Please tell us about yourself
Originally from New Delhi and having lived in multiple cities all over India, I was extremely lucky to be born and brought up in a family that placed a lot of emphasis on education. My parents are my biggest inspiration. They sacrificed a lot to make sure that my brother and I never lost our focus, and tried their best to provide us with all the resources we needed.
I have fond memories of my parents buying me a Windows 3.1 PC and spending countless hours amazed by screensavers and games like Solitaire, Dave, and Prince of Persia. I was dazzled by the magic of pixels dancing on my screen. Much to the disapproval of my parents, video games became an integral part of my life. As a kid, I didn’t really appreciate the work that went into making immersive interactive content, but now that I understand this field, I am in awe of game developers of that time, who worked through the extremely limited constraints of available hardware, developing almost everything from scratch (not many third party off-the-shelf software was available at the time), and focusing mainly on the most important aspect of games — gameplay. Achieving your vision by sometimes painstakingly animating every single pixel is no ordinary feat.
What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
While studying for my undergraduate degree in information systems at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, I took all the offered graphics-related courses available. I was also fortunate to intern at DreamWorks Animation, where I worked on some really fun movies, such as How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar 3, Puss in Boots, and Rise of the Guardians.
I had a voracious appetite for learning computer graphics, and a burning desire to apply that knowledge to my love of video games. It was at this point that I decided to apply for a master’s program. There are very few universities in the U.S. that provide a dedicated computer graphics program. Penn was my top choice; its computer graphics program is one of the highest rated and it further appealed to me because of my experience working with Penn alumni at DreamWorks. I was elated when I got my acceptance.
How was the experience at Penn?
My master’s in Computer Graphics and Game Technology (CGGT) at Penn turned out to be exactly what I had hoped for. The degree is a unique blend of technical, artistic, and leadership courses. My classmates were very cordial and group projects were a fun experience. Dr. Stephen Lane, the director of the program, also takes personal interest in the wellbeing of every student.
My favorite courses at Penn were Physically Based Animation, as it is mind-boggling to see math, physics and computer graphics come together in such a fun way; and GPU Programming; where we learned to harness the tremendous parallel programming capabilities of GPUs. These graphics processing units are proving to be vital for emerging technology like artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality and computer vision, and I feel fortunate to have developed a strong foundation at Penn. I also enjoyed the Engineering Entrepreneurship course as it helped me understand the intricacies and challenges involved in forming and running a new company. Our case studies were based on some of the most influential companies and personalities, such as Steve Jobs at Apple and Vinod Khosla at Sun Microsystems.
Penn also helped me prepare for my career through its strong alumni network. I met amazing people from companies in my field, such as Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, and EA, as well as people from other industries at various social mixers. The CG industry is all about visuals and it is incredibly helpful to have a demo reel — a short video of your cool projects — in addition to your resume when applying to these companies. My professors made sure that all the assignments and projects were highly relevant to the current state of the art in graphics, helping students make an impressive demo reel.
Where did you work after graduation?
My dream to work for a gaming company came true when I was accepted for a summer internship at Blizzard Entertainment as a Cinematics Technical Director Intern. My courses had provided me with ample preparation for the technical questions in the interview. Penn’s graphics program is really popular and my classmates found internships at other amazing companies.
I am currently working as a Senior Technical Director at Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, California, and have been part of some amazing cinematics for games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Overwatch, and Hearthstone. This job is a perfect amalgam of my skills in animation and my passion for video games. In short, my job is to make the process of movie making more efficient. I create tools and workflows to help artists, and debug technical issues in 3D software. Some of my projects at Penn were so relevant that I refer to them for my work at Blizzard. Having a solid understanding of underlying algorithms and having developed “simpler” (for academic purposes) versions of various renderers and simulators at Penn helps me do my job as a Technical Director more efficiently.
Blizzard is an amazing place to work. One of our company’s mottos is, “Embrace your inner geek.” We are constantly having fun working, playing games, and hosting one of the biggest gaming conferences for fans at Blizzcon. From a professional standpoint, Blizzard’s attention to detail and penchant for high-quality storytelling with visuals is unparalleled. I feel blessed to work with extremely talented people, some of whom have received Academy Awards for their computer graphics work on films.
As an international student, I never understood why people made such a big deal about California weather. Well, now I know! Southern California has amazing weather throughout the year, though to be completely honest, I do miss the seasons in Pennsylvania. I really enjoy being amidst nature and have done several backpacking and camping trips in the beautiful national parks of the U.S. Photography, health, fitness, nutrition, and sports are my other interests.
Your advice to students?
A friend once told me, “Pick something you are passionate about and become really good at it. Learn new skills but always be honest to your passion.” I was lucky to know what I was passionate about, but Penn helped me to excel at it. I am glad to be part of the Penn community. We have a Penn meetup every year at the SIGGRAPH conference, and I make it a point to catch up with the professors, alumni, and current students. Due to the quality of the program, I have utmost confidence when recommending Penn students at work. In fact, my team recently hired another CGGT student. Penn will always hold a special place in my heart and I would highly recommend the Penn experience to prospective students.