WHAT HE DOES
Builds computer animation systems used in news and entertainment programs.
Next Media Animation
where he does It
Plays with cutting-edge animation tools; can take credit for viral videos about foolish celebrities.
Let’s say you’re an army librarian at an obscure military outpost on a tiny Taiwanese island 25 kilometers off the coast of China. It’s the early 1980s, and your stint on this godforsaken speck of rock is going to last almost two years. What do you do all day, anyway?
Well, if you’re Kevin Wang, you design 3-D computer animation tools in preparation for the end of your tour, when you plan to embark on a career in the emerging computer graphics industry.
More than two decades later, in 2007, those were among the tools that let Wang attempt what he calls his "mission impossible": reinventing the process of computer animation to meet the needs of a speed-obsessed news media company. Animation work had kept his interest throughout the decades because there were always tough new problems to solve in the developing industry—but the challenge he accepted at Next Media Animation topped everything that had come before.
Wang, who grew up in Taipei, was a star student with an artsy side, who won citywide calligraphy competitions and earned a coveted spot at National Taiwan University. His college placement exam designated him a civil engineering major, and in Taiwan, those decisions are not open to discussion. But Wang was already hooked on computers. A high school teacher had taught him how to use the trailblazing Apple II, and throughout college Wang spent every spare second in the computer lab. When a civil engineering professor offered a course in computer-aided design during Wang’s junior year, he was one of 100 students to sign up. Even better, he was also one of the 15 students who didn’t drop the class after the first homework assignment, a mind-bending 3-D modeling task.
After graduating and completing his mandatory military service on the lonely island, Wang returned to that professor’s lab as a research assistant. His first assignment: Create a computer animation of the drive down a 50-kilometer highway that existed only in the minds of government planners. The planners had contacted his professor to propose the project. "This was 1988, and there was no animation software," says Wang, with a smile. "But my professor still accepted the project! And the deadline was one month." There wasn’t a moment to spare to reflect on his predicament, so Wang simply started writing a program from scratch that did all the modeling, animation, and rendering. He slept in the lab that month, but he met the deadline.