Cheng Wei Liao is something like a magician; he makes the impossible, possible, creating what goes far beyond imagination. As a celebrated CGI Artist, the Taiwanese native perfects the look of your favorite movies, television shows, music videos, and commercials.
“If the audience leaves saying that they cannot tell what is real and what is not, that means my CG magic works. I believe the ultimate satisfaction and delight for me as a CGI artist is seeing how people react to the things I create,” said Liao.
Despite working on hit films like A Star is Born, popular television shows such as The Flash, and award-winning commercials including the Daytona 500 Superbowl ad, Cheng Wei Liao says the highlight of his esteemed career was working on the iconic Taylor Swift music video “Look What You Made Me Do.”
“This is one of the largest projects I had participated in, and I accomplished a lot of the most crucial shots in the video. It was the first time I had the chance to review the work with the director side by side, and we didn’t give up on any unresolved issues or unsatisfied details until the very last moment before it was out. After the project was finished, a lot of articles and comments showed up on multiple platforms which talked about the content of the video and that also amazed me too,” said Liao.
The video begins with a zombie Swift crawling out of a grave, where the headstone reads "Here Lies Taylor Swift's Reputation" and digging another grave for her Met Gala 2014 self. The next scene shows Swift in a bathtub filled with diamonds. She is then seen seated on a throne while snakes surround her and serve tea. Swift later crashes her golden Bugatti Veyron on a post and sings the song's chorus holding a Grammy as the paparazzi take photos. She is also seen swinging inside a cage, robbing a streaming company in a cat mask, and leading a motorcycle gang. Afterwards, she gathers a group of women at "Squad U" and dances with a group of men in another room. At the video's climax, Swift is seen standing in a T-shaped throne while clones of herself (from her past music videos), struggle and fight against each other trying to reach her. As the video concludes, the clones bicker with one another, describing each other as "so fake" and "playing the victim" while one clone of Swift in the background watches in silence. The video ends with a 2009 VMA Swift saying "I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative" and the other Swifts yelling at her to "shut up!" in unison.
“This is definitely an unforgettable experience. I’ve known the music of Taylor Swift since her debut, but I never believed I’d have the chance to work on one of her videos,” said Liao. “It was a fun experience. The opportunity made me feel I was part of her career, and also made a good start of her new album.”
The “Look What You Made Me Do” video premiered Aug. 27th, 2017. It went on to be nominated for several awards, including Best Visual Effect at the MTV Video Music Awards, directly honoring Liao and his team’s tremendous contributions to the video’s success. On top of this, the video broke the record for most-watched video within 24 hours by achieving 43.2 million views on YouTube in its first day. It was viewed at an average 30,000 times per minute in its first 24 hours, with views reaching over 3 million views per hour. It currently has over 1 billion views.
“I actually did not expect that we would receive such a huge amount of reviews in just one day. It felt just so surreal in the first days hearing that many people out there in the world had watched the video I took a part in creating. The audience seemed to have positive feedback, and so did critics. I knew that we already tried our best to make this video and it did succeed in the end. I am really satisfied with all the hard work being a success,” said Liao.
Even though it has been almost two years since he worked on the video, working on “Look What You Made Me Do” is one of the best experiences of Liao’s career. All the shots he worked on are the money shots of this music video, which means a stationary visual element perceived as essential to the film and is disproportionately expensive. For example, the graveyard scene is the opening of the video. The shot contains not only massive designed concepts, but a large amount of CG works. Next, the car crash scene is the hero CG shot of the whole video and very nearly full CGI. He also created the iconic human pyramid shot composed by the human pack explosion of Taylor Swift, which was the pivotal moment in showing that Taylor Swift wanted to get rid of the old images she had before, the entire idea behind her “Reputation” album. Needless to say, Liao was vital on the video’s massive success.
“All the ideas from the director were mind-blowing to work on. Plus, the process of digging into all the details of the CG props such as the structure of the Bugatti Veyron, tombstone moss and making the scenes as perfect as I could imagine really brought me a huge sense of achievement. Not to mention that working as a member of this kind of production made me understand that I could dedicate myself to the entertainment industry and bring huge impact to the audience,” said Liao.
If you somehow haven’t already, be sure to watch “Look What You Made Me Do”.