Gotta render 'em all: Dal grad helps make POKÉMON fur fly

- June 11, 2019

Dal grad Suwen Wang shows off some of his handiwork: the fur of Pikachu from the recently released POKÉMON Detective Pikachu film. (Provided photo)
Dal grad Suwen Wang shows off some of his handiwork: the fur of Pikachu from the recently released POKÉMON Detective Pikachu film. (Provided photo)

If you’re watching the new POKÉMON Detective Pikachu movie and wondering how character animations have become so realistic, Suwen Wang (BCS ‘07) may help to explain.

Wang was working as a software developer for MPC Film in Vancouver, a global leading visual effects (VFX) studio, during production of the movie. MPC Film have worked on many high-profile movies including the Harry Potter movies, 2016’s The Jungle Book, and the upcoming remake of The Lion King.

“When I started with MPC I was assigned to a team that was developing software tools for animations and grooming that create realistic digital hair and fur, including for Pikachu,” explains Wang.

“For most of my time on the movie, I was working on MPC Film’s in-house fur and grooming software Furtility, where I would troubleshoot when artist scenes or assets weren’t working correctly in our vfx pipeline.”

Making his mark

The latest movie in the Pokémon franchise stars Ryan Reynolds and follows the story of a boy and a Pikachu who seeks to be a detective.

While working on POKÉMON Detective Pikachu, Wang made his mark through his involvement in helping to update software for usage on the production. “I helped to optimize Furtility’s rendering times,” explains Wang.

“Originally, it was taking a significant number of hours to create one frame of Pikachu, but implementing some smarter rendering techniques, we were able to reduce the rendering time by at least 50 per cent. Rendering fur can take so long due to the large number of digital curves required to create the realistic look.”

Since wrapping up work on the movie, Wang has moved on to a different VFX studio. He is currently with Pixomondo, a studio with a notable portfolio with projects including the design of the dragons on Game of Thrones, and work on movies including Mary Poppins Returns and Justice League.

“I’m still working on character effects as a pipeline TD at Pixomondo but I am more tied to day-to-day production, so I have the opportunity to work with broader scope of vfx pipeline,” says Wang. “I am dealing with different issues every day.”

Branching out

He’s come a long way since his honours thesis work on 3D terrain rendering in the Faculty of Computer Science, supervised by Stephen Brooks. As an extension of the thesis, Wang worked on a one-year project with Dr. Brooks to develop a 3D geospatial information system to examine and test relationships between biodiversity, geography, and the environment.

A graduate degree in computer science at the University of British Columbia led him to the west coast where he remains today. His graduate thesis work provided both theory and practical experience in character creation and animation.

“I was looking into how a gorilla character can be modelled and then controlled,” explains Wang. “Gorillas are interesting as far as animated characters go as they have more asymmetrical body structure compared to other quadrupeds.”

He’s taken his experience to be involved with major movie projects and is looking forward to what may be ahead, and of course watching his work in action through the release of POKÉMON Detective Pikachu.


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