Animator Tianyu Wu creates true ‘Wonder’ with AR Magic Leap game

As an internationally sought-after Animator, China’s Tianyu Wu does far more than sit behind a computer screen perfecting each frame, she brings characters to life; she creates all new worlds; she tells powerful stories. It is a rigorous process, taking a skeleton-like model of a character that she slowly completes with correct timing, spacing and appealing poses. In doing this, she also aims to make sure audiences can relate to her character’s emotion, and therefore analyzes how people express their thinking process with facial expressions and subtle actions to then recreate such details in her character. It is this attention to detail that makes her so outstanding at what she does, and such technicalities are also why she loves her craft so much. 

“Animation by nature is a very technical process. As I work on different scenes and projects, most of my time is spent looking at graphs and keyframes. After all that technical minutiae, I finally hit play and see a character come to life. I often start with a static character model, so it’s very satisfying to be the person who adds movement and soul. If I see any awkward movement, I continue to adjust until it looks natural and realistic. This gradual process of refinement takes time, but seeing the final result is extremely fulfilling. It’s a wonderful feeling to have contributed to the greater story,” said Wu.

Wu has worked on her share of films, such as the award-winning Sonder, and television series, like DC’s Stargirl, but she is best known for her work on video games. She will soon be starting Back 4 Blood, Turtle Rock Studios’ upcoming co-op zombie shooting that will be a spiritual successor to the immensely popular Left 4 Dead series, she recently wrapped up work on the highly anticipated PS5 exclusive Returnal and calls working on WWE2K19 a career highlight. 

Another major gaming project for Wu was Wonder X, an augmented reality (AR) game for the cutting-edge Magic Leap platform developed and published by The Grail VR. AR gaming is the integration of visual and audio content with the user’s environment in real time, using real world objects and locations in the game. With all her experience in animation Wu had yet to work on an AR game, and was immediately intrigued.

“Magic Leap has been on the forefront of mixed reality/AR development. Wonder X was created to be more proof-of-concept for the platform. I’m happy to know that I helped usher in this era of new gameplay. The technology itself was innovative. Wonder X helped push the boundaries of possibility, and I’m happy to have helped,” said Wu.

Wu was animation lead for the game and was responsible for most of the game and cinematic animation. She was the supervisor of her team and handled most of the animation responsibility. What she didn’t complete personally, she delegated to the team. She was trusted with a lot of authority, in charge of assigning and reviewing all the animation work that went into this project. Not only did she do character animation and gameplay, but also any cinematic elements that were included in the game. Every character and move that went into the game, she had a hand in. 

“With Wonder X, you would put on the magic leap headset, and the game would unfold wherever you stood. You could leave the house, go to a park, gameplay would interact with your environment. This really is the sci-fi fantasy future that many have imagined. The possibility of playing a game and seeing the characters stand beside you was brand new. As a gamer, this was definitely a massive paradigm-shift. No longer bound to a console and TV, Wonder X and a few games like it, were the leaders of this mixed reality experience,” said Wu.

Having the opportunity to test out the headset and this new technology while playing the character she helped to create was an amazing experience for Wu. Having the ability to bring her animation into the real world through the game was very memorable for her, and she looks forward to working on more AR games in the future.

“It was a fun feeling to work on the game, put it together, then see your work come to life. The animation I created would appear before me wherever I stood. If there was a monster, it would fall from the ceiling and land on a table in the room. One of the final bosses would dive into the floor and re-appear behind you (all virtually of course). It was truly amazing to see these virtual characters interacting with my environment,” she concluded.