Grey’s Anatomy Allows Ying Lin to Achieve the Hollywood Dream Without Ever Being Seen

Ying Lin
Ying Lin

Few primetime television productions have the staying power of Grey’s Anatomy. The show is nearly two decades old. Children have been conceived, born, raised, and entered adulthood since 2005 when it first appeared on ABC in the United States (where it is still the longest running ABC primetime series). An international hit which airs in Spain, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, Cuba, Russia, Pakistan, and nearly every corner of the planet, Grey’s Anatomy (GA) shows no signs of dissipating. Developed by the iconic Shonda Rhimes, GA is perhaps the most beloved hospital drama of all time. This globally popular series was known to Ying Lin long ago when she was a high school student in her native China. All these many years later, Ying finds herself a part of the team who creates GA. While her role as a nuke compositor may lack the romance central to storylines of GA, her contributions are every bit as astounding and miraculous as the medical feats performed by the staff of Grey-Sloan Mercy Hospital West. Establishing believability that is imperceptible from VFX skill and artistry on such an iconic production is the realization of a dream for Ling who professes, “The film Life of Pi is the reason why I wanted to be a compositor. It took my breath away when I saw the whale jumping out of ocean and swim under the boat. The scene looked so fantastic and realistic at the same time. Like so many adults, I still dream about seeing fantasy things that I imagined when I was a child; VFX can bring that imagination to life. Whether it’s a Sci-Fi film or a contemporary drama like Grey’s Anatomy, I’m excited and proud to be a part of the VFX industry.” 

  Subtlety is not to be taken for granted. Technological advances have replaced practical (and somewhat unsuccessful) attempts to turn back the clock when actors portray younger iterations of their characters. When the Grey’s Anatomy episode nine storyline wanted to present the younger versions of Teddy Altman (SAG nominee Kim Raver) and Allison (Daytime Emmy nominee Sherri Saum), it was Ying’s skill that enabled their de-aging. The process requires far more than just knowing how to remove a few wrinkles. Ying describes, “To achieve a younger look, you make obvious changes like smoothing wrinkles, filling up cheeks, and smoothing out the jawline with a Splinewarp tool. In order to truly make things look realistic you have to study anatomy to appreciate and conceptualize how to turn back time on someone’s appearance. I remember there were a couple shots where young Teddy is crying, and tears are running down her cheeks. I needed to remove all the wrinkles but keep the movement of tears. I tracked in a consistent texture that reads wetness without wrinkles and combined a couple of keys together to bring back the highlights of tears. I even painted some highlights on her face so the tears would stand out more.” Sometimes her role is far more involved, such as in episode twelve where an unconscious Meredith was portrayed by a life-size doll. Ying explains, “Because the character was unconscious throughout the entire episode, the production used a doll as Meredith. I had to adjust her face and hairline, even make it look as if it was breathing at times with the use of a gridwarp tool.” These are very challenging shots. The riveting heart surgery featured in episode seventeen of this season is a scene which was immensely complicated to create. The rhythm of the beating heart and the water/saline solution being splashed on it by the surgeon in this scene were tediously crafted by Ying with a warp tool, roto adjustments, and experienced precision. Ying notes, “This was the only heart surgery shot in the entire season and was my first time setting up this type of look. I created it without a reference and it marked a creative moment for me that truly meant a lot.” What lasted less than a minute on-screen took many hours to construct with VFX.

While Ms. Lin is aware of the many awards bestowed on Grey’s Anatomy (ranging from a Teen Choice Award to four Primetime Emmys and sixteen NAACP Image Awards) and its diverse appeal, she isn’t focusing on such accolades. Ying expresses, “I want to continue to grow as a professional and be challenged to create. I love working in television but also want to explore more work in film genres like horror and fantasy that really rely on VFX work to achieve a complete sense of reality in the fantastic. Making those ideas become real for audiences to get caught up in, that’s the real reward to me.”

Writer: Coleman Haan