Jie Meng is consistently fascinated by his craft. The power of visual effects, to use different algorithms and physics theories to recreate something natural, or even create something that does not exist in the real world, is enchanting to the Chinese native. With a creative imagination and a deep understanding of computer science, an FX artist can create anything, turning fantasy into reality.
“With different algorithms and techniques, FX artists can do a lot of research and develop all different kinds of effects. As an FX artist, I also enjoy coming up with my own algorithms and methods to create new effects elements when I am at home. I feel I can create anything in my mind into the CG world, which is super fun to me,” said Meng.
Meng is an internationally sought-after visual effects artist, having contributed to blockbuster films, iconic video games, and prolific commercials. Earlier this year, audiences were enchanted with his work on the record-breaking film Avengers: Infinity War and the successful TV movie Freaky Friday, just as they were previously with Captain America: Civil War and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. He is also recognized around the world for his work on video games, including Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Quake Champions.
Despite such success, Meng calls the highlight of his career his work on Marvel’s hit Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He worked on countless shots and different kinds of effects elements in several sequences, designed and final locked over a hundred shots in only a couple of months, and finally, saw recognition for his work from the Academy with an Oscar nomination. The moment he saw his name in the movie credits, he knew that all those late nights have paid off.
“This is a milestone film project for me. It was my first time designing a procedurally generated CG environment in the film production, and it was my first time working so closely with other CG departments. I was inspired by all different artists around me, from their hard work and how they think and solve problems. There were a lot of late nights in this film project, but I was fully charged every morning, and just could not wait one second to keep working with my VFX crew members,” said Meng.
Meng’s vast contributions to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 helped bring the film to critical acclaim around the world. Not only did it take in over $860 million at the worldwide box office, but it was recognized at prestigious award ceremonies around the world. The highpoint for Meng was when the film was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards.
“When the news of the Oscar nomination had spread out, all the team members that worked on this film cheered into tears. We were so proud of ourselves that we achieved a VFX masterpiece. This film motivates and encourages me to keep on going as a VFX artist and also a filmmaker in the future,” said Meng.
Meng worked on many effects shots in several different sequences in the film. His main focus was the “normal” and “angry” Ego planet sequences. Those two sequences have a huge volume of the shots, which required the artists to design and finish the effects elements in a very short amount of time. Meng was not only building effects elements, but also helping in procedural modeling, shading/look-dev, lighting, procedural layout, and digital assets sharing aspects.
He designed and finished every shot containing Ego’s environment, all thruster effects elements for Quadrant Ship and jetpack in the “angry” Ego planet sequence. This included designing and finishing every shot containing aurora effects elements in the “normal” Ego planet sequence, such as the dust and leaves blowing in the Ego ship landing sequence. He also created taser gun lightning effects in a hero shot when Rocket Racoon shoots Gamora and did some early Rocket Racoon fur tests in the Guardians squat night talk scene.
Overall, Meng contributed over 20 different kinds of effects elements and CG contents in a total of four different sequences for the film. He designed and finished over 100 shots and related to 200 shots. The technical solutions that he came up with saved a great amount of time and made sure the entire team finished every shot before the deadline. His visual effects undoubtedly brought a stronger visual impact to the film and made the film a masterpiece of sci-fi fantasy artwork.
“I had the pleasure of working with Jie on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He is absolutely exceptional at what he does and is always striving to better himself and his craft. He is hard working, detail oriented, reliable and goes above and beyond when helping out others. He is always open to collaboration and feedback. I highly think that his skill and expertise would be a great fit for any project he works on. I look forward to working with him again on future projects,” said Dennys Herman, Lighting and Look Development Artist at MPC.
Meng had always been a big Marvel fan, and above all else, creating such a timeless film meant more to him than anything. He was determined to achieve greatness with every effect he created as he knew Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was more than just a visual spectacle.
“I like the story of this film, as the core it is about family. The plot twists when Starlord (Peter) met his father Ego, and finally found out his father is an evil creature who killed his mother. The family theme is also relevant when Gamora and Nebula fight against Ego together, and Yondu sacrifices himself to save Peter. It’s a comedy sci-fi fantasy movie, but this core is very deep. The film is not some regular comedy where people laughed and forgot about it, but something that will be remembered,” he concluded.
Living in the modern age we are bombarded by hundreds of commercials per day. As viewers when most of these ads hit the screen we often tune out in order to deal with the overwhelming overload of these messages.
So what does it take for a commercial to stand out and strike the interest of an audience in a world oversaturated with visual sales pitches?
Well, having a seasoned motion graphics designer like Vitaly Verlov behind the screen has proven to be an integral factor in the success of campaigns for global companies like Max Factor, Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Nokia, Samsung and countless others.
Over the years Verlov has amassed prodigious knowledge in terms of the technical methods involved in creating everything from multi-layered motion graphics to seamless visual effects. Beyond his technical skills though, his creative vision has made him a highly sought after talent in the industry. In fact, earlier this year he handled all of the visual effects on the upcoming film Redux, a sci-fi film starring Oscar nominee Eric Roberts from the films Inherent Vice, The Dark Knight, The Cable Guy and many more. What is even more astonishing is the fact that Verlov also wrote and directed the highly anticipated film.
His prowess as a motion graphics designer and visual effects artist have allowed him to take on projects that others in the industry who are only skilled in one of these two areas could not.
While you may not know the face of Vitaly Verlov, if you’ve ever tuned into MTV, VH1, Friday! Or Russia’s RUTV, then there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen his work more than once over the last decade.
To find out more about Vitaly Verlov’s captivating work make sure to check out our interview below!
VV: My name is Vitaly Verlov and I was born in the city of Novosibirsk, Russia. After graduating in 2007 I moved to Moscow to work as a motion graphics designer and visual effect artist for television and film.
IFR: How and when did you first get into doing visual effects work?
VV: In high school and university I did a lot of computer programming because I was a computer geek back then, and even before that I came across an international computer art subculture called Demoscene. Essentially it’s a community where young programmers, artists and musicians get together – for fun – to make demos: computer programs that produce audio-visual presentations in real-time. The visual side of creating a demo implies that you actually program algorithms to achieve a certain artistic effects on screen. To put it short, it’s awesome. As soon as my programming skills got up to speed, I started making graphical demos with some cool looking visual effects and showcasing them on so called “demoparties.” As a matter of fact, my thesis work was focused on developing a toolset for real-time motion graphics and visual effects production.
Later on I became more interested in non real-time photorealistic imaging and switched from computer graphics programming to producing visual effects, design and animation in a more traditional industry-applicable form and started doing broadcast motion graphics for television.
IFR: What inspired you to pursue this profession?
VV: After seeing some television channels that were neatly designed from a graphical standpoint or motion pictures packed with great visual effects, I really wanted to become a part of it.
IFR: Are there any particular artists that inspire you?
VV: In my early days I was fascinated with some of the broadcast design graphics on TV and dreamed about getting to this level of quality and impression. That’s what basically inspired me to learn, more than personalities. However after moving to Moscow, I had an opportunity to meet with some of the great guys behind those outstanding designs and work with them.
IFR: What kind of training was involved in order to become a VFX artist? How important is formal education to getting a job in the industry?
VV: I personally don’t have any special VFX related training. Nor do most of the other artists I know. Basically, to become a VFX artist or motion designer, it’s important to have a natural artistic sense and a good eye plus the ability to efficiently handle technical tools and software. On the other hand, it’s also a matter of specialty in the industry, for instance: environmental concept artists or matte painters often have a background in fine arts. One thing is true for everyone working in VFX: you don’t stop learning, no matter what your specialty is.
IFR: What is that you love about being a VFX artist?
VV: The ability to create something impressive out of nothing; and the ability to impress girls at parties, of course.
IFR: What is your specialty in the field?
VV: As a VFX artist, I consider myself a generalist which means that I can pull off a wide variety of tasks myself, including modeling, texturing, animating, rendering, compositing. There are fields that I prefer more, and there are fields I’m not involved in at all – like character modeling and rigging.
As a motion/broadcast graphics designer and art director, again, I can do a lot, starting from initial creative concept to final delivery.
IFR: What is your typical workflow like in terms of collaborating with other artists on a film?
VV: It depends on a project and/or studio. Sometimes workflow is precise, broken down into stages and compartmentalized with strict deadlines, sometimes it’s a complete mess and overnight hell. The most positive experience is of course when you focus on something specific you really like and are good at. This way of collaborating is very efficient and creative at the same time.
IFR: You also work as a motion graphics designer, can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?
VV: Sure. Essentially motion graphics design is an animation-oriented subset of graphic design. Graphic design is just a single picture. Motion design is graphic design in sequence, in motion, and you see it pretty much everywhere: opening sequences for TV shows, film titles, game console menus, or photo-realistic 3D smartphone magically spinning in mid-air in a smartphone TV or Web commercial, or even user interface animation within that smartphone. In other words, any animated piece in visual medium is a subject of motion design.
That’s what I’ve been doing for various television channels including MTV, VH1, Friday!, and others. Sometimes there is client input on the initial concept of what we’re trying to achieve, sometimes there is no input. When there is no input, I also work as a copywriter where I suggest different ideas or scripts on how an end result might look and what meanings/themes it might have behind it. When the concept is approved, we move on to actual motion design.
IFR: How does being a motion graphics editor differ from working as a VFX artist?
VV: Motion graphics is a general term. It’s something that visually can be executed in different ways and styles. It can be two-dimensional, flat design-ish/illustrated looking as well as filmic three-dimensional. I think my direction is more filmic/three-dimensional oriented, that’s why it depends substantially on the visual effects techniques. For example, for a commercial spot for Peugeot the idea was to make a realistic car driving along a stylized miniature street – stuff like that directly relies on VFX techniques because it requires 3D modeling, rendering and compositing as a part of the workflow. In a sense, for such projects VFX is a way to implement the creative idea. That’s where motion graphics and VFX come together.
On the other hand, there are motion graphics projects where VFX techniques are not required for natural reasons. For instance, I have experience making on-screen graphics as a part of graphics package for several television stations where the task was to design the look and feel of info graphic elements that pop up during a broadcast. While these elements look pretty minimalistic, they should have a thought-out motion behavior and structure that keeps the integrity of the overall design. Sometimes the way these elements pop up on screen, interact with the viewer, and disappear is hard to conceptualize. That’s where “design” in the “motion graphics design” title comes to the forefront.
IFR: How has having skills as both a VFX artist and a motion graphics designer separated you from others in the industry?
VV: I think VFX and motion graphics are storytelling devices, and I always try to approach projects from the storytelling perspective. So for me the primary task is not making a neat looking animation or effect but supporting and enhancing the context it is a part of. Motion graphics is about guiding the viewer’s attention and it’s also very important for visual effects shots. What separates me is a good understanding of these aspects which, in real life, means that a client is usually happy with the timing, pace and accents I put into designs during the early stages of production, which is cool because it eliminates the need to reiterate on that so I can spend more time perfecting the visuals.
IFR: What companies have you worked with in the industry?
VV: Since I consider myself motion graphics oriented, I have more experience working on commercials and on-air broadcast design.
As a lead designer and VFX artist, I worked for the Russian branch of MTV and VH1 Networks and nation-wide entertainment television channel Friday! As an art director and motion graphics designer, I’ve done quite a few projects for a major music television channel, RUTV. Specifically, I created motion graphics and the overall design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony, and some pieces for its 2015 installment.
As a freelance designer and VFX artist, I’ve done a bunch of commercials for international brands, including Mitsubishi, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Max Factor, Nokia, Samsung, Eurovision, Sensation, plus a variety of Russian brands like Beeline (a major mobile operator in Russia).
As a lead VFX artist, I have several projects done for the US-based boutique postproduction company Coat of Arms. Also, I have great experience working for the international visual effects company Pixomondo (Game of Thrones) as a lead 2D effects artist.
Working for various international companies and clients gives a pretty solid understanding of how the global industry works as well as flexibility in the way you approach projects in terms of planning and workflow because the process makes the result.
IFR: Can you tell us a little bit about the television and film projects you’ve worked on; and the specific contributions you made?
VV: I’ve done a lot of TV show openers and channel idents, in a team of designers and by myself, including works for MTV Networks, nation-wide channels Friday!, and RUTV.
While working for Friday! I had a positive interaction with the broadcast design department of Les télécréateurs (Paris) who designed overall on-air look of this station. I’ve made a few show openers and extra identity pieces based on the existing visual style of the station. And for RUTV I created motion graphics and design for the RUTV 2014 annual music awards ceremony which was a pretty huge amount of work (a show opener, a set of nominees, promo spots, press materials) on a tight schedule – that’s where the ability to sit focused for 18 hours came in handy.
Also, recently I had a chance to work as a lead 2D VFX artist on a Chinese big budget sci-fi feature film called Impossible, which is scheduled to hit the market sometime this year. I came in when the postproduction was in full swing, and my job was to complete a bunch of VFX shots, mostly energy fields and portal effects.
I should mention that I’m a filmmaker myself with two sci-fi live action films already under my belt. The latest one, Redux, features the well-known Hollywood actor Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, The Expendables). It’s a short character-driven story with the ’80s/retro-futuristic vibe to it. I wrote, directed and edited this film and did visual effects.
IFR: Why is motion graphics design important to modern filmmaking?
VV: In its pure form, motion graphics design is critical for television and Internet – that’s for sure. Filmmaking also takes advantage of it, particularly big budget sci-fi & fantasy films and movie trailers, which are a marketing device. Film credits or sleek futuristic computer interfaces you see in a sci-fi flick is a product of motion graphics design. Sometimes it enhances the narrative story of a film, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s in there. Moreover, since motion design and VFX are somewhat interrelated fields, motion graphics can be essentially found in any film featuring visual effects. That’s also a good way to save some time and money during production, which is important, especially for independent narrative filmmakers like myself. Can a modern live action film be done with no VFX and motion design? Probably yes. But if it’s a mainstream (commercial) film, there should be a marketing/ad campaign involved and that’s where motion graphics comes for you again.
IFR: What has been your favorite project so far and why? What projects do you have coming up?
VV: Not sure about all-time favorites, but I can name a couple of recent ones. I was a part of a team who made a STRAFE® promotional spot for a successful Kickstarter compaign. STRAFE® is an independent old school first-person shooter video game. On this commercial, I worked as a lead VFX/motion design artist.
And of course I loved working on my second film Redux because I think it looks pretty neat, has a coherent story and stars well-known Hollywood actors.
As to the projects to come, some of my past TV clients have a brand new music channel in the works, and while there’s not much info available at this point it looks like I will be creating an onscreen design and several VFX heavy idents shot on green screen.
IFR: Do you have a passion for working on a specific kind of film or project, if so what kind of project and why?
VV: In the TV world, I would say, a show opener. When making a TV show opener, you’re actually making a focused 10-15 second piece which tells a story visually, and that’s what attracted me to the visual medium in the first place.
In film, I have a passion for working on my own films.
IFR: What would you say was your first foot in the door to the industry, and what advice would you give to aspiring artists?
VV: In 2006 I believe, I started making what I called the daily images: the goal was to make one new artistic image every day, just for fun and training, and post it on the Internet into a corresponding design community. I ended up making just a couple of images a week, but after a year of this marathon I was invited to work full-time at a prominent postproduction studio in Moscow, N3, because they liked my pictures. That’s basically how I got into this industry. So I guess my advice would be, stop being aspiring and start actually making something just for the sake of it, start the process and watch how everything unfolds.
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