Animation movies offer us an escape into the world of imagination and fantasy. But make no mistake, Animation also has the power to influence young students to escape traditional careers and pursue their imagination, dreams and fantasies !
Vinay Sudhindran, our next pathbreaker, Senior 3D Animator at Atomic Cartoons, breathes life into characters from a shot or sequence, by looking at the story, the script and/or dialogues.
Vinay talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview portal about never losing his fascination for animation even while pursuing engineering and figuring a way out by transitioning to animation after completing his engineering.
For students, never lose hope even if you have taken up a career path that you aren’t interested in. There is always a way out because only you can find a way out.
Vinay, tell us about your background?
I grew up in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E and spent most of my childhood there until I graduated High School. As a child, I was obsessed with drawing and I could easily zone out in the middle of the day just doodling away through notebooks or even text books, until someone snapped me out of it. I recall my parents and a cousin of mine, introducing me to Disney movies and Looney Tunes and I could never stop watching them. As I jumped from one movie or comic book to another, my curiosity for how they were made kept growing.
I was usually quite active during my school days. My parents were very supportive and I guess there was an understanding that as long as I performed well academically, I could have my fair share of extra curricular activities like drama, dance and sports. But eventually as I grew older, academics took over and very soon I found myself on the default path of being either an engineer or a doctor. Even though my parents used to draw or paint, they were never exposed to the idea of having a career (albeit, a successful one) around that. So I treated it as a hobby as well. But whenever I got some free time, I would jump back into reading comics or watching a cartoon without any second thought. I guess my fascination for animated content never went away.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After completing my high school in 2002, I moved to Pune, where I studied Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering at Maharashtra Institute of Technology. During my time in Pune, I was fortunate enough to come across a couple of animation academies. When I started exploring these short term courses, everything instantly clicked for me. It felt like all the pieces of the puzzle fell in their place. I joined a certification course in MAAC back in 2004, which I did in tandem with my engineering course. I instantly knew that this is what I wanted to do as a career.
So, although, I came to Pune to get an Engineering degree, I think Pune also gave me the means to explore animation as a “career”. We never had that option in Abu Dhabi and I eventually expanded on that and moved to Vancouver, Canada to study in Vancouver Film School in 2007. I have done a few other certifications to enhance my skills since then, but that’s during my professional experience.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
As I had mentioned earlier, my fascination with comics and animated movies were the key drivers for me to choose my career. My earliest memory of an event pushing me to the idea of making cartoons was when I watched the Lion King (the original one) in the theatre. Every single moment gave me goosebumps, right from the opening shot all the way to the end. Weeks after that, I would just sit at home and look at magazines that had scenes from the movie and try to draw or trace out the characters. I think that must have been the first trigger where I wanted to know how this was done! There were a couple of Don Bluth movies too, that gave me a similar feeling: Land before Time, Secret of NIMH and even Disney movies like Tarzan. I would try to find out articles on how it was all done. I would read about how artists were starting to blend cel animation (paper drawings) with computer graphics and movies like Toy Story was proof of where the trend was going. At that time, I was easily overwhelmed by the whole process and how talented these artists were. So it never occured to me that it could ever be a career option.
I remember mentioning to my dad once in 9th or 10th grade that I would love to try being a cartoonist (I didn’t know the exact job title for what I wanted to be). But my dad shunned the idea because it was not a viable option, which I agreed to at that time.
After I jumped onto the Engineering wagon, I guess around the halfway mark, I realized that my peers were now studying for GRE exams because Master’s was the next step. The really smart ones might move forward with MBA’s or PhD’s. I noticed a pattern that everyone was comfortable with and that’s when I really started questioning what I was doing because I really couldn’t see where I was going with this. I didn’t know what my potential engineering job would look like and it started getting claustrophobic really fast.
All this, along with constant ads and sign boards about animation academies nearby, forced me to revisit the animation option.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
The first step I took was probably walking into the animation academies around Pune and talking to the people inside about potential career opportunities. I joined a few workshops and sessions to see what they teach.
Once I knew this is what I wanted as a career, I started to gather the courage to tell my parents that I wanted to be an animator. That took around a year, but it eventually happened and I sat with them and told them about my plans and what I intended to do. I think my parents understood that I was serious about it, because I came with ideas on potential courses that are available and how I could make a career out of it. Had it been a simple “I want to be an animator”, I don’t think that conversation would have lasted long.
With the help of a close family friend, we got a hold of someone who was already in the industry and he answered many questions that my parents had about the industry itself. My parents finally agreed… but asked me to finish what I started (my degree course) and then look into moving to animation. So for the next year, I was focused on completing my engineering course and jumping onto the animation train! I was doing a basic side course in tandem and learning 3D Animation from Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics (MAAC).
With my Bachelor’s Degree and a MAAC certification course under my belt, I decided to study in Vancouver, Canada, which was a hub for 3D animation and VFX, according to my research. I applied and got into Vancouver Film School. I graduated from VFS in 2008 and started an aggressive job hunt, ready to land my first gig in the industry.
As years progressed, I was recognized as someone who was ready to try out new things and not just stick to one specific role. This gave me more options later on, as I grew from being a 3D Artist in a VFX studio to an Asst. Creative Director for an online portal within the company. As I continued to explore my skills and other avenues, I had the fortune of working on several projects revolving around Feature Films, TV shows, Short films, commercials and even game development.
You’ll never know when something will click in your career. But it’s always good to be adaptable. My first video game experience was when I developed a simple car driving game in my first job. Although it was nothing great and it wasn’t even published finally, I learnt a lot from it and I would have never thought that 5 years later, it would give me an opportunity to work on NBA 2K15 as a Motion Capture Animator and that, later gave me a chance to work as an animator for Marvel Strike Force in early 2020.
The idea is to keep evolving so that you’re ready for the market as it changes.
How did you get your first break?
My first big break was when I worked as a 3D Artist in Anibrain Digital (Pune) back in December 2009. While working on my first job, I constantly updated my portfolio by doing more animation work and improving my skills. I was also connecting with the recruiters and checking if they had requirements at any time. This took almost 6 months, but as soon as I saw an opening, I called up the recruiters with my new portfolio and had a chat about giving me an opportunity. I was finally able to get an interview with them and landed the job almost immediately. Although it wasn’t my first job… the feeling of being part of a VFX crew and working on my first Hollywood movie is something that I will always cherish. The movie was Resident Evil: Afterlife and my experience during that time, all the highs and lows, will always be a highlight for me.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
I strongly believe that challenges are an essential aspect of a person’s life. Whether it is school, university, career or even a retired life; challenges will always be waiting around the corner. Although, there is no right or wrong way to react to it, facing it head on and achieving your goal or milestone feels so rewarding. Like many out there, I have faced a multitude of challenges and had my fair share of gains and losses. The following ones though, are the ones I really consider as forks in the road.
Challenge 1: My first big challenge was entering the field of animation in the first place and let go of the potentially “safe and secure” option of being an engineer. The idea of completing my Bachelors for something I didn’t want as a career, was already like climbing a mountain, making sure that I passed all the exams and getting done with it once and for all. I think what made it more nerve wrecking was the fact that my close buddies/peers from college were graduating and looking for jobs or figuring out their Master’s options, while I was planning to almost “restart” the whole thing and jump into new, unfamiliar territory. Questions like “Am I good enough?” or “What if I completely flop?” were always at the back of my mind.
All I could do at that time was, take a deep breath, keep my eye on the prize and move forward. I was also lucky to have the support system around me, amongst friends and family, that allowed me to take that leap.
Challenge 2: My second challenge was landing my first job. After graduating from Vancouver Film School in 2008, I came back to Pune and was super excited to show off my portfolio to recruiters. I had spoken to a few companies a few months earlier, via email, and I had a few positive responses that I was excited to follow up once I got back in India. Unfortunately, that was also the year when the recession hit and several studios took a break from hiring. Those good ol’ self doubts start creeping in and it took a mental toll. But I remember having this tiny notebook in my hand always and I would sit down and google every animation studio I could find. It first started with Pune, then expanded to Mumbai and went to other cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Trivandrum etc… I would call the studios, and “if” they answered, I would ask about their requirements and jot down what they said. Depending on the conversation, I would call them back later for a follow up. Eventually, I realized that I might not get my “big break” from the first job itself, and decided to change my approach to job hunting. Eventually, after roughly 3 months, I got hired by a small animation company called Firebox Studios in Pune. I wanted to get my foot in the industry, but I ended up dipping my toe at that time and it was okay! Considering the market at that moment, I took it as a win! I used that as an opportunity to enhance my skills and landed my first big break, exactly a year later. I still have that little notebook with me.
Challenge 3: This one is possibly a very personal challenge and it’s still an ongoing thing. But I get very “uncomfortable” being “comfortable”. There were a few jobs that I had done in the past decade or so, where eventually a system is put in place and the whole pipeline runs like a well oiled machine. The challenges reduce and the initial creativity factor has evolved into a rigid structure that the assigned team follows. I think as an animator or an artist, it can be easily frustrating, if things start moving in that direction. After a few years of working with some really great studios, I had the opportunity to exercise my creativity again, when I got hired by Girgit Studios in Pune to work as a Lead animator. It was this small team of roughly 10 artists who reignited my love for the industry. The studio was run by three graduates from the prestigious National Institute of Design (Anuj Kumar, Avinash Medhe and Swarup Deb) and I was inspired by all the skilled and talented artists that were around me during my time there. We worked on a few short films and TVC’s together. Some of those short films ended up getting screened in Film festivals and won several accolades and awards. I guess the challenge in this case was to step away from the norm and try something offbeat once in a while. It gave me a breath of fresh air I needed at that time. It also helped enhance my perspective on other animation styles and art forms, that you might not necessarily see in a regular large scale studio.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?
I currently live in Vancouver, Canada, where I work as a Senior 3D Animator at Atomic Cartoons. As an animator, my job is to take characters from a shot or sequence, look at the script and/or dialogues and breathe some life into them.
During my time in the industry, I had the fortune of working on several aspects of production, right from the initial stage to its final presentation that the audience gets to watch.
When a story for a movie or TV show/episode is created, it comes to us in the form of a script or screenplay. This text version of a story will then later move to the Storyboard Department, where the story transforms into comic book type panels and we start getting a visual idea of the story.
As the storyboard is created, the 3D team builds the character and adds controls to the character so that the body parts and face can be moved. Dialogues are also being recorded at this time with the help of a storyboard edit and script.
Once the characters are up and ready, our department jumps in and takes a look at the script/audio and notes from the director and then we make these characters move accordingly. If done correctly, it’s a perfect harmony between puppeteering and acting!
What I love about my job is the fact that we animators, at the end of the day, are basically actors and actresses, putting in our thoughts and emotions of a scene into a character or creature. If you think of your favorite cartoon or animated content and watch a scene that affected you in some way, that shot is basically an acting reel for the animator who worked on creating those moments or emotions.
On a typical day, my job is to look at my shots from a sequence, plan out what my characters do during a dialogue or action scene. Some of these shots might need some extra nuance or oomph, so we learn the dialogue and literally act out the shot. We shoot a video of ourselves or other animators saying the lines and acting it out. Once we feel like we got something decent, we go back to our desk and start studying our footage and understand how to turn our 3D models into “live characters that can act” and translate an emotion to the audience. With the help of FX and Lighting departments, all those shots are beautifully lit up and what you end up seeing in theatres is the hard work of a team of talented artists from various departments. No matter how the movie performs in the box office, we go through the highs and lows of production together and leave with some great stories.
The excited feeling of having your work out there for the world to see, never gets old for me. In fact, I’m always excited to watch my kid react to a movie or show that I worked on.
Your most memorable work?
During my time in this industry, I’ve been super lucky with the kind of work I was able to be part of. The show itself, the amazing talent I worked with, or even the many challenges during the show, can build so many memories when I look back. At the top of my head, I could list out these below to answer the question.
Mocomi: During my time in Anibrain, I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to lead a creative team of designers and animators to make educational content and shorts for an online platform called Mocomi. At that time, I was still a novice in the field and the fact that I was recognized and given that kind of responsibility felt awesome! Our team would sit and create a lot of original in house content which later on got showcased on the website. It was the first time I had a leadership role and I was able to learn a lot about production, people management and also explore other aspects of visual media.
Detective Pikachu: I was an animator for this 2019 movie, during my time at MPC. This movie brings a rush of wonderful memories because of my fascination with creature animation. Before this, I didn’t have a chance to work on a full-on creature heavy show like “Detective Pikachu”. So the excitement of bringing out some quality animation while also sitting around a team of talented and hardcore Pokemon fans felt amazing. Also, watching this movie in the theatre with my daughter and seeing her having fun was the cherry on top!
“Tickles and Hugs” and “Muskaan”: I worked on these two short fims during my time at Girgit Studios. Both these shorts were around the themes of personal safety education for kids, child sexual abuse, female feoticide and gender equality. Sometimes when you learn a certain skill, you hope that it can be used for some good. I felt lucky that I could be a part of something that could create awareness about these issues for adults and children alike.
There are so many more shows that I had fun being a part of. But these, along with my first big break, have a special place in my heart.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Being a creative industry, artists are expected to regularly update themselves and showcase their skills or portfolio, especially if they are looking for better opportunities. Because of the sheer amount of talent that’s out there, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed or find yourself drowning in the crowd. This is where I strongly believe that “networking” plays a vital role if you want your work to be seen.
- Actively connect with other professionals in the industry.
- Showcase your work on social media and ask for feedback.
- Accept constructive feedback and see how you can improve your craft.
- Get inspired by other people’s awesome work.
These steps potentially get you noticed and might help you get that big break you deserve or at minimum, get your foot at the door.
Leave your Ego out of the door:
As an animation or VFX professional, I’ve seen my fair share of people who were exceptionally talented, but didn’t bring the right attitude to the game. This leads to frustration and disappointments and affects your performance as a team player.
A movie making process is not a one man/woman job. It’s a culmination of several talented people who are all striving to show some quality stuff to their audience. You might have put a lot of effort into your animation or artwork, but at the end of the day, people (especially your director or supervisor) will have opinions on it and it should never be taken as a personal jab. It is very natural to be hurt by criticism. It’s obvious because you put your heart and soul into it. It HAS to hurt! But these critiques usually come with good intentions. The ability to receive feedback positively and take it as a step forward, is what will give you those extra bonus points.
Enhance your skills – It’s never over:
Like many other industries, there will never be a finish line for animation. You can constantly work hard and strive to get better… but until you retire completely, you’ll always feel like you animated better than the year before.
Always keep an open mind and learn about new techniques, tools and methods of animation. Be aware of better softwares that can help you with animation. Join online talks and conferences where professionals share updates about the tools being used nowadays.
I have been fortunate enough to realize early-on, that the concept of animation will be the same whether it’s on paper or a computer… It’s just a matter of having different buttons in various softwares to do the same trick. Once I got that sorted out, I became quite open to trying out various softwares and it actually ended up giving me more opportunities to work on movies, short films and even game animation and cinematics. So, come into the industry with an open mind and you’ll see opportunities, where others don’t.
Take care of yourself:
Last but not least, and we don’t get to hear this a lot in our industry: take care of yourself. At the end of the day, you need to make sure you have a healthy work life balance. This is a job and as the years go by, problems like back or neck pains are very common amongst animation folks. So, always keep some time for yourself and don’t forget to go out and stretch a bit! It really helps in the long run!