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The VFX Factor: Making the Unbelievable Possible with Chingtien Chu

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Framestore’s lighting artist on the importance of clear direction, always asking questions and the excitement of seeing your name on the big screen

The VFX Factor: Making the Unbelievable Possible with Chingtien Chu

Chingtien Chu is a Lighting Artist based in Chicago with experience in CG, compositing, texturing, modelling and look development.

Since joining Framestore, he has worked on commercial projects for brands like General Motors, Google, Kellogg’s, Nintendo and Verizon.

With an enthusiasm for animation and film, he is passionate about the possibilities that lighting in CG allows when it comes to bringing emotion and warmth to any shot.


LBB> There are two ends to the VFX spectrum - the invisible post and the big, glossy 'VFX heavy' shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those?

Chingtien> Invisible VFX needs to focus on making images seem too real to notice that anything has been altered, which requires a lot of observation on real world references. Not only do elements need to look real, but they also need an artistic eye to make them blend into the footage.

VFX heavy shots include anything from vehicles flying through the air, to impressive magic, or even complete sci-fi worlds. Artists are working with a range of amazing assets that you may never even see in real life. They need to blend each element together while maintaining balance to ensure it’s as believable as possible. 


LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them?

Chingtien> A clear direction and understanding of clear priorities and goals. Reference photos, images, and videos that can help us visualise the idea are always a bonus and help us more efficiently achieve the desired outcome. 


LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?

Chingtien> I studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York, but before that I also took various classes. However, working on real projects and getting hands-on experience really helped me take a big leap forward. Professional jobs each require different techniques and knowledge, not to mention the different insights and experience you can pick up from your amazing artist colleagues, so that’s where artists will gain the most. 


LBB> Think about the very, very start of a project. What is your process for that? Do you have a similar starting point for all projects?

Chingtien> I usually ask some questions, make sure I am clear on the direction and goals, consider what kind of technique is needed, then do some research and gather references. These help me to have a clearer vision of what we are trying to build, whether it's more on the design/animation side, or photoreal. 


LBB> We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?

Chingtien> There will always be something that you want to fix. Usually the budget and deadline are set in stone, so I follow our calendar and my supervisor. Of course we want to make it look as amazing as possible, so finding a balance between time and perfection is a kind of art too.


LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?

Chingtien> Realtime is getting more and more powerful these days. It used to be specific to gaming, but with the technology evolving, it is becoming more and more important to the VFX industry. The demo in Unreal Engine 5 already looks like a traditional render. I am curious about how this will affect the traditional VFX pipeline and how it will help speed up our process.


LBB> Speaking of that, how have you navigated your role during Covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.

Chingtien> It took me a little time to get used to the new work style. Meetings with teams tend to take more time now than when you used to be able to simply point to a screen and explain what needed changes. Learning and sharing knowledge between the team is more challenging now, too. But overall it’s been a very good experience and I save a lot of time without my commute!


LBB> Are there any lessons you've learned / experiences that you've had from working during Covid that you'll be looking to keep with you once things hopefully get back to some form of normality?

Chingtien> I always prefer to work in an office and see my teammates face-to-face. I’ve been surprised that I can do work at home with the same level of productivity and I feel like I have more flexibility when it comes to my time. However, I still think there are some kinds of work, like when it comes to reviews, that are better in person. I believe a hybrid work environment could help with efficiency and work/life balance.


LBB> How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?

Chingtien> I was a lighting and compositing intern at Blue Sky Studios after I graduated from SVA. It was my first experience in feature animation, and I learned how lighting artists use lights to tell a story as well as convey emotion to audiences. Framestore was my first full-time job, where I specialised in commercial work. Advertising projects run much faster than film, so I was exposed to most VFX pipelines, had more interaction with the team and learned a lot from them. 


LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?

Chingtien> I would say the first three shots I did for an animated feature, Ferdinand. They were simple shots during my time as an intern, but it was the first time I got a chance to work on professional animation. When you see your name on a big screen, even though I was just an intern, it still feels very exciting and makes you proud of what you’ve accomplished.


LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why?

Chingtien> I just saw ‘Imaginary Iggy’ recently, a McDonald’s Christmas commercial that Framestore worked on. It’s a lovely, warm piece with a simple story. The character and story bring out all the emotion and pull at your heartstrings. Iggy is so cute and adorable, the team did a very good job to bring the character to life.

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Framestore - Chicago, Thu, 02 Dec 2021 10:48:23 GMT