Alt.VFX’s creative director of technology, Raymond ‘Ray’ Leung has been at the forefront of adopting new technologies since he joined the Australian company in 2015. As someone who’s always had an eye for technology and the way it blends with creativity to create something that stands out, Ray knew from an early age that to succeed he’d have to combine his passions of technology and art together.
A chance encounter led to him working on the PlayStation3 game L.A. Noire and from there, in a bid to do something different, he was an animator on children’s television shows. Ray may have gone around plenty of different paths to get to where he is today but the experiences he’s gained have meant he’s worked on campaigns for Marvel, Toyota, Cadbury’s and Facebook’s SparkAR platform to name but a few.
LBB’s Natasha Patel caught up with Ray to hear more.
LBB> Your childhood was spent making artwork for games, would you say this is where your appreciation for technology started?
Raymond> I think a lot of it had to do with having access to technology. I remember my parents worked really hard to get our family a computer and internet at a very young age. I think that this coupled with the also playing videos, definitely kicked started a passion for technology.
LBB> How did you go from there to working on the PS3 game L.A. Noire?
Ray> During high school, I was very active on a bulletin board/forum that was focused on Pixel Art. So I spent my afternoons illustrating tiny pieces of pixel art and sharing it online. From there I started working on small mobile phones and Gameboy games creating pixel art and animation. After graduating, and not having made it into University, I did a year of tertiary education in 3D animation and visual effects. It just so happened that during that time Team Bondi had opened up their studios in Sydney and a lot of our classmates had been hired there and when I finished up with the 3D course I was hired at the same studio.
LBB> It's interesting that from there you completely pivoted and went to children's TV animation. Would you say the different experiences gave you a good grounding to tackle any brief?
Ray> I'd say so, while I am definitely not an animator I do feel like I have a good sense of motion and most of it stems from working with animation on 2D pixel art. Where you only have a very limited number of frames to communicate the action. Pivoting to children's TV animation was a nice transition into the 3D animation world because I'd say that the finish on most of these shows are more easily attained by a smaller and junior team.
LBB> In 2010 you worked on AR for Toyota, tell us more about the nitty gritty details of this and what technologies you used?
Ray> This was very early on before AR was such a big thing now, I remember it being for the Australian Motor Show. At the time I was working with a studio doing a lot or print imagery for Toyota and Lexus cars and so I had access to all these high-resolution CAD models of their cars. I thought it would be a fun idea to try and bring these cars into a game engine because of my prior experience with game development.
Around this time, Unity was pretty popular and so I optimised one of the cars so that we could run a 3D version of the car in real time and let a user pan and tilt around it, this test ultimately lead to the AR experience when I was further playing around with an AR plugin called VUFORIA and so the final experience ended up being and AR app for an iPad that allowed the users to visualise a Toyota Corolla's features.
LBB> A chance trip to New York led you to The Mill, what was it about the role that made you want to move across the world to NY?
Ray> I had always wanted to work abroad and work at an international studio that had done some amazing work. When living in Australia the industry was very small and only had a limited number of studios and people you'd work with. So the idea of being able to start fresh and gain different insights into workflows and meeting people with knowledge that was innovative was very alluring. I applied at a lot of studios but ultimately ended up with a job at The Mill.
I learnt very quickly that while you can wake up and go to work and work on the project that you're assigned to can be enough for some people, for me it was always about trying to improve or experiment as well. My experiments and experience in game engines ultimately led me to do the same at The Mill, and meant that when people did have questions or ideas about these topics I would be the one to help out.
LBB> One of your early roles at Alt was a project in Kenya for Oxfam which was all done remotely, how easy was it to utilise technology for this project?
Ray> The technology at this stage was still very early on and most of the software that we were using was still in Beta. I'm very proud of this project in particular mostly because I designed and fabricated our VR camera rig for this project. Our main concerns though was how the camera would handle the 40 degree days in Kenya.
LBB> Your work with Marvel took you into the world of fashion and beauty via a 3D project, can you tell us more about this and the challenges that came with the project?
Ray> That job was one of the most incredible interactive jobs I worked on. It was for a fashion magazine called Garage Magazine and at the time we had done AR covers for them before that entailed us 3D scanning some supermodels and applying some 3D designs over the faces, that job ultimately led to this Marvel collaboration. We pitched them this idea, and told them that the technology that they were using wasn't going to work with our idea. So we built them a brand new application and ported over all the AR content from all the back issues just so that we could create these Marvel covers for them.
LBB> A recent-ish campaign you worked on was for Cadbury Secret Santa last Christmas. How did the idea of this project come about and how is it one that can be taken forward into the future?
Ray> This project came to us from a previous relationship we had with some of the Facebook Creative Shop strategists and some experiential work we had done for the client. We see this kind of idea best used as a way to create content at a rapid pace. Being able to have a character respond and react to current events via live streams and generating thousands of personalised procedurally generated ads using real time rendering is something that could be done also.
LBB> You were part of the team that tested Facebook’s SparkAR platform. How was that experience?
Ray> Back in 2017 Facebook had just introduced Spark AR to a handful of people globally to beta test their platform. I was lucky enough to be invited as part of that small handful of creators that was given that opportunity.
LBB> How easy is it to blend creativity in technology in today's world?
Ray> There's actually no way around it, our lives are all so connected now that almost every piece of creative has technology wrapped around it in some way.
LBB> What are your favourite technologies to work with?
Ray> We bounce between Unity and Unreal in terms of game engines, but the studio runs on a variety of software. From Maya, Houdini, Nuke, to Cinema 4D and After Effects as a company mantra we generally just try and use what's available instead of trying to create our own systems and proprietary software unless it's absolutely required
LBB> What impact has Covid had on Australia's tech field?
Ray> We've actually been very lucky, a lot of clients and work have generally been done remotely for clients overseas. So our teams have all been exposed to the idea of working remotely and have managed to successfully navigate this issue with minimal impact.
LBB> Outside of work who is Ray and how does he pass his time?
Ray> Family is very important to me, so a lot of my time is spent being with them. Outside of that, video games :D