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Tell us about yourself

Vandana Reddy Sahrawat talks about the importance of lighting in a 3D animation film and her Hyderabad connection

Finding Dory, sequel to Finding Nemo, will chronicle the adventures of Dory as she travels to meet her family. Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios, the film will release on June 17.

Vandana Reddy Sahrawat, who moved to the US from Hyderabad, is now a part of Pixar’s strong behind-the-scenes work force. In an e-mail interview, Vandana discusses her work in the 3D animation film.

Tell us about your work for Finding Dory. What does the work of a Master Lighting Artist entail?

On Finding Dory, I did both Master Lighting and Shot Lighting. At Pixar, consecutive shots from the movie are organised into logical groups called sequences. Typically, a sequence occurs on the same set and around the same time of day. When such a sequence first comes to the Lighting Department, it is like a dark set, with no lights to see what is going on.

A Master Lighting Artist’s job involves working closely with the Lighting Director of Photography to add lights to the sequence, taking into account the location, time of day, weather and mood, making sure to draw the viewer’s eye to what is relevant to the plot and make it aesthetic. At the Master Lighting stage, the focus is on establishing the lighting for the set and not so much on the characters. It is at the Shot Lighting stage that the characters are then finessed. By the end of it, hopefully, one would not only see what is going on in the movie, but also experience it.

You have been working with Pixar since 2000 and have handled lighting for many films. What were the new challenges with Finding Dory?

I had never lit anything under water before. It is a world with refraction, caustics, murk and particulate and all these things light and occlude the set in a way that is so different from the world above water. It took some time to understand how light falls into the distance and changes colour in the ocean. It was a great opportunity to study how light behaves in a world that I was not accustomed to, and manipulate it to enhance the storytelling experience.

Tell us about your journey from Hyderabad to being a part of Hollywood. What drew you to an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career like cinema?

I have an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Osmania University. I was always interested in art, but had no formal training in it. I joined the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University and was introduced to the Visualization Program — it was the perfect blend of art and technology and I was hooked. Toy Story was released that year and when I saw it, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I graduated with a Masters in Computer Science, with an emphasis in Computer Graphics. My first job out of college was at Rhythm & Hues Studio in Los Angeles. I had no prior film experience and I learned almost everything I needed to know, on the job. I was an Effects Technical Director and did effects, lighting, compositing and tracking. I then got married and moved to the Bay Area, where I worked for Tippett Studios, doing effects in Maya. After that, by lucky timing, I got a job at Pixar and have been here for the past 16 years.

How often do you visit Hyderabad?

I visit Hyderabad about once a year, to visit my family and friends.

What is your impression of the Indian film industry, particularly the Telugu film industry?

The Indian film industry produces some fabulously entertaining movies. I love watching Hindi movies. I used to watch a lot of Telugu movies growing up, but somewhere along the way, I stopped watching them. Shankarabharanam is one of my all-time favourite movies.