Wei Li has always loved drawing, ever since she was a child growing up in the small town of Xinyang, China. Despite having this raw talent, she always considered it more of a hobby, never something that she could truly pursue as a fruitful career. Her mindset changed, however, when she saw the hit 2013 Dreamworks movie The Croods. Yes, she was entertained watching the cavemen family’s journey, but she was also intrigued by the artistry behind the 3D animation. She was studying creative aspects of the film, and it was the first time she considered that maybe her artistic skills could be more than just a passion, but also a career.
Now, Li is an internationally sought-after previsualization artist, a unique and skilled step of the animation process. As a previsualization artist, Li visualizes ideas and stories from script or storyboards, then translates those into 3D animation shots with camera movement, lighting and visual effects. It is a fun job for Li, but one that requires the utmost creativity, imagination and computer techniques.
Throughout her esteemed career, Li has worked on many blockbuster movies and acclaimed films, including Venom, Godzilla: King of Monsters, Alita: Battle Angel, Bumblee, Captain Marvel, and so many more, but the highlight for her came when working on the highest grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame.
“I’m a big fan of the Marvel series, so working on any movie in the cinematic universe is a dream. Working on the pinnacle of the previous 22 films in the series was just incredible. I improved a lot while working on this movie, which makes me a better previsualization artist and storyteller,” she said.
Everyone knows about the Avengers movies and the astronomical success of the final film of the original series. The film grossed 2.8 billion dollars at the box office, and it was the must-see film of 2019. For Li, being a part of such a film made all the hard work she had done throughout the years well worth it.
“I feel so lucky and honored to work on this project. My friends and family supported me a lot when I was working on it. After the movie came out, it became a worldwide phenomenon, with so much positive feedback. I still find it so exciting. Personally, it’s a big achievement for me as a professional previsualization artist, and the biggest so far in my career,” she said.
For all that have seen Endgame, or even a small clip of the film, it is evident how vital the animation and visual effects were to the success of the film. Also, there were extremely high expectations for the movie, and therefore the visual effects had to be the highest possible quality with the world’s leading VFX artists. Li was honored to take part in the film, and because she had experience working on other films for Marvel, she knew just what to do.
When it came to working on the previsualization, Li made several hero moment shots for the main characters like Quill, Valkyrie and War Machine with dynamic physical animation and camera movement. For the post visualization, there were a lot of technical problems she needed to figure out. It is tedious work, going through the hundreds of characters that are ultimately in such a large film, going over every detail to ensure perfection, but it was immensely rewarding when she saw the final cut of the movie.
“Endgame is one of the most interesting and challenging movies I’ve worked on. I worked on a chunk of shots for the final battle part with a few other artists for both previs and postvis. Those shots are at an immensely high level of difficulty, including complicated special effects such as fire explosions, smoke, dust, etc. and also hundreds of characters and creatures doing complex fighting actions. I am an adventurous person who likes taking on big challenges. With this film, I had the chance to do some complicated shots to show my creativity and skill, and it was life changing,” she said.
On top of the commercial success, Avengers: Endgame was a hit with critics. It boasts an incredible 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has taken home 60 awards out of 101 nominations around the world, including a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the 2020 Academy Awards. Obviously, Li is thrilled by such success, but it was sharing the conclusion of a story that is beloved by millions all over the world that was the true reward.
“I really like the story of the film. As the last film encapsulates the ten years of Marvel movies, it had such a satisfying ending and fun flashbacks to previous films that really brings it all together. For some VFX artists, they just do their work and pay no attention to the actual story, but I am not like that. Story is the core of all movies. No matter how good the CG quality is, if the story is not logical and great, the film still falls apart, so working on a film like Endgame really is the cream of the crop,” she said.
If you are in the minority at this point that has not yet seen Avengers: Endgame, it is currently available to stream on Disney+.