/News 08.09.22


Li works behind the scenes on balancing and enriching the VFX artist’s calendars, but they are also an accomplished artist in their own right. We talked to Industrial Light & Magic’s Li Harper about their way into the visual effects industry, their passion for cosplay, dance and song and how a diverse and inclusive work environment has meant the world to them.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Hello there! I’m Li Harper. My background is in costume design, tech training, event logistics and admin. I’ve been in Sydney for about three years now, living here with my little family that includes my partner, my wonderful Shiba Inu who is training to be a psychological assistance dog, and a very opinionated black cat.

What is your role at ILM ?

I’m the Studio Talent Group’s Training Coordinator for ILM’s Sydney studio. I assist in getting our new hires up and running and scheduling the training they need to start working on our productions. I also help coordinate our Jedi Academy program for our Sydney recruits! Basically, I help bring balance to the calendars.

What is your favourite part of your job?

Seeing the cool projects before they get released. The lightsaber duels in the break room are pretty fun too!

What inspired you to work in the VFX industry?

I bounced around in the creative industries doing costume design and 3D modelling and it was through that I discovered the magical world of VFX.

How did you get in the door at ILM?

I almost thought that I overdid it in my interviews as I was showing my fan passion and getting excited about everything, but I’m glad they liked me. I feel I’m amongst fellow geeks and fans of the projects we work on. On some days it feels like I really used Jedi mind tricks to get in.

Is there anything you have had to overcome to be where you are today?

I take pride in being both disabled and queer, both have played a part in shaping who I am today, though they have each had their unique challenges. Accessibility and inclusivity are not just buzzwords, they are very real challenges that myself and others in a similar position have to face every day just to go about our lives.

You are an active part of the LGBTQIA+ community in Sydney, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Sure thing! I am so happy to be part of the LGBTQIA+ community here. They have been so welcoming and friendly to me since I first moved here. I’ve marched in Mardi Gras with a few floats for a few years now with the Sydney Gaymers and Guide Dogs Australia. I hope ILM will get to do a float too one day and I can march with them alongside my queer colleagues.

You use the pronouns they/them. What has been your experience using these at work?

This has actually been the first workplace that I have openly used they/them pronouns. I was quite nervous at first in coming out, but my colleagues have been really welcoming and accepting of me being non-binary. If someone accidentally uses the wrong pronoun, they are usually very good with self-correcting and not making it a big issue. That makes me feel happy and safe.

Can you tell us a bit about the work culture at ILM’s Sydney studio?

It’s very important to me to be in a diverse workplace. Being a minority, disabled as well as neuro-diverse, you can imagine that navigating a workplace environment can be kind of hectic. Here, I’ve found that I can be open about who I am as an individual and just chill and be my authentic self as they say.

I’m so happy to see such diversity in the people at work and it makes the vibe great. That may sound kind of a cliche but I think people are the most important part of a workplace.
At ILM we have this unique opportunity in helping to tell stories that impact such a wide range of people and I don’t think it’s possible to do that authentically without being culturally and physically diverse ourselves.

Best advice you can give to someone who wants to work in the VFX industry?

Go for it! I think if you’re keen on being part of an industry that brings joy to audiences and is very dynamic then give VFX a go.

Proudest career moment?

Seeing my name in credits? I know it’s a small thing but it means a lot to me and I get very excited even though I am just a small cog turning away and doing my thing.

What excites you the most about the VFX industry?

The fact that it’s right where fine art and cutting-edge technology intersect. It’s at the forefront of what the latest programming, machine learning and AI can do in conjunction with an artist’s trained eye. It’s pretty exciting to me. I feel like even if you’re not much of a tech head, generally people understand that we make things look good! That makes us pretty special.

This is your first job in the VFX industry. Is there anything that has surprised you about it?

I’ve been surprised by how down-to-earth and accepting everyone is. Working alongside people who are literal Oscar© winners and other renowned industry individuals can be daunting but they are all super chill and low-key. The biggest example of this is that I am in a 3D printing hobby group with some epic people and they have been so nice to me and have been giving me advice on my novice prints, while at the same time posting their own complicated models and art.

Who has been your biggest mentor/inspiration?

I would have to say my mum, she’s taught me to never give up despite the huge challenges our family has faced. She’s raised two kids single-handedly whilst working multiple jobs and also studying for a Masters at university. She brought us to Australia for a chance at a better life. She has lived such an amazing life too, full of adventures, hardship and excitement. It’s because of her that I want to live life to the fullest and not give up despite hard times.

If you hadn’t become a Training Coordinator, you would be working as?

I would have to be doing something creative for sure. I also would probably open an animal shelter and work to rehabilitate injured creatures, both pets and wildlife. I would do something to make life a bit easier for the creatures on this planet. Or I would be in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Your biggest passion outside of VFX?

I really love to cosplay. It’s kind of what got me into the industry and I make costumes and props when I have some spare time. I have been cosplaying for about 15 years or more now and it has given me the opportunity to try some new skills, travel to cool places, represent Australia overseas in Japan and also volunteer for some great charities such as Starlight Children’s Foundation. Cosplay means different things to different people, but over the years cosplay has evolved for me from being just a hobby of self-expression to being able to bring awareness to and represent meaningful causes. I think that’s pretty neat.

Do you have any skills that your co-workers might not know about?

I really love to dance and produce music. I have performed at K-pop showcases and am currently working on some music. Catch me entering Eurovision one day.

One last one, Light side or Dark side?

The Dark side has way better fashion and cool sabers, but I do want a purple lightsaber and you’re only allowed those on the Light side!

Head over to ILM’s YouTube channel to see their skills in action!


Luke Hetherington
Executive in Charge, Singapore & Sydney ILM Studios
[email protected]