The Creature Supervisor
Special effects and special wines make a great pairing
Eric Wong grew up in San Francisco where like most kids in the '80s, he was a fan of big-screen adventures such as Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Today he's living a dream as a "creature supervisor" at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), a George Lucas-owned special effects company in San Francisco.
For ten years Wong has been part of an animation team working on titles including Harry Potter, The Pirates of the Caribbean, and Transformers, bringing wild creatures and spectacle to life. In that time he has also discovered the life-enhancing joy of collecting wines he loves.
Is there any connection between your work and your interest in wine?
In a way there is. The first time I really saw wine as something special was on a trip to New Zealand about five years ago. I was visiting friends who work at WETA, the company that produced special effects for the Lord of the Rings films. We ended up visiting different wineries in the Otago region and I really saw the winemaking process for the first time and was pretty impressed. The wines were so great I ended up bringing some home.
The trip ramped up your interest in wine?
It really did. It got me started looking for wines in California especially since I live in San Francisco and so close to Napa. I really like the Silverado Trail.
Do you map out your day here or just let things happen?
I usually have one or two places in mind and then stop at others that look interesting if I have time. So it's a combination of some planning and some random stops.
What're you collecting these days?
Mostly California wines, Cabernets and Cabernet Blends, from the Napa area and a lot of Pinot Noir — wines from Williams Selyem, Seasmoke, Arista, Ceja, etc. I've also bought a few bottles from folks doing interesting stuff like Leviathan and Corra.
Do you focus mainly on wines that you've tried?
Yes and no. For example, I got started on Shafer after being blown away with a nice bottle at Bouchon a few years ago for a friend's birthday. A lot of times the wines I collect have to do with memories of travel, reminding me of fun times with friends. But I also read bloggers and do web research on wine. A lot of times I'll hear about people who're doing interesting stuff, so I'll try to track them down.
What blogs do you read?
There are so many bloggers these days. I follow the food scene on Eater, Chowhound, Grubstreet and Michael Bauer's blog (San Francisco Chronicle Food editor). For wine I'll take a look at Vinography or DrVino.com, but then get lost in a bunch of links going to a ton of other blogs. I'll also search for bloggers who review wines I've bought and liked and they also liked, and see what else they recommend. I found the "Pardon that Vine" blog through the link you posted on the Shafer Facebook page.
How did you get into special effects?
I was in the architecture program at UC Berkeley and really enjoyed working with the software that creates 3-D walkthroughs of architectural designs. One thing led to another and I got an internship with ILM. In 2000, after doing a few other things, I started working there full-time.
You may have the world's greatest job title — what's a creature supervisor?
I develop the skeletal structures of the characters, develop the way they move, their range of expressions, things like that. For example let's say one of the characters in a new movie is a hawk. We would study how hawks move their wings, how they walk, how their features move in a breeze, how they fold up their wings. Lots of details.
How long are you involved in a project like that?
I can work on a film for about two years. It depends on the project.
That kind of long-term commitment to a project sounds like winemaking.
Yeah, absolutely. The evolution of a film is a long one. At ILM everyone sees every frame many times as the film evolves. What I really appreciate about winemaking is that kind of process — the time that goes into it, the craftsmanship, attention to detail, the team that works together getting it right. It's all about details.