Film and television are places where the seemingly impossible is manifested while viewing from a comfortable seat. This conjuring has an equal counterpart for the talented creators of these stories, such as Jie Meng. Meng had considerable success prior to 2019, working on a number of productions but landing the job as Technical Director and Key Visual Effects Artist for Golden Globe Nominated AMC series The Walking Dead last year was a chance to become part of a production he’d long been an admirer of. Jie recalls, “I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead and it has always been one of the best shows on TV in my opinion. When I was a student years ago, I saw the behind-the-scenes of The Walking Dead visual effects breakdown and was intrigued by how cool and very challenging the process is. I sincerely wished to one day become a part of The Walking Dead team. I worked on several feature films, TV shows, and commercial projects before joining the team but was thrilled to finally make this aspiration a reality.” Jie’s prior work on the new MacGyver series and Hawaii Five-0 caught the attention of The Walking Dead team; connections were made and Jie was soon at work on this iconic series.

While Jie can most certainly be referred to as an artist, his work as an innovator is such that it has forever altered the process of creating the effects for The Walking Dead. There’s great value in an artist who does their work at a high level, but one who allows others to do so is invaluable; such are the contributions of Meng in regards to the look of The Walking Dead and his coworker dubbed “string theory.” The show is known for its aesthetic style, particularly in regards to the zombies whom the show is titled after. The unique look and qualities of the zombie blood is something that the production and its Art Director are adamant about achieving. When the rapid filming and production pace exceeded the time allowed for proper physical research of the qualities of zombie blood effects, Jie set his mind and talents to creating a work-around. He describes, “Based on the art director and clients’ requests, the zombie blood should be more viscous and darker; the blood spray needs to be stringy and connected. Using many different animals for reference, I did a lot of testing and research to discern the best look for the blood. The regular way to create something like this is using viscosity and surface tension in fluid dynamic simulation. The obstacle here is that this is not very easy to control and it requires a lot of time; time that the schedule did not allow. To solve this problem as Technical Director, I developed the digital asset tool for creating photo-realistic stringy blood effects using a different method. I used an algorithm which adds points to the simulation and makes the fluid string connect as lines, hence a ‘string theory’. We tested it out and it was very stable and reliable. I’m happy to say that this immensely helped the effects team to create blood gore effects in the production.” Using modern technology, creative thinking, and an artist’s perspective, Meng created a solution which the entire production and viewers have benefitted from.

Fans of The Walking Dead will confirm that the finale to season number nine was nerve wracking. “The Storm” finds the human communities facing zombies and human opponents as well as a life threatening blizzard of epic proportions. Michonne (played by Danai Guirira, Image Award Winning actress for the triple Oscar winning Black Panther) braves the storm to attack zombies trapped in the snow. The performance is riveting and propelled by Jie’s VFX work which manifested the blizzard environment. Building the atmosphere of this scene from scratch, Jie developed and designed numerous elements including: snow effects, breaking debris, frozen blood spray, shattered skin, volumetric smoke, particle simulations, and others to manifest the backdrop and results of Michonne’s brave actions. A story so reliant upon VFX to establish the audience’s acceptance of this “new reality” demands the most skilled artists in the field. Jie Meng confirms that establishing this scene in the season nine finale was a proud moment for him.

The most profound indicator that Jie’s contributions are deeply appreciated and recognized is the fact that he is also working for the spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead (Visual Effects Society Award Nominee) and upcoming The Walking Dead: World Beyond (set for premier later this year). Television carries a great deal of clout these days,providing a creative outlet which is appreciated and acclaimed on the same global scale as feature films. Jie reinforces this stating, “I’m truly happy to be a part of the world of The Walking Dead and to have been able to contribute to these shows. It’s respected and popular everywhere. I’ve been at film festivals that my work has been a part of and once people find out that I work on The Walking Dead, they get very excited to ask me questions about it. I’m real proud to be a part of this show that is so embraced worldwide.”

Walking Dead: World Beyond

Writer : Cecil McCoy