Here, Mejia speaks to CGW
about his work and his innate ability to push the limits of design, technology and computer engineering.
How did you get interested in digital art?
I loved drawing as a youngster and creating art. I started off drawing superheroes — particularly Dragon Ball Z characters. I was really passionate about this. Then, as a professional water skier, I learned to draw on my boardshorts and started selling them during tournaments. As I reached the end of high school, I wasn’t particularly interested on any of the subjects in school, and drawing still motivated me a lot. Therefore, I decided to pursue my passion and enrolled in graphic design because I wasn’t that good of an illustrator. Graphic design didn’t motivate me as much, so I used my free time to learn 3D, which turned into my profession.
Where did you go to school?
I studied graphic design at MICA in Baltimore. Then I studied (SideFX) Houdini in Spectrum CG for two years, and I continue studying with YouTube videos and tutorials during my free time.
What do you find fulfilling about 3D?
It feels very comforting every time I create something from my own creative ideas, where I can express myself and make the images in my head a reality.
Do you also do non-digital artwork?
Not really. I used to love drawing, but everything needs practice to achieve a high level, so I have spent all my time and effort learning Houdini in the last years, so I haven’t drawn in a long time now.
Why do you prefer digital methods?
I prefer digital methods because it involves the tools I know how to use and allows me to create captivating images. I still find traditional art intriguing, however, I’d much rather use the tools I know. With time, I’ve found that I can creative traditional-looking work with digital methods as well, and that is very fulfilling.
For Shang-Chi, how much direction were you given by the filmmakers?
I was specifically given a lot of direction by the team at Perception. They had a vision of creating liquid simulations, and that empowered me to use the tools I know best in Houdini and enabled me to put together a solid concept that won the pitch.
What look were you going for?
I was inspired by the work from Elastic on the main titles for Daredevil. This liquid look has always inspired me in the past, years before having the chance to use liquids on a feature. This also helped me shape the idea of creating iconic imagery with the use of simulations.
Where did you draw inspiration from for this particular work?
The inspiration was drawn to a certain extent from Daredevil’s main titles. However, I was provided really beautiful liquid simulation work from the team at Perception, and from there, I tried to stay away from too much reference to try creating something unique.
What other tools did you use?
The work I did was entirely in Houdini. The team at Perception used the simulations I would make to bring them into Cinema 4D, and then composite in After Effects.
Was there anything unique about the process?
The process I used in Houdini was very unique because of the way I used normals in the geometry to drive the liquids in very art-directable ways. This helped the directors of the film manipulate the liquids in specific motions. The techniques and tools were things I had practiced for years. It has taken me a lot of time to understand the limitations of liquid simulations, and it was definitely relieving to see them useful on this project.
Tell me about the simulations, particles, and so forth.
Liquid simulations come from particle simulations. In other words, particles are points that move with physical properties to real-life materials. In this case, we simulated the particles to look like water using a solver called Flip Fluids. These particles are then meshed, which means they form geometry, and this geometry looks like sculptures.
What was the most challenging aspect, and how did you overcome that?
The challenge here was controlling the liquids to move in slow motion at certain moments of the piece. It is hard to defy laws of physics, even when creating visual FX.
Did you do the work yourself or did you have others working with you?
There were a lot of more people involved in the project. This kind of project start at a smaller scale during pitch and design phases, which I was much more involved with alongside the creative director at Perception. Then after we won the pitch, a lot more people were brought onto the project because of the crazy amount of work that has to be done to live up to Marvel’s standards of perfection.
How long did it take to do from concept to completion?
This project took several months to execute. From negotiations, to concept, pitch, execution and delivery, I would calculate about six months.
How long is the sequence?
The titles are approximately1minute long.