Using mathematics, computer graphics technology and an artistic eye, Qiao Wang is something of a storyteller. With software and code that he often designs himself, he creates armature, skeletons, and skin deformation for digital puppets, realistic yet artistic cloth, hair/fur and muscle simulation to make digital characters come vividly to life. Millions around the world have seen his work, and although they may not know that he is the artist behind it, they have been entertained and enthralled by his talents.
“It was my dream job when I was little, I was good at drawing and coming up with new innovative design ideas, and I started learning it all at a very young age,” said Wang.
Wang finds himself at the forefront of his industry, working on some of the largest films in the world, including the record-breaking Avengers: Infinity War. With his help as a character technical director and character effects artist, characters like Rocket the Racoon and Groot came to life for worldwide audiences. He has also collaborated with iconic companies like Target, on their 2017 Holiday commercials and their 2018 Jurassic World campaign, and Lexus, making a series of commercials for the automotive company’s 2018 sales event.
2018 has been quite a year for Wang, with upcoming features Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck it Ralph 2 and Godzilla: King of the Monsters taking up much of his time. The year started off on a high note for the CFX artist, with Justin Timberlake’s “Filthy” music video dropping on January 4th. Wang worked closely with the popular singer to create the award-winning visual effects for the viral video.
“This was a great opportunity to work closely with the Character Supervisor, CG Supervisor, VFX Supervisor, Producer, Art Director, Model Maker, and Animators to help kick off Justin Timberlake's new album with the futuristic music video. Some new character technology that I hadn’t used before would be used for this project, such as motion capture and facial performance capture from Justin himself,” said Wang. “It was also a great opportunity to design and develop a system to transfer Justin’s facial capture to a CG robot. I would be a new challenge for me in terms of experimenting with different approaches for different shots of the CG robot’s facial performance.”
The “Filthy” video kicked off Timberlake’s latest album “Man of the Woods”. Wang helped to create nearly 100 shots of CG content for the video, nearly five minutes of content. When he first started with the project, he was responsible for retargeting motion capture to robot's and CG dancer's rig, for character and camera tracking purposes. Then he spent a lot of time doing research and development for the fully CG robot character’s facial rigging in order to translate Justin Timberlake's facial performance data to the robot. Eventually, he was able to use the technologies custom controls driving FACS facial rigging system, geometry cache, soft blendShape, and skin simulation to finesse facial performance results.
Wang also developed a facial geometry cache management system for animators to easily manage data across hundreds of shots. For the robot’s body, he developed a "piston" system to help better control the mechanical body parts. In addition, he helped design and develop more rigging and animation tools and systems such as Character Outsourcing script libraries and Character Tracking libraries, to optimize the character technology workflow and improve character's performance. The technology was an essential asset, and Wang’s team was tremendously impressed with what he created.
“Qiao was able to offer both technical and art directions to our digital characters and all of the assets. He improved digital characters animation performance, and cloth hair/fur performance. He designed and developed systems to optimize and improve our character technology pipeline and workflow. He helped deliver high quality visual effects projects on time to help our clients make tons of money and created character rigs and share with other VFX studios to contribute to the films. He is truly great at what he does,” said Ming Pan, Art Director and VFX Creative Art Supervisor at Method Studios who has worked closely with Wang on many projects.
This is a music video piece, so the facial performance of the robot singing is extremely important. Wang knew that his work was essential for the success of the video and worked tirelessly to achieve greatness. All the facial performance capture rigging technology and tools were new and developed by Wang, and within the entire studio, no one had ever done what he was trying to do at the time. This new workflow and technology really expanded the character technology capability. The final result is a visual spectacle.
“I would have to say that I truly enjoyed all the new challenges I experienced. I didn’t know if I would be able to nail it, but I did it and it feels great to learn, research, and develop new technology for a cool project. I like the stress that pushes me to create new technology. Every time when I felt like it can’t be done, and I’ve reached my limit, the pressure of delivering the best imagery would push me forward and expand my potential, and I would come up with new ideas,” said Wang.
Thanks to Wang’s tech and hard work, the “Filthy” video was a roaring success for Justin Timberlake. It was nominated for Best VFX at the Berlin Music Video Awards 2018 and has amassed over 65 million views on YouTube alone.
“When I saw that the video was all over the internet, it felt amazing. This project really increased my confidence, and I feel like I’m not afraid of being involved in huge challenges at all, instead, I enjoy it. It feels magical seeing a sleek CG robot I helped created doing Timberlake’s signature moves and style,” said Wang.
Be sure to check out Wang’s outstanding work in the “Filthy” music video here.
Photo by Glen Vigus