Ready Player One, Aquaman, Avengers: Infinity War, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Free Guy — what do all these movies have in common? Aside from being Hollywood hits, these blockbusters are also known for their extensive and stunning visual effects that have received awards and praises. These realistic visuals are the work of teams of artists, animators, and more, including BFA in Digital Art and Animation graduate Teo Hong. Teo Hong is currently a 3D generalist at Scanline VFX, an award-winning visual effects (VFX) studio with seven locations globally. He is currently working in the Seoul studio, where he has been based for just over a year.
Like many fellow DigiPen Dragons, Teo Hong’s origin story started with a personal interest in comics and manga. He was first exposed to these as a teenager, and his love for the medium prompted him to start drawing his own cartoons. “I turned into an otaku,” Teo Hong says candidly. “I wasn’t someone with a big dream in the beginning. I just picked up drawing and slowly got better at it over time.” This passion led him to pursue a Diploma in Digital Media Design (Animation) from Nanyang Polytechnic back in 2005. Upon graduating, Teo Hong found work as a 3D modeler for a children’s show. “I thought that that was it for the rest of my life,” he says.
A few years later in 2008, DigiPen (Singapore) was born. This news piqued Teo Hong’s interest, but it wasn’t until 2010 when DigiPen (Singapore) started its partnership with Singapore Institute of Technology that he decided to further his studies and enroll. Studying at DigiPen (Singapore) helped to expand Teo Hong’s skills and perspectives as an artist as he advanced his craft. After obtaining his degree in 2013, Teo Hong joined Industrial Light & Magic as a 3D generalist. He is quick to point out that despite the job title, his scope of work was actually clearly defined. “In a big VFX house, what you do is very specific, even when there is a generalist title,” Teo Hong explains. He adds that what each studio terms as a generalist is very different, and there is no way to know the specifications unless one asks.
Under Industrial Light & Magic, generalists actually refer to the former matte painting department. Matte painting is a technique where filmmakers combine a painted visual representation of a landscape or set with live-action footage to create the illusion of an environment that is not physically there. Teo Hong spent over six years in this role, working with his team to create, light, and render computer-graphic environments for a long list of exciting titles — including the ones at the start of this article. Though he enjoyed his work, Teo Hong had always wanted to experience working overseas. “One of the pros of the VFX industry is the need for artists all over the world,” he says. “It is common practice to relocate for work.” He took a leap of faith when a Canadian studio reached out to him in 2020. Seizing the opportunity, Teo Hong resigned and packed his bags to make the move. This was right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Teo Hong’s plans were ultimately disrupted due to border closures.
With cinemas closed and film projects delayed, Teo Hong decided to take a break. A few months later in November 2020, his former company reached out to him as they needed more manpower. Teo Hong agreed to help out on a part-time basis, working on three projects during this time: WandaVision, Lord of the Rings, and Red Notice. By early 2021, the VFX industry started picking up again, and Scanline VFX reached out to Teo Hong regarding a position in Seoul. He gladly accepted and promptly relocated.
Teo Hong is a senior 3D generalist at Scanline VFX. In his studio, generalists work across the look development and lighting departments. Look development helps to establish a show or movie’s overall artistic style and direction, ensuring consistency in all the computer-generated characters, creatures, and objects. For Teo Hong, a typical day at work will see him texturing and shading 3D models. When that’s done, he then lights and renders these models before passing them on to the compositor department. He is currently part of the VFX team behind The Gray Man, an upcoming action thriller starring Chris Evans and Ryan Gosling.
Though South Korea is known for its hierarchical culture, the move overseas was a smooth one for Teo Hong, as Scanline VFX is a multinational corporation. He is also still working from home due to the pandemic and is glad to have enthusiastic and friendly colleagues to help him assimilate. “We host office Zoom parties sometimes, and everyone turns up and participates,” he says. This has cushioned the transition and made it easier to adapt.
Having forged a career in the VFX industry for over a decade, Teo Hong has gained a confidence and adeptness in his work that comes with experience. He looks forward to working with his team to improve the current workflows and pipelines to maximize efficiency, produce great work, and attract new talents. “Seeing my name get credited in the latest blockbusters gets old after a while — the real deal is being able to inspire the next generation of VFX artists by sharing my experiences,” Teo Hong says.