Previsualization Artist Wei Li talks “Captain Marvel” and passion for her craft
Filmmaking is an enormously collaborative effort, but it is easy to forget the many people it took to make your favorite movie a reality when you are watching it. Actors, directors, makeup artists, costume designers, the list goes on and on, and in the visual effects world, they are often all clumped together. However, as a renowned previsualization artist, China’s Wei Li is a master of her niche craft.
“The reason why I got into previsualization is because I love animation and film. Previsualization is a perfect combination of those two things. We use animation to explore the storytelling for films. I enjoy animating characters, creatures, props, vehicles and also telling stories with animation. Camera is another reason why I like previsualization; manipulating the virtual camera in the 3D world to find the best angle for the shot is a very interesting concept to me,” she says.
Li has been recognized around the world for her talents. She took home the award for Best Animation at the Euro Fest International Film Festival 2018 and Best Short Film Animation at the Feel the Reel International Film Festival 2017 for her work on Tiny Wing, and she has put her touch on some of the world’s biggest movies, including Avengers: End Game, Bumblee, Godzilla: King of Monsters, and more. She is undeniably talented, but it is her passion for what she does that makes her a force to be reckoned with.
“Being a previsualization artist means you know about the story from the beginning and you are the one to visualize the story at the first step. It decides a lot of things for the production afterwards, so I can be very creative and have a lot of freedom for the style or action design of a movie. Also, there are a lot of physical animations I can do for previsualization, which is pretty fun,” she says.
Li enjoys the storytelling element that goes with her job, not just the artistry, so working on a project with a great story is very important to her. As a fan of the Marvel films, she was honored when she was asked to be a part of Captain Marvel, featuring the franchise’s first female led film. Not only was it an important installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story is also empowering for women everywhere, and Li wanted to do her part in sharing that.
“As a female artist in the film industry, I felt honored to be able to work on this film and contribute my story ideas from a perspective of a female artist. This was the first lead female superhero for the Marvel movies, and the directors wanted to find leading female artists to work on the film. It was a kind of spirit support, and also because we could have some opinions and ideas from the female perspective. For example, when I designed the action of Captain Marvel’s battle mode, I tried to make it more flowy and elegant to separate her from other male superheroes’ action style,” says Li.
Li worked on the entire visualization process for Captain Marvel, which took over nine months. Artists normally work on individual shots because of the shot complexity and efficiency. However, Li had a chance to work on some mini sequences on her own to design the physical action and camera movement. One of these scenes is when Carol (Captain Marvel herself) is locked on the mind control machine upside down at the Skrull Lab, and then she charges her superpowers and breaks out. She enjoyed having such creative control over these pivotal moments.
On top of her work as an artist, Li was also a leader of her team. She was working on the film for its entirety during the VFX stage, and when new artists would come on, she would train them, helping them learn the story development for the film, some specific tools used for the show, and what clients were looking for in this film production. This included wider camera selection, clear and smooth action design, 90s art style for lighting and texture, etc.
“It was great joining the story development and visualization from the beginning. The more effort and time you put into a movie, the stronger connection you will feel to it. Captain Marvel has a very positive spiritual energy. She is always brave and gets right back up after falling down. The flashback style of the movie makes me more engaged in her story, following her steps to find out who she is and what is the goal of her life. Making the audience feel immersed is very important for a film. It helps them understand the character and better enjoy the story, and I was really a part of that whole process,” she says.
Captain Marvel was released on February 27th, 2019 and grossed a whopping $1.128 billion at the box office. It won seven awards and received 38 nominations around the world, unanimously praised for its visual effects. As such a key member of this step, Li is proud of what she achieved.
“It was a great experience working on this movie, and I turned out to be a fan of Captain Marvel. My friends and family are so proud of me working on this show, and I proved myself a professional previsualization artist,” she concludes.