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“A Culture Unlike Anywhere Else”: Inside Artjail New York with Jackie Liao and Adriana Wong


Artjail’s head of 3D and senior producer speak to LBB’s Adam Bennett about their unique creative influences, and the surprising rewards of taking the roads less-travelled

“A Culture Unlike Anywhere Else”: Inside Artjail New York with Jackie Liao and Adriana Wong

Some of the best creativity is naturally messy. Often, it’s precisely that fact which makes it so interesting and so profound - it’s there in those moments in our lives which shouldn’t make sense yet somehow absolutely do. 

Reflecting on the careers of Adriana Wong and Jackie Liao (Artjail New York’s senior producer and head of 3D respectively), that paradoxical side of creativity comes to the forefront. Both of them set out on roads which might have led to very different destinations but, through the alchemy of chance, fate, and talent, have found themselves working together at the VFX boutique in NYC. 

Looking back, Jackie identifies a moment in his early 20s as a catalyst. In spite of a happy childhood spent making DragonBall-inspired comic books in his native Taiwan, he’d been encouraged to ditch the pencils for a career in civil engineering (“with Asian parents… well… you understand how it can be”, he tells LBB with a knowing laugh). But it was after he graduated from college, during his two years of mandatory military service, that the outline of a different future became more visible to him. 

“With military service, you kind of exist in a new space which is disassociated from the rest of the world - and from the rest of your life”, he explains. “I’m grateful for that. If I’d graduated with a civil engineering degree and gone straight into a job in that field, I probably wouldn’t have had that chance for reflection. But I did, and it gave me a new clarity for my future and what I wanted to do - which was filmmaking”. 

For Adriana, her path into the creative world was utterly distinct - yet similar in the way it ultimately led towards the right destination. “I was a super creative kid, always reaching for the nearest means to express myself”, she says. “Often that was a pen and paper, although I’ve never thought of myself as a naturally gifted creative. I think that’s why I ultimately leaned towards the producer role”. 

Before stepping into that role, however, Adriana spent time working in social services, as a teaching assistant, and for a cancer research agency. “It was a crash course in learning about humans”, she reflects. “But the skills you learn in those roles stay with you for life. What motivates people on the most instinctively human levels? Where is someone coming from? And how do you communicate with that? It might sound weird, but as a producer these are questions that you find yourself asking a lot - and the answers are never the same”. 

Now, although naturally self-deprecating about her own artistic abilities, Adriana brings a creative flair and appreciation to her production role which is fuelled by her innate interests. “I’ve always had a love for sculpting, and ceramics. It’s incredible to me that pottery stretches back 20,000 years. It’s a tactile, meditative kind of creativity which feels like it carries a connection to people who’ve come before you”, she explains. “My own parents are from South America, so when I think about the pottery which comes from there I think about the depth of creativity and its connection between all of us. That’s something which is always going to motivate me”. 

As Adriana breaks down those links between creativity and identity, or that indelible connection between craft and history, it’s hard not to get swept along with these ideas. But if that sounds somewhat idealistic in the hard-knocks world of commercial VFX, both Jackie and Adriana form part of an Artjail team in New York which - creatively speaking - walks the walk just as well as it talks the talk. 

Creative Highlights 

“I can remember the director, Paul W. S. Anderson, coming to our team with a really specific challenge”, recalls Jackie. 

As part of the team tasked with bringing 2014’s Pompeii blockbuster to life, Jackie knew he was going to face some intensive creative challenges. Most memorably, he tells the story of how Paul W. S. Anderson outlined his vision for a teaser trailer - intended to sit separately from the rest of the movie. “We were supposed to create an incredibly realistic set of images which told the story of this extraordinary volcanic eruption in a visual way”, he says. “That involved a lot of research into the history of the event and some quite gruesome - although morbidly fascinating - details of what happened”. 

Above: Jackie was part of the team which worked on the above clip, which would eventually become the title sequence for the 2014 blockbuster epic Pompeii starring Kit Harrington and Emily Browning. 

Eventually, Anderson was so impressed with the clip Jackie helped create that he scrapped his initial plan for the teaser. Instead, the director opted to incorporate Jackie’s work as the title sequence for the movie itself. “That was a profoundly special feeling”, says Artjail’s head of 3D. “It’s those challenges you dive deepest into which so often prove the most satisfying”. 

That sense of creative satisfaction is something that was felt, too, by Adriana in a project she looks back on fondly. In 2015 - a time when Adriana was partway through a previous role with Artjail, as chance would have it - the producer helped bring a tremendously ambitious music video for OK Go to life. The One Moment, which has racked up 31 million views on YouTube alone since its release, took a 4.2 second clip and elongated it out to the song’s 4-minute runtime. The result was an incredible music video which swept up a number of awards and won plaudits for its innovation. 

Above: The 2017 Gold Lions in design, digital craft, and film craft at Cannes were amongst the awards won by the team behind the music video for OK Go’s That One Moment.

“This was one of the most VFX-heavy jobs I’d ever been involved with at that point in my career”, says Adriana. “It felt huge because of how much of a step up it was - but to see the reaction and be able to look back on it now is so incredibly rewarding”. 

Ultimately, it’s a feeling that both Jackie and Adriana have been chasing - with some success - for their whole careers. And that’s a journey which has seen them both join up with Artjail’s New York team in recent months. 

As someone who had worked with Artjail previously, there was an extent to which Adriana knew what she was getting into - but that hasn’t made the process any less refreshing. “It’s a culture unlike any other. Although the company has grown two or three times in size while I was away, it’s still that same environment where people reach out to help one another and creative talent is everywhere you look”, she says. 

Striking a note of agreement, Jackie breaks down what makes him feel so at home with the studio. “When I started here late last year, I already knew a few people from various stages of my career beforehand. But even if I hadn’t, it would have felt like I had known them all my life because of how friendly and welcoming everyone was”, he says. “That doesn’t happen by accident - it’s built on this unique culture of warmth and a desire to help everyone you’re connected to. Bigger companies can sometimes feel cold - but it couldn’t be further from that, here”. 

Ultimately, that’s another characteristic that’s shared by so much of the best creative work. Whilst it might come from a messy process, with winding stories leading up to its inception, it also comes out of collaboration between great people. It doesn’t take long speaking to Adriana and Jackie to get the sense that Artjail is a studio which knows this. 

It’s just one of the reasons why 2023 is shaping up to be such an exciting time for Artjail, in New York City and beyond. 

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Genres: People

Artjail, Fri, 03 Feb 2023 08:56:33 GMT