with the white back appears to be the White Dragon; the red one is the Red Dragon. Then the blue one is turned around – no, it’s not the Green Dragon, but a flower tile, engraved with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. At the same time, the real Eiffel Tower is shown in the background, behind some glasses filled with red wine.
Another video, also eleven seconds. We see another French icon, Mont Saint-Michel, the famous island commune before the coast of Normandy. It is as if we are sitting in a little boat, the water is nearby, the mountain rises above. Then we see a bottle floating on the water with a message in it: another flower tile, upon which a drawing of the monastery is engraved.
The beautiful little videos – ten in total: eight for the flower tiles, one for the Bamboo One, the ‘Bird’, and one for the Circle One – can be seen on the website of the OEMC 2014, the fifth Open European Mahjong Championship. They are the brainchild of French mahjong player Laurent Claudel (38) from Strasbourg. He is not a graphic designer, but a gastroenterologist, a doctor who is specialized in the digestive system and its disorders. He has taught himself how to make the movies, and he was also involved in the design of the special tiles.
Special mahjong tiles are as old as the Open European Mahjong Championships. For the first one, Nijmegen 2005, eight flower tiles were made which depicted Dutch (cheese, wooden shoes) and Nijmegen (the ‘Vereeniging’, where the OEMC took place) icons. Two years later, the Danes presented sets with Danish and Viking symbols. Also Austria 2009 and Venice 2011 had their special sets. These sets are designed to generate income for the tournament and at the same time, they are nice souvenirs for the participants.
The idea to make ten special tiles for the OEMC 2014 was launched by the presidents of the French mahjong clubs. They wanted drawings of the four seasons, and of four famous French monuments. The Bamboo One, so was decided, should be the Gallic cock instead of the usual Bird ‘Pe-Ling’, and on the Circle One the flag of the European Union should be displayed. A last tile was customized for American ‘mah-jongg’: the Joker, which represents the OEMC 2014 logo. Also Red Fives (‘aka doras’) are present, so the sets can be used for riichi mahjong as well.
All French mahjong players were asked to make designs for the tiles and eventually Laurent Claudel was chosen for the definitive drawings. “We produced a first set to check the ability of manufacturers to render the designs we wanted”, he tells. “Last December I made a few modifications and then the sets were produced.” The French mahjong federation FFMJ ordered the sets to be manufactured in China.
Laurent Claudel joined the Strasbourg mahjong club ‘Vent d'Est’ (East Wind) two years ago. The club had just a single blog page on the internet. Laurent considered it a challenge to make a new website. Not that he had any experience with that – he taught himself web programming. “I found help on the internet, using free classes and online tutorials. I did the same work with graphic programs like ‘Blender’ for 3D-videos, ‘Gimp’ and ‘Inkscape’. “I started with simple graphic designs, then little by little I improved my technics. I produced flyers and badges for Vent d’Est and the poster of the French Championship in November 2012, I suggested a prototype for new FFMJ logo, which by the way was not chosen. Finally, I created the OEMC website and logo, and the OEMC poster on which you can see the animated version on the site.”
According to Laurent, making the small videos for the special tiles is “quite easy, after some hours and tests”. The hard thing is the rendering. Laurent: “For the ‘Mont Saint Michel’ video, my computer took no less than 35 hours to render the video, because of the calculation of the reflection of the water, refraction of the bottle etcetera. And when you see an imperfection, you have to render it again...”
”The small videos are fully 3D designed, but some realistic textures from pictures, e.g. for monuments, are included.”
Laurent has joined all movies to one larger one, which, unlike the individual movies, has a soundtrack.
Not for sale
Unfortunately, the special tile sets will not be available as souvenirs. French costumes kept the sets for two weeks and threatened to destroy them if FFMJ would not declare that they would not sell them, but keep them for themselves. Not until then, the sets were released as ‘demonstration material’.
Olivier Boivin, who, on behalf of the FFMJ, managed the import of the tiles, explains that the sets are a gift of Emmanuel Tai Leung, a French mahjong player from Reunion Island. “The 200 euros registration fee which was paid by the participants to the OEMC 2014, has been used only for the cost of organization, meals, the parties, etcetera.”
Only sixty sets were manufactured for the European championship, says Oliv’ Boivin: twenty red sets, twenty white sets and twenty blue sets – the colors of the French Tricolour. “FFMJ has 27 clubs and over 500 members”, he explains, “so we would never be able to satisfy everyone who wanted one.”
“We are not yet quite sure what to do with them”, he continues, “but I think they will be used for the purpose they are made for: for the competition.”
He concludes: “You can be sure they are absolutely terrific. Laurent Claudel has done a great job with the design.”