ILM Artist Spotlight: Gary Wu
Gary Wu is a Creature Supervisor based out of ILM’s Vancouver studio. His credits include Aquaman, Black Panther, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and The Revenant. He shares why CG hair is so hard to get right, his advice for breaking into the VFX industry, and the weirdest work-related task he’s had to complete.
1. What got you into filmmaking?
Just movies in general. Besides books, what other form of art allows you to temporarily leave the constraints of the real world and completely immerse yourself in the story of another with just your imagination? I was always enthralled by how movies could make you feel. From the saddest lows to the most uplifting highs, anything was possible in the realm of film. Being able to create something that lives only inside of your head and sharing that with people was a very influential draw of the industry.
2. Tell us about an inspirational shot/sequence.
The thumbs-up from The Terminator as he slowly sinks into the vat of lava. I’m not crying. You’re crying.
3. What do you do at ILM, and what did you before working here?
I was a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed fresh college graduate. ILM was my first, full-time gig and I started off as a junior creature technical director.
4. What do you do outside of work?
I like to be out in nature and exploring the great outdoors.
5. What was your first show at ILM?
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. I will never forget this movie. It was my first experience on a Michael Bay project and the craziness of film production. I found a particular niche in rigid body simulations (aka blowing things up) and by the end of the show, I had shots assigned to me labeled ‘Wu-parts.’ I had a blast, no pun intended.
6. What’s your day-to-day like at work?
A black coffee to start the day. Always. I then catch up on emails and threads from the night before to sort out any lingering issues. The rest of the day is dedicated to either shot work or setting up an asset for use in production.
7. What’s the most challenging work task you’ve had to face?
Hair simulations. One hundred percent. I’ve come to the realization that every one has a different idea of what hair should look like and behave. CG hair that adheres to real world physics isn’t always particularly visually pleasing. We’re all so used to art-directed shots from shampoo commercials and magazines that we have a skewed perspective on how hair should like in real life.
8. And what’s the weirdest task?
That would definitely have to be sculpting certain body parts to be, more or less, anatomically incorrect.
9. What advice would you give to those trying to break into VFX?
It sounds really cliche, but do whatever you can to get your foot in the door. I went to college for an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science degree and started out at ILM as an intern who worked on database programming. I’d always wanted to get into character rigging and effects, but was only ever self-taught. During lunches, I would consume training material from ILM’s creature department and watch video captures of training sessions by artists in the studio whenever I could. I asked around and talked to artists and managers in the department to get a sense of what the work was like and how I could focus my studies and skillset to be considered for a junior role in the department. None of this would’ve happened if I wasn’t a part of the company. I know of another artist who started off as a paramedic on the campus of a studio and worked his way up to be a comp superstar. It’s really how you make the most out of your situation.
10. What’s your favorite film, and why?
The Goonies. Hands down. They don’t make movies quite like that any more. And the recent productions that have emulated the same spirit have been wildly successful, e.g. Stranger Things, IT, and Super 8. There’s just something about the quirkiness of each character in the gang and the sense of adventure that makes them so relatable. Deep down, we’re all just big kids pretending to be adults.