In a society where academics takes priority over everything, it is refreshing to cover professionals who opted to follow their dreams instead of following the herd mentality !

Gokulakrishnan, our next pathbreaker, Animation Supervisor at DNEG, works closely with the Animation team of the Feature Animation department, helping them achieve the visual standards set by the Director within the pre-defined deadline.

Gokulakrishnan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about making up his mind to pursue a career in Animation based on his foundational skills of drawing, and pushing himself to practice different facets of animation to get closer to perfection !

For students, even though every job and every career involves a lot of hard work, when the process is fun, it all becomes worth it when you see the results of your work on screen !

Gokulakrishnan, tell us about Your Background?

I grew up in a village in The Nilgiris District of TamilNadu. Ketchigatty is my village which is near a small town called Manjoor. I belong to the Badaga community which is a close knit community in the district. My father is a tea grower and my mother is a housewife. I did my primary education in a convent “Sister Alphonsa” and then moved to a Government Higher Secondary School in Manjoor. Growing up, I was more into Cricket like most Indian kids are and also played a bit of Volley Ball in my High School. Drawing was my hobby during this time, I just used to draw anything I saw or otherwise, try to copy from photos. I used to love drawing Rajnikant more often as I was a big fan, I am still a fan haha !

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

My drawing hobby took front seat as I was not great in the Academics. So I joined Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai and did my BFA in Visual Communication and Design.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

The path was shown to me by my father. After graduation, while I was working in the Tamil film industry as an assistant to a cinematographer, my father had seen this small ad in one of the newspapers and suggested that I should try this as he knew I was good with drawings. This was an ad about an Institute in Bombay called Zica. I took it up because I wasn’t enjoying my work in the film Industry even though I thought that’s what I wanted to do at that time. Once I joined Zica and a few months down the line, I was really enjoying it  and very soon THE BELL RANG and I knew that is what I wanted to do.

How did you plan the steps to get in the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us more about your career path.

As I mentioned above, I joined the two years course in Zica, where I learned 2D Animation, Flash Animation and 3D Animation. Meanwhile, in between, I learnt a few design software programs though I was attracted to Animation right away and haven’t looked back since then.

2D Animation is the classical Animation through which Disney gave birth to Mickey Mouse, the character that entertained us and is still fun for lots of kids. Tom and Jerry is another example. To create a movement, every frame is hand drawn by the Animator.

I then worked with some of my Institute seniors who had passed out and set up their own studios. I worked on a few shows as a 2D and Flash Animator with them.

After finishing my course I gave a test for my first 3D Animation job as a junior animator (beginner position). But I drastically failed and hence did not get the job. Today when I think about it, even I wouldn’t have hired myself based on my performance in that test. 

After a minor struggle, I got my first job in “Sun Animation Studios” (this studio does not exist anymore) where I was working on a movie as an Animator. Even though this movie never got made for certain reasons, I started working on my personal shots after office hours and challenged myself for more complex Actions and Acting choices. This helped me to upskill myself.

My next role was at Anirights studios, Bangalore, which later moved to Pune and was named as Big Animation Studios. I worked there as a Character Animator for Three years. 

Then I moved to Hyderabad and worked for Firefly studios for about six months as a Senior Animator. That was my first Visual Fx Studio Experience, which is another side of Animation. This is different from cartoon animation where you get to work more on photo real or creature based Animation.  The Vfx Industry works alongside the Live Action Film Industry where shots which are difficult to shoot in reality are shot in green matt and then later use CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to combine them into the scene the way the Director imagined it. Jurassic Park is a great example of a big breakthrough in Creature Animation. In recent times, Jungle Book, Dumbo(2019)  and Avengers are a few good examples to name. Indian examples are Bahubali and Robot(Enthiran).

My work experience after Big Animation was in a studio in Mumbai called Prana Studios. Prana was easily the best Feature Animation (Cartoon Animation) studio in India for a long time (according to me). I started there as a Senior Animator and then got promoted as Lead Animator and worked on some great projects for Disney. I also worked on features and ride films for other production houses as well for six years. Unfortunately, Prana got shut down last year. But there are several studios in Mumbai doing great work, like Assemblage and 88 Pictures. Technicolor and MPC(Vfx) in Bangalore are a few others if someone is looking for a career in the Animation industry in India.

After Prana, I moved to London to work with Mikros Studios which is a part of Technicolor who sponsored my work visa.  In London my work is more contract based unlike in India where I was a permanent employee in all the companies I worked.  My Mikros contract was for about a year for a feature and once that ended I moved to MPC to work on Dumbo and then Maleficent 2. 

I finally landed in Dneg where I am now working for the past two years and it has been great so far. My work in every studio since I started has been an amazing learning experience. The important thing that you require to work abroad in the Animation industry is a work visa and sponsorship from the company who wants to hire you. Everytime you change companies the process needs to be redone. It’s a bit of a pain but worth it if you get your dream job. 

How did you get your first break?

My first big Project was with a company called Anirights. This company was initially based in Bangalore and then moved to Pune and was renamed as “Big Animation” after Reliance took over the company. I worked on a TV Series called “Little Krishna”. This series had about Thirteen Episodes if I am not wrong. I believe it did well in the channels it aired.

What were some of the challenges you faced ? How did you address them?

The challenges in my field are mostly  based on the skill set. I spent a lot of time working on my personal shots after work and even in the nights.

This helped me to be ready and to face all the challenges. I always wanted to do all kinds of actions and acting choices and the only way to do it is by practicing. In the beginning of your career you mostly never get the shots that you want to do or you enjoy doing in a show.

The best ones always go to the experienced artist. I was able to break this because of my practice, which gave me the strength to do all kinds of complex shots in a show.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

Learning classical Animation helped me strengthen my skills. I don’t have a vast work experience in classical Animation, but learning it helped me build a strong foundation and still helps me in planning my 3D Animation.

Currently I am in London working with Dneg. I work as an Animation Supervisor in the Feature Animation department. Dneg is known for their Vfx work and they have won Academy Awards in the vfx category for Interstellar, Ex Machina, Blade Runner and  First Man etc..

Dneg’s Feature animation department was started in 2014 and has done some incredible work in recent times. Our first big movie is due to release this summer. The Animation industry is quite big and what I do is one of the small drops in a big ocean. Like any Live action movie, Animation film making also starts with Pre Production work like good script, storyboard, a rough edit and Character design. On the Production side we have Modelling, Texturing, Rigging, Character Animation, Cloth and Hair Simulation, VFx, Lighting and Compositors etc and finally the Post Production work of Rendering, Colour correction and final editing. So each department needs its own specialised skill set and there are courses available for these skill sets through institutes or through smaller programs run by institutes.

My job as an Animation Supervisor is to work closely with the Animation team and help them achieve the quality standards set by the Director within the pre-defined deadline. I am also responsible for moving director approved Animation to the next department in a smooth manner on time. Other department members can contact me if they want clarity on the animation regarding the timing for the Fx of a blast or a window breaking when a character breaks through it etc,,.

An Animation job can be quite stressful like any other job, sometimes we work long hours or your shot might take forever to get approved by the director and then there are times where you struggle to crack an idea for a good acting shot. The pressure is the ticking deadline. In spite of all this, for me, the process  itself is fun because I enjoy doing this. Above all, when you see the final product on screen it is just awesome.

How does your work benefit society?

This industry helps in providing entertainment for almost all age groups. Animation has been used for creating Nursery Rhymes, E-learning medical procedures, as well as in explaining social issues and creating awareness across all age groups through short films etc…

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Dumbo(2019) is close to me so far. Other than that, my current project which just got wrapped is pretty close to me as well, but I cannot talk about it as it is still in Post Production.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Keep practicing when you have spare time. I don’t know whether practice makes you perfect but it gives you the courage to get close to perfection because every time you think you are close to perfection the bar gets higher.

Future Plans?

Just keep swimming and the future will pass right next to you. When it arrives, you’ll know exactly what to do at that moment.