In conversation with Jingyu Li on her passion for visual effects industry

In conversation with Jingyu Li on her passion for visual effects industry

A journey into visual enchantment with Jingyu Li

Jingyu Li, a compelling force in the realm of visual arts, began her journey in childhood, captivated by comic books, animations, and fantasy movies. Her early fascination with these imaginative worlds led her to major in animation at university, where she discovered her passion for visual effects. This field allowed her to blend technical expertise with creative storytelling, bringing impossible scenes to life.

Driven by a desire to contribute to the magical cinematic experiences that once enchanted her, Jingyu pursued a career in the visual effects industry. Each project is an opportunity for her to weave enchantment into her work, fulfilling childhood dreams and pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling. Her dedication to both personal and professional growth defines her remarkable journey as a CG artist.

Joining us for this special spotlight feature, we have the enchanting Jingyu Li in our midst who is a real force in the realm of visual arts. Thank you for graciously gifting us with your time to talk about your artistry! Please start off by telling us what was the particular point in time that you decided you wanted to pursue being an artist?

Thank you for the warm introduction! My journey towards becoming an CG artist began in my childhood, although I didn’t realize it at the time. As a child, I was mesmerized by comic books, animations, and fantasy movies. While others might have been playing outside, I was often found immersed in these vibrant and imaginative worlds, preferring the company of these stories over conventional play. These mediums weren’t just entertainment for me, they were profound sources of inspiration, sparking a deep fascination with the worlds they created.

This passion carried into my teenage years, which is when I realized that this interest could actually lead to a career. In university, I chose to major in animation, where I explored various aspects of visual arts. It was during this time that I discovered my particular affinity for visual effects—the art of bringing impossible scenes to life. 

Driven by the desire to contribute to the kind of stories that enchanted me, I decided to pursue a career in the visual effects industry. I aimed to be part of creating those captivating cinematic experiences, to contribute to the magic on the big screen. Each project I work on is an opportunity to weave a little of that magic. It’s not only fulfilling my childhood dreams but also adding to the grand narrative of cinema.

In conversation with Jingyu Li on her passion for visual effects industry

Can you share a behind-the-scenes look at your creative process and any rituals or routines you follow before starting a new piece?

Certainly, my creative process varies significantly between personal projects and work projects. In the work environment, projects are typically driven by client specifications and requirements, whereas personal projects provide a broader scope for creative exploration and expression. When embarking on a personal project, my initial step is always to define the theme I want to explore. This thematic clarity guides all subsequent decisions in the creative process. I begin with comprehensive research, collecting reference materials that range from photographs and real-world objects to other artworks and cinematic influences. This research is crucial not just for aesthetic inspiration but also to understand the technical feasibilities of bringing my vision to life.

In the world of CG, creation follows a structured workflow that includes concept development, modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering. My approach usually starts with sketching preliminary ideas, which could be traditional paper sketches or digital mock-ups. These sketches are essential for setting the tone and visual direction of the piece and act as a reference point throughout the development process. Once I have a solid concept and mood defined, I move into the modeling stage and start the making progress. For personal projects, I enjoy integrating music into my workflow. Music, being a form of art itself, often inspires and influences the aesthetic and emotional undertones of my work. 

As for rituals, I prioritize maintaining a clean and organized workspace. I find that a tidy environment minimizes distractions and enhances my focus and clarity. This allows for a smoother and more productive creative flow. 

In conversation with Jingyu Li on her passion for visual effects industry

What can you tell us about cultivating your work specifically for films and TV shows? What did your process look like compared to working on personal projects?

Cultivating work specifically for films and TV shows requires a different approach compared to personal projects. Professional projects usually need collaboration across different departments and must meet the specific requirements of large-scale productions. When working on films and TV shows, the process is more structured and involves several stages, from CG and FX to animation and compositing. Each stage demands a high level of coordination and communication with various departments, from directors to artists, to ensure the final output meets the project’s vision and standards.

In professional settings, the workflow begins with understanding the project requirements and the director’s vision. This involves attending meetings, reading notes for each shot, and reviewing concept art to grasp the desired look and feel of the project. Once the initial direction is clear, detailed schedules and milestones are created to manage the workload effectively. Working on professional projects often involves tight deadlines, so time management and efficiency are crucial. I generally start by prioritizing tasks according to their urgency, tackling high-priority tasks first and then moving on to lower-priority ones.

The technical pipeline in professional projects is also more complex. Each studio has its own tools and pipeline, and I need to ensure compatibility with other departments, such as animation and compositing, and adhere to the studio’s established workflows and standards. Regular reviews and feedback sessions are integral to this process, as they allow for iterative improvements and ensure the work aligns with the overall creative direction. 

In contrast, personal projects offer more creative freedom and flexibility. The process is typically more relaxed and allows for experimentation without the constraints of strict deadlines or client requirements. I can explore new techniques, tools, and styles that I might not have the opportunity to use in professional settings. Personal projects are driven by my own artistic vision and interests, so I can take my time to refine every detail to my satisfaction.

While the technical aspects of creating CG work remain consistent, the key difference is the level of collaboration and adherence to external guidelines.  Professional projects demand a balance between creative expression and meeting the expectations of the production team and audience. Personal projects, on the other hand, provide a platform for personal growth and artistic exploration, allowing me to push the boundaries of my creativity.

Overall, cultivating work for films and TV shows involves a more structured, collaborative, and deadline-driven process, while personal projects offer a chance to experiment and develop my unique artistic style. Both types of work are essential for my growth as a CG artist, as they each provide valuable experiences and opportunities to hone different skills.

How would you describe your personal artistic brand or style? How important is individualization when working in the visual arts arena?

In defining my personal artistic style, I’m continuously exploring and evolving. Presently, my work embodies a fusion of realism and artistic expression. I’m drawn to intricacy and detail, often drawing inspiration from real-life observations. For instance, in my “Still Life” piece, I meticulously incorporated observed details into textures, striving for a photorealistic outcome. Additionally, I have some works that involves integrating elements that may not exist in the real world but feel as if they could, grounding the fantastical in a layer of believability.

In the visual effects industry, although it heavily relies on team collaboration to finish projects, individualization is crucial. It’s not just about standing out or working alone; it’s about bringing a unique perspective and set of skills to the table. This uniqueness can be a key contributor to innovation and creativity in projects, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in visual storytelling. In the realm of visual effects, individualization means you can infuse personal creativity into projects that might otherwise lean towards generic solutions. It allows for the development of signature techniques and aesthetics that can become highly sought after by studios looking to create specific visual narratives or atmospheric effects.

Overall, while collaboration and adaptability are key in visual effects, maintaining a distinct personal style is equally vital. It not only enhances your contributions to collaborative projects but also ensures that your artistic voice remains clear and impactful in the visually dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of the visual arts.

How do you define success as an artist, and what goals do you have for your artistic career in the future?

Defining success as an artist, for me, revolves around the impact and fulfillment that my work brings—not just to myself but to the audience and the broader community within the visual effects industry. Success is when my work contributes meaningfully to a project, enhancing the storytelling and engaging viewers in unique and memorable ways. It’s also about personal growth, constantly pushing my boundaries and mastering new techniques that keep my work innovative and relevant.

My goals for the future of my artistic career are multifaceted. Firstly, I aim to continue evolving my skill set, especially with emerging technologies and methodologies in the visual effects field. Staying at the forefront of technological advancements allows me to integrate the latest tools and techniques into my work, ensuring that the visual effects I create are not only state-of-the-art but also pushing the envelope in terms of creativity and execution.

Another significant goal is to take on larger, more challenging projects that have a substantial impact on the audience and the industry. I aspire to work in roles where I can contribute not just through my individual tasks but also by guiding and mentoring younger artists. Sharing knowledge and helping to develop the next generation of artists is incredibly important to me, as it ensures the ongoing vitality and innovation of the visual effects community.

Ultimately, I also seek to develop a distinctive artistic voice that resonates within the industry. I want my work to be recognized not only for its technical excellence but also for its artistic integrity and creativity. By achieving this, I aim to contribute to larger dialogues within the industry about the role and future of visual effects in storytelling.

What sort of things motivate you to keep creating and growing your craft? Do you find intrinsic or extrinsic motivation? Or both?

My motivation to keep creating and refining my craft in visual effects is driven by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, each playing a significant role in pushing me forward in my career.

Intrinsically, I am deeply passionate about storytelling and the power of visual effects to bring imaginative concepts to life. The satisfaction of seeing a project come together, from initial sketches to the final scenes on screen, is incredibly fulfilling. I thrive on the challenge of solving complex visual problems and the continuous learning that my field requires. The process of creating something new and seeing it impact viewers positively fuels my inner drive and is a significant source of motivation.

Extrinsically, the feedback and recognition from peers, supervisors, and audiences also motivate me. Positive feedback reassures me that my work is impactful and appreciated, while constructive criticism is equally motivating as it pushes me to improve and address areas where I can grow. Being part of a community that values innovation and creativity encourages me to keep pushing the boundaries of what I can achieve with visual effects.

Additionally, the visual effects industry is highly dynamic and competitive, which externally motivates me to stay updated with the latest technologies and artistic trends. Keeping pace with industry standards and occasionally leading through innovation helps me maintain a competitive edge and ensures that my skills remain relevant and sought after.

Both forms of motivation are crucial. The intrinsic passion keeps me loving what I do every day, while the extrinsic factors provide the benchmarks and feedback necessary to shape my growth in a structured and rewarding way. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of being an artist of your caliber?

One of the most challenging aspects of being an artist at my level in the visual effects industry is maintaining a balance between innovation and production demands. The field is fast-paced and technically demanding, requiring constant adaptation and learning to keep up with new software, techniques, and industry standards. This can be exhilarating but also daunting as the pressure to deliver visually stunning work under tight deadlines is high.

Another significant challenge is the continuous personal and professional growth required to remain at the forefront of the industry. This means dedicating time to personal projects that foster creativity and innovation outside of commercial work and continuously seeking out opportunities for learning and development. 

Furthermore, there’s the aspect of mental and emotional resilience. Visual effects work is highly detail-oriented and can sometimes become repetitive and taxing. Keeping a fresh perspective and staying motivated, especially during long projects with iterative feedback cycles, requires a robust mental and emotional approach.

Each of these challenges requires a thoughtful balance of creativity, technical skill and personal management. Overcoming them is part of what makes working in visual effects rewarding, as it not only tests my abilities as an artist but also continuously pushes me to grow and excel.

What advice would you give to emerging artists who are just starting out on their own creative journey?

To emerging artists embarking on their creative journey in the visual effects industry, the first and most important thing is to master the fundamentals. I have made a tutorial for CG beginners, and I often encounter the misconception among new students that mastering software is the key to success. However, a solid understanding of the basics, whether it’s design fundamentals or software fundamentals, is crucial depending on the direction you want to pursue.

If you aspire to be an artist, the artistic fundamentals are more important than software fundamentals. Conversely, if you aim to be a technical artist, then mastering software is paramount. The fundamentals serve as the foundation for all your future work, enabling you to apply more advanced techniques effectively and creatively. Invest time in mastering these basic skills through dedicated study and practice.

Continuous learning is vital in the ever-evolving field of visual effects. The technology and methodologies change rapidly, making it essential to stay updated. Engage in online courses, workshops, and tutorials. This not only keeps your skills fresh but also ensures you remain competitive and informed about the latest industry trends.

A strong portfolio is indispensable. It is your primary tool for showcasing your abilities and style to potential employers or clients. Ensure it highlights your best work, demonstrates a range of skills, and is regularly updated as you complete new projects and acquire new skills. A well-curated portfolio can open doors and distinguish you in a crowded field.

Networking is another critical element. Building connections within the industry can lead to opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach. Engage actively with other professionals through industry groups, forums, and professional gatherings. These relationships can offer support, advice, and potentially lead to job opportunities. Especially for newcomers, networking serves as a gateway to accessing job opportunities and establishing oneself in the industry.

All images courtesy of Jingyu Li, shared with permission

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