From his early fascination with movie monsters in the second grade, Eddie Yang has been crucial to creating screen characters which have graced cinemas over the past 30 years plus. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Yang set up a makeup lab in his parents’ garage, sculpting creatures and molding them, based on tips he picked up from books and magazines read by legions of similar young people in the 1970s, many of whom are now a who’s who of artists in the movie industry. “We were all weird film kids who read a bunch of books,” said Yang, looking back on his formative years with his peers.
Eventually, Yang met Bob Kurtzman and Howard Berger at a professional makeup studio in his same valley. Kurtzman and Berger, who is currently an Oscar winner and Makeup Branch Governor for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, introduced Yang to the industry standard material, foam latex. “Berger was the kind of person to take the time to show you anything you wanted,” Yang said of the mid-1980s encounter.
After school, Yang would hang around Berger’s house, learning and connecting with other young likeminded artists, including Steve Wang and Matt Rose, who were roommates. “I was still in high school and met all of these makeup effects greats,” Yang explained.
During one summer vacation, a low-budget artist, John Carl Buechler, gave Yang his first professional makeup job on the film Ghoulies 2. “It was like going to a makeup effects school,” Yang said. As soon as the film wrapped, he went back to finish high school. During his Christmas vacation in 1986, Yang assisted artists working on Predator at Stan Winston Studio, where Wang and Rose were key creature artists.
After Yang won second place in a makeup contest, judged by the top people in the industry, including Rick Baker and Dick Smith, Yang knew his true calling, and he would make the endeavor once he graduated from high school. “I was lucky enough to be already learning from the best in the business—I grew up in the industry,” he said. “I was extremely lucky; everybody was so kind.”
In his first professional years, Yang freelanced for several different makeup effects shops. Then Rose called Yang when he was just 18 to work on Something Is Out There at Rick Baker’s Cinovation Studios. He would stay at Baker’s studio for 16 years, coming up through the ranks, sculpting, designing, painting, and creating effects work. “We were all like his sons: Matt, myself, and Aaron Sims,” Yang said of their relationship with Baker, a seven-time Oscar winner for makeup wizardry. “We saw each other more than we saw our girlfriends or wives—it was like a big family. Rick would always listen and be a guiding force.”
In the 1990s and 2000s, Yang noticed that the “writing was on the wall” for digital effects and started teaching himself animation software, designing art and sculpting characters in Softimage and Photoshop. “I bought my own computer, and I had never even touched a mouse,” said Yang. “It was torture, learning from nothing. I would go to Aaron Sims’s apartment twice a week—I was there specifically to learn the digital medium together.”
Even after a year of trial and error, Yang was still was not grasping the digital design concept. Meanwhile, Sims showed artists at Stan Winston Studio what he could design using computers by creating photorealistic images for Steven Spielberg’s film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Winston was so convinced, he declared, “This is how we are designing things from now on.”
Soon, Softimage upgraded their software, and everything clicked for Yang. “I started exploring the entire software, doing animations, and became a digital artist,” he said. “I finally understood what Aaron was raving about.”
Ready with a digital portfolio, Yang followed in Sims’s footsteps, designing previsualization in a digital studio, Pixel Liberation Front, on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. “The load on your mental brain was intense,” Yang described. “Digital is so technical and fast-paced. I was hired to build digital designs at Stan Winston’s Studio on Avatar and Iron Man. The Iron Man suit was the first time that an entire suit was made for an actor using digital tools and 3D printing. I came up with my own way of measuring [Robert Downey Jr.’s] head and the helmet. It was all hypothetical [but] came out as intended.”
Naturally, Yang’s phone began ringing after Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, became an unqualified success. Starting the Eddie Yang Studio, he worked on the re-imagined Tron: Legacy specifically strategizing the motorcycle suits, to get them out of the computer design phase and into the real world. “I had to take digital assets and adapt them over the lifecast of the actors,” he stated.
For The Dark Knight Rises, production enlisted Yang to develop the Catwoman character. The first day he tested a computer design for Catwoman’s mask, and the unique way it unfolded, director Christopher Nolan approved it. “I finessed it a little more and 3D printed it,” Yang recalled, noting that he did tests of his 3D mask on Anne Hathaway. “That was the first time I nailed something the first day on the job for a major motion picture.”
During pre-production for the film Man of Steel, artists in the costume department had not yet adapted to digital designs or 3D printing. After James Acheson designed the Superman costume, Yang and a team of five artists executed the costume manufacture process with digital design and urethane materials. More calls came in from the re-imagined Robocop and the first Avengers film. “It’s like hiring a consulting firm,” Yang said of his operation. “I was running like mad to three different locations; it was a very exciting time.”
Shortly after that, Yang and Steve Wang formed Alliance Studio, which integrated digital design into exotic videogames and films. One of their first sizable projects was Alien Outpost, for which Yang served as the production designer. Concerning an alien invasion, Alien Outpost was shot in South Africa, mandating that Yang travel overseas to design sets and props, and doing what had become his strength: digital design.
After conceptualizing bionic arms and implants for characters’ heads, plus a warrior mask helmet, Yang’s digital creations were sent to 3D printers in South Africa. “You can be anywhere in the world, no matter how remote, and you can do whatever the director wants if there is a 3D printer nearby,” Yang detailed. “I got to be a one-man team—digitally design it, print it out, take it to the set. It completed my whole artistic venture into the film industry.”
In the beginning of 2019, Yang began his newest venture, entitled Deity Creative, with an aim to create the perfect production pipeline. “To create the best unique designs, all the way to product,” Yang stated, noting that Deity is a full service company, from design to production, including initial design services, digital realization, sculpting, and actually building the physical item, whether it be a prop, costume, or specialty piece. “It’s a perfect way of building things: efficient and quick. I can’t wait to pioneer new techniques and new processes. Digital has so much room to grow. Where makeup effects might have gone as far as you could potentially go, with digital tools, you can go much further.”
With Deity Creative firmly in place with a new decade approaching, Yang also believes in maintaining the mindset he developed as a fledgling makeup effects artist. “Whatever serves the project the best and makes sense in my pipeline is what I will do,” Yang said of future work that could take him from films to videogames to amusement parks. “I am the one to figure out the puzzle pieces, using the tools and techniques that we have available—working smarter, not harder.”
For more information, link to http://www.deitycreative.com