Character Technical Director Qiao Wang on living his childhood dream and working on ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Qiao Wang, photo by Dustin Han

From the time he was a child, growing up in Beijing, China, Qiao Wang excelled at innovation and the arts. He loved drawing and could always come up with new and creative design ideas. He began learning how to develop these skills at a young age, dreaming that one day he would be able to combine his talents to create something truly magical. Now, as an in-demand Character Technical Director and Character Effects Artist, he is living out that childhood dream.

Wang’s impressive resume is filled with many highlights. He kicked off 2018 in style, when Justin Timberlake’s “Filthy” music video premiered on January 4th, amassing millions of views on YouTube. Wang’s work on the project went on to receive a nomination for Best VFX at the Berlin Music Video Awards. He worked on national campaigns for Target and Lexus and contributed greatly to Disney’s upcoming feature Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck it Ralph 2.

“I have the opportunity to make the characters able to move and perform, to make them come alive instead of being a still model. I enjoy troubleshooting and solving character technology problems to build and improve their performance. I think characters and performance are what moving pictures are all about. I’m really proud of the process of building the characters audiences admire, and eventually seeing them on the big screen, the feeling of being part of character building is amazing,” said Wang.

With such great success, it is difficult for Wang to identify the sole highlight of his career. However, when asked, working on Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity Warsticks out for the artist. The now revolutionary film featured not only 18 Avenger characters played by some of Hollywood’s most recognizable actors, but also some of the greatest behind-the-scenes talent in the industry, including Wang.

The film, for the few who haven’t already flocked to the theatres, follows the Avengers and their allies who have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, when a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment — the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.

“I really like how complex the story is, and how it tied all 18 previous Marvel movies and superheroes’ stories together. Even though the story is complex, the whole film didn’t feel too busy. And the ending was very unexpected to say the least and makes me very excited about the next Avengers film that is coming out next year,” said Wang.

The moment Wang was offered a position to work on the movie, he was excited. Not only was he a fan, he knew working on the iconic characters would be a fun and challenging task. Not only did he create many of the realistic imagery that became Rocket the Racoon, Wang worked on iconic characters like Groot, Thor and Etri.

One of Wang’s greatest accomplishments on the film was revolutionizing the technology used to create Thor’s armor. The initial armor set-up was a little rubbery and easy to bend and deform, and it was sufficient for most shots that Thor does not do extreme motions. However, Thor does some extreme poses in the Nidavellir sequence. During the sequence in which the hero characters are trying to get Nidavellir’s ice encrusted rings to move, Thor is dragged along the surface of one of the rings by Rocket in the escape pod. Across several shots, Thor tears through the high-tech solar panels and machinery, creating a rooster tail of zero-G debris and ice until he is able to grab hold at the edge. The shots involved a digi-double, long stretches of unique Nidavellir surface level detail, tearing metal simulations and destruction, atmospherics, sparks, etc. The armor tended to break easily and bend unnaturally. Therefore, Wang would typically have used character effects techniques to simulate the armor to make it look more rigid, but the shots would then become very time consuming and more expensive. To solve this problem, he drew inspiration from the way that he engineered Iron Man’s armor in Captain America: Civil War, using Python programming language to write a tool to set it up with a more physically based rigid method. This Python scripts automatically detect the seams between each “mechanical” sections and designs a motion path that follows the rules of physics motion of practical mechanical parts, as well as provides only a few animation controls for animators or character fx artists to tweak the deformation and motion of the armor. This tool saved Wang and his team a lot of time dealing with armor deformation and silhouette.

“Qiao and I worked together to troubleshoot and solve countless workflow and technical issues on digital characters and create high end character effects. Qiao is a great influence on the team, and he played pivotal roles in many past productions. A good character TD plays an important role in an entire show, Qiao has a great impact on character’s facial and body motion performances as well as the whole character workflow,” said D’Lun Wong, Crowd Artist and Character FX Artist at DreamWorks Animation who worked with Wang on Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Infinity War has made $2,032,100,775 USD worldwide so far and is still being shown in theatres, breaking every box office record. Wang couldn’t be prouder of his work and the results of everything he and his team did and knows what it means to the fans.

“The quality of the moving picture looks even better on the full size screens in theaters than our computers. After working on large feature films like this and seeing them in theaters, I know that this is where I build my career and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It was a real race to meet the deadline, but the team did an amazing job in pulling everything together,” he said.

Soon, audiences will get to see Wang’s work once again in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Similar to Avengers: Infinity War, the film is highly VFX driven, and there are many successful fully computer-generated characters that he helped build out.

Needless to say, Wang is a rare talent with a career many can only dream of. He took his childhood dream and never gave up on it, working tirelessly to get to where he is today. He says this is the key to his success.

“Work hard. This type of job requires huge amounts of commitment and hard work. The learning curve is quite steep, and a lot of people never get past this phase, they quit, so don’t give up and do a lot of work and do the little jobs well until you get an opportunity to use all the skills. Try to draw and code a lot. Try to equip yourself with both art and science skill sets. Learning to collaborate with others is also very important because filmmaking is a team play, and it takes dedication, a lot of time and many people’s effort to create a masterpiece,” he advised.

Be sure to check out the sequel to Avengers: Infinity War next year to not only see how the epic story will conclude, but also to see first-hand what Wang can do.