Character Technical Director Qiao Wang talks building Rocket the Racoon for ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

When watching your favorite film, it is easy to become so immersed in the movie magic that you forget about all the hard work it took to make it so. Every single frame requires many talented individuals, beyond the actors you see on camera. Qiao Wang is one of those people, working hard to leave a lasting impression on those that see his work. As an industry leading Character Technical Director and Character Effects Artist, Wang uses his combined talents of technology and art to create iconic characters in blockbuster films and national commercials.

Throughout his career, Wang has worked on several prolific projects, spanning from Justin Timberlake’s award-winning music video “Filthy”, commercials for world renowned companies such as Target and Lexus, and movies like Marvel’s record-breaking Avengers: Infinity War, the last of which he credits as the highlight of his impressive career.

“I am a big fan of Marvel's superheroes, and I am very into their powers, weaknesses, abilities, character design, and stories behind each of them. I wanted to be part of it to build up the characters performance, and their personality and appearance. I thought it’d be super cool to create the characters and make them come alive and tell their stories,” he said.

When Wang first started working on the show, he was responsible for creating rigs (skeleton animation and animation controls) for the escape pod, spaceship, and the massive Nidavellir environment. These are a little faster than character setup, as they do not require a lot of deformation setup. After this was completed, he started working on building rigs for digital double characters Thor, and Etri. Then his tasks became more and more complex.

“Without rigging, animators wouldn’t be able to move the characters, vehicles, or spaceships at all. Without character effects, character’s performances would feel cheap and not as vivid. Character TD and character FX roles are extremely technical and artistic within the pipeline, I need to create custom controls, muscle systems and more in order to provide the animators with what they need in order to move the characters. I am like a bridge connecting model making and animation, then after animation is done, I will be using a variety of techniques to create character FX to finalize character’s performance in shots,” Wang described.

One of Wang’s main responsibilities for the film was building Rocket the Raccoon, one of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and a fan favorite. The raccoon is incredibly life like, with the exception of the gun slinging and talking, so Wang had quite the task ahead of him. Every piece of fur had to be carefully designed to replicate a real racoon, despite CGI.

Wang created character effects mainly for Rocket’s suit and fur. On Rocket’s suit, there were 15 parts that required simulation: armor, bag, shoulder pad, belt, and some other small accessories. Marvel’s art direction on Rocket’s fur performance is very strict, and the goal was to avoid seeing an ’S’ curvature shaped fur simulation result, instead, Wang and his team wanted to create ’C’ curvature shaped fur simulation and motion.

“Rocket is one of my favourite Marvel superheroes. I really like his outfit, personality, and the fluffy fur is a lot of fun to generate,” he said.

Wang faced many challenges while creating the beloved character. When Rocket blinked or squinted, his whiskers at the eye corners would cross and cause a 'scissor' shaped artifact. To overcome this, Wang ended up bending the simulation curves at one frame and created an offset before the pre-roll period to fix this kind of artifact. Also, Wang needed to be very careful when dealing with the collision between fur and cloth, especially the fur and armor as they collided all over the character’s body, such as shoulder pad, armpits, and neck area. Few artists chose to use the 'MeshCut Modifier' in XGen to trim the fur collision, however, Wang found that this could interfere with the primitive order, and cause fur rendering errors. To solve this collision issue, he developed a python script that he could run in pre-roll period in simulation, creating a virtual collision object that slowly pushed down the fur below the armors to give an excellent start position for simulation. For some special situations, such as dealing with the base of the tail, he used a tweak deformer to bend the sim curves so there was enough space for motion. This tool significantly improved the simulation time.

“In this project, the assets, characters, vehicles, and environment are a lot more complex than any other production I’ve experienced, so I really enjoyed the problem-solving process and eventually conquered those more difficult challenges. The extremely high-quality standards of the film really pushed me to create new stuff and become a better character TD. The whole post-production went very smooth, and the pipeline and coordination were very well organized, so every artist could really focus on creating the best imagery possible,” said Wang.

Avengers: Infinity War shattered box office records, generating $2,032,100,775 USD worldwide so far and is still being shown in theatres. It is people like Wang who make this possible, paying such attention to detail that every strand of fur on Rocket is a work of art.

Audiences can expect the same from Wang’s upcoming films, including Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck it Ralph Two, Godzilla: King of Monsters, and another superhero flick, X-Men: The New Mutants 2.0. Of course, we also have one of the most highly anticipated films ever, the second part of Avengers: Infinity War to look forward to next year.

“My plans for the near future are to create better technology and more efficient tools to enhance our workflow and pipeline to help improve character’s body and facial performance, and animation performance for potential upcoming shows, and for the whole VFX and filmmaking industry,” Wang concluded.

Written by Sara Fowler

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