During our trip to Riot just over a month ago, the first thing we noticed was the large and very impressive Annie statue.
At the time, our guide let us know that it was created by the one and only Steve Wang, known for his work on Predator and numerous other creatures over the years. I recently had the chance to have Steve answer some questions for me about his work, including his recent work on the Lucian statue for Riot:
Mithrandiel: What sparked this passion for sculpting in you? Was there a particular moment when you were young that set you on this path, or were you a bit older when you decided that this was the profession for you?
Steve Wang: I was always fascinated with superhero and monster movies since I was 4 years old. That was also when I started drawing them as well. I emigrated to the United States from Taiwan when I was 9 and experienced my first Halloween. That changed my life. I saw full head latex rubber masks at a local toy store and immediately was blown away by the very idea of them. I started collecting masks till I was 14. At that point, I had about 30 masks, most of them bought with money I saved from doing chores. I wanted to know how to make them and started my research via library books and famous monster magazines. I found a tutorial about making latex masks in Cinemagic magazine and realized that in order to make masks, I had to learn how to sculpt them first. Armed with forks and spoons, I started practicing. That was 36 years ago. I am a self-taught artist.
M: You did a lot of work with Stan Winston when you were just starting out in the industry – what was the most important lesson you learned in your time with him?
SW: I as very self critical when I worked for Stan on Monster Squad and then Predator. I felt the work I did was never good enough, that if only I could have more time or a second chance, I would do better. I would often tell Stan this and usually after he pays me a compliment about the work I was doing. Then one day Stan told me that it’s ok to be proud of the work I did and not to always hate it. If I didn’t get any joy out of my own work, why was I doing it? It made a lot of sense to me and I changed. My experiences with my work has since become one fueled by my love, my passion and my joy for it.
M: Your sculptures are known to be incredibly detailed. On average, how long does it take you to complete a sculpture?
SW: Most of our projects are complicated both artistically and technically. If it’s a project that we have to create with traditional techniques like clay sculpting, on average it takes between 3-4 months with a crew. If it’s digital, we usually are able to do it in half the time or less.
M: Are you finding a lot of practical effects are being replaced with CGI in Hollywood? If that’s the case, how do you emphasize the importance of sculpted models to your peers and colleagues?
SW: Yes, CGI had definitely had a very negative impact to my industry and my type of work in terms of film. But any new technology that develops always does this to the older ways of doing things so it was to be expected. Technology waits for no one. I found myself doing less and less film work over the years. But the old saying, “When one door closes, another door opens.” rang true for me.
Years earlier, I turned down 2 high paying movie jobs to make a statue for Blizzard Entertainment of Nova, from their game Starcraft Ghost. The tiny budget barely covered the materials. I did it because I loved the challenge of the project. I chose my passion over money not knowing this relationship with Blizzard would eventually become the seed that grows into my full time business and open a lot of new doors for me and my studio.
My company, Alliance Studio inc. Is an entertainment design and build studio spear headed by my business partner Eddie Yang who is also another FX veteran. We are well versed in both digital and traditional mediums. My advice to all digital artists is to pick up some clay and play with it. Having some perspective and experience in the real world will help them to understand and create better sculptures in the digital world.
M: You’ve done some fantastic work for video games – more specifically Riot’s “League of Legends”, including your most recent statue featuring the hero Lucian. How did your partnership with Riot Games begin?
SW: My relationship with Riot began mostly the same way all my business relationships began, through word of mouth. Stephen Lim from Riot had contacted me because they had seen a bunch of statue work I had done for Blizzard and red 5 Studios. They wanted statues of their own champions. I met with them and we immediately hit it off. And 4 years and 6 statues and some other projects later…lol
M: Is creating creatures and statues for video games any different from the work you were doing before? If so, how?
SW: Basically it all the same skill sets. The main difference is instead of creating makeups and creature suits for actors to wear and let them bring it to life. We have to breath life into our statues via poses and lighting effects. It’s more like creating fine art with mixed media and an emphasis on hyper realism and fantasy and sci-fi themes.
We also are constantly challenged with creating things we have never done and so do a lot of R&D on each project. That part is always exciting and challenging.
M: What was the most challenging element of the Lucian statue?
SW: The lighting. It was the first time we had to create movement in the lighting that had to feel organic and have a life of its own. It was one of the most technically difficult and also was one of the more creatively challenging aspects of a project we’ve done.
M: Of all the work you’ve done to this point, which project stands out as the one that you’re most proud of?
SW: That’s a really hard question for me to answer. For me it’s like choosing which is your favorite child. I love them all equally and have fond memories of each one’s creation. I am also very proud of all of them and my crew for working so hard and being passionate about them.
M: Do you have any tips for the aspiring artists and sculptors out there?
SW: Have passion, have drive and you have to put in your hours to get good at it. When it comes to putting in the time, no one gets a fast pass! LOL
M: What’s next for you? Any teasers for your next creation?
SW: In 2 weeks from now there will be a big campaign for a secret project that we got to make some really cool things for. That will be a world wide launch with our creations debuting in 3 countries simultaneously. And in July, I get to unveil my second Bronze statue created for Blizzard Entertainment in a public park in Taiwan. That is one of those once in a lifetime type projects and I’m very excited to share with the world!
To see more work from Steve and his studio, check out their site: