Mark Joey Tang, known as “MJ”, started working in visual effects in Hong Kong, circa 2003. Throughout his career, he has worked with a handful of different studios from RodeoFX to Atomic Fiction (now Method Studios), and is currently a Senior Compositor at ScanlineVFX in Montreal. I reached out to MJ after discovering his unique tools on his Facebook page (which you can find below), and asked about his career in VFX, including how he got into programming & creating tools for Nuke.
Note: The following answers have not been edited, to preserve the integrity of MJ’s responses.
How and when did you come to the realization that you wanted to be a part of the VFX industry? Who was the first person or studio who hired you?
I was a web programmer back in 1999. After one year working in the field, it came to my realization that I was more interested in graphic design. The company gave me an opportunity to take on both tasks at the same time. Then the web market didn’t go well around 2001. I decided to go back to school and took a 2-year computer animation program. My first job in visual effect was in Menford Electronic Art & Computer Design located in Hong Kong. Mr. Garrett Lam hired me at that time. He was a good supervisor and a good mentor of mine.
When did you decide to start learning programming? Was there a specific problem you were trying to solve at the time?
As mentioned in my background, I started as a web programmer. At that time, I used many different program languages at work and also Mel script while in animation school. After years, I’m so tired already to pick up new program languages. 2 years ago, I turned down a position of Lead Compositor. Since then, I devoted my time and energy to programming, trying to solve the problems that my team and I faced in the past.
Knowing what you know now, how would you approach learning Python if you had to learn everything again from scratch?
I know recently a free mobile app called “SoloLearn”. It enables people to learn various program languages from basics. There are quizzes in each chapter to test your understanding. Since it’s a mobile app, I can pick it up anywhere. I think this app is a pretty good start to learn python.
For nuke, the foundry’s nuke documentation is a good start to learn python specify for nuke as well. And also study existing tools can learn from others too.
For more advanced knowledge in nuke, foundry has a great API document. Some of them include the source code. That’s great in case you got stuck at some code and have no idea how it works.
Is there anything you feel you do differently, that gives you an edge over other Compositors in the industry? If yes, how would you suggest someone learns this?
Software is just a tool, it can be changed in every 5 to 10 years. I believe that all tools are based on creativity. Concentrating solely on the technical aspect will limit the possibility. I suggest to get the idea first, then seek for a technical way to execute your idea.
Where would you like to see the VFX industry headed in the next 3 to 5 years? How do you envision getting to that point?
I think real time cg render will take part of the main role in production. I would like to see how that collaborates to current production in the near future. I also think that more varieties of cameras may appear in the market, according to the growth of the recent years. As a compositor, that would be great to have a decent layers/depth/lights extractable camera to be invented in the future. It definitely helps a lot in the production and creates more possibilities in all media.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
I can spend a lot of time on puzzling or execute something out of the border. I like the sharing culture, so I built a Facebook page last year, people are always welcome to reach me at the page and to share thoughts: https://www.facebook.com/MJTLab