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Visual Effects Society Awards AAU Alumni Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Motion Picture

JungSeung Hong

When one of our own recent alumni, JungSeung Hong, was recently recognized for his work in “ Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” we couldn’t have been prouder.  The current Industrial Light & Magic employee was awarded Outstanding Animated Character in a Live Motion Picture award by the Visual Effects Society at their annual awards ceremony on February 11, 2007.  With his eye-catching capabilities to construct imaginary characters and with the accolades pouring in, I think it’s safe to say that we, too, might have created a monster.

AAU: What was your experience like as a student at the Academy of Art University?

JungSeung: I often stayed up late spending hours and hours doing the homework from the painting classes or animation classes.  Most of the classes were just plain fun as I knew they were my stepping stones for what I wanted to do, though, sometimes I would feel some of the mandatory classes were taking up too much time when I wanted to spend on exploring the tools further and understanding anatomy more in depth.  Since I was a foreign student, there was also a few times I felt really frustrated about classes that needed better communication skills.  I was already married when I first started at AAU, so I was very determined not to get fall behind.  I guess in the end I became a nerd since my grades paid off nicely.

AAU: What aspects about your current job were most easily translated because of your education at Academy of Art University?

JungSeung: Utilizing Maya and understanding modeling workflow in Maya, which I learned in classes, helps me a lot - even nowadays.  Though ILM uses its own in-house software for most of the work, having knowledge of Maya gives me flexibility of workflow as well as new ideas of how to approach modeling.

AAU: What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

JungSeung:  It varies, depending on which stage the production is on.  If it’s the beginning of the project, all I do is make models with many references photos, anatomy books, or the concept artworks beside me. As creature modeler, building characters is my usual job. While I build the model, I often ask my peers, supervisor, art director, and texture artists to establish which approach and process of making the character would benefit the production in which way and how it will help the other artists’ workflow.

What takes longer than building a character would be building the shapes for the character, which is usually the next step while the production gears up.  This sometimes takes up to several weeks if the character happens to play a main part of the movie.  Not only do I have to be accurate about the anatomical and physiological structure of the head which make facial expressions, I also need to be careful about the shapes for the lip sync, as enunciation can be a very tricky job since it also involves the linguistics, culture, expression, and the intent of the character all together.

Toward the end of production, I usually end up doing corrective shapes for countless shots after shots.  This process includes adding shapes to the shot to fix whatever problems the enveloping of the creature couldn't handle, or to enhance the performance by correcting anatomical balance inside the animation or by giving a touch of nuance that was lacking from the shape library.

AAU: How did you get your current gig at ILM?

JungSeung:  After I finished my final review at the end of my last semester, I made another reel, which I felt could be more suitable for ILM.  I sent the reel to ILM, though the recruiting post on their website although it didn’t say they were hiring a modeler.  I had heard that if you keep knocking on the door, that would be the best way of getting better chance.  A week later, I got a call from an ILM recruiter asking if I would be interested in doing an interview.

Since I didn’t have any work experience at all, my position at ILM started out at the bottom level for an ILM artist.  They offered me their minimum wage for a modeler and my contract was only for a 6 month period at the time.  But I was more than happy to get in, as I knew ILM would is a dream come true place for a modeler.  November 4th of 2002 became my first date as an ILMer.

The next thing I needed to do was to simply do my best.  There were so many talented artists around me, so I tried to absorb as much as possible.  I soon also realized my education was far from completion and I needed to grow much stronger and faster. I held an anatomy book when I was going to the bathroom, and I often attended sculpting sessions that ILM provides for the modelers.

AAU: In your opinion, what’s the most impressive use of Visual Effects in a movie that you have seen to date and why? 

JungSeung:  Can I say Pirates 2??  It's not because I built Davy Jones. Okay, maybe a little.  When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest first came out, the industry professionals all over the world thought that Davy Jones had partial human element composed with CG.  Many of them were so sure the eyes and lips were real actor's, they would say it even publicly.  When the news finally came out that Davy Jones was 100% CG, even then some of them couldn't believe it.  If you can cheat your fellow CG artists, than that just says it’s the most impressive, in my opinion.

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