Visual Effects unleash magic on the screen by creating an imaginary parallel universe that is impossible to achieve in the real world !

Ajinkya Rajbhoj, our next pathbreaker, Lookdev Artist at DNEG, works on matching the look and feel of assets used in a movie with real life references .

Ajinkya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his roller-coaster ride in the world of VFX, from watching VFX movies to being a part of the creativity behind the scenes.

For students, apply your unique skills in the world of entertainment by transforming your imagination into breathtaking visuals!

Ajinkya, Your background?

I was born and raised in India, and grew up in Pune city located in Maharashtra.

I was not that great at studies, I was more driven towards gaming, movies and computers. I was more interested in the field of animation. I have completed a diploma in Animation Engineering from Pune and a Graduate Diploma in Creative Technologies from New Zealand in the field of animation.

Since childhood, I have always loved animation and was always curious about how VFX movies and 2D animations are made. While pursuing my HSC, I did a Diploma in animation engineering where I learned the basics of 2D, 3D and VFX. Movies like Jurassic park and Toy Story, and most of the Hollywood movies inspired me a lot in pursuing this as a career and learning and working in this field.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I studied a one year graduate diploma in creative technologies from New Zealand, to upskill myself as an artist.

What were the drivers that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My key influencers are the people whose work I watch on art station to learn something new, and motivate me to move forward. Also, i was inspired by the CG (Computer Graphics) and VFX (Visual Special Effects) in Hollywood movies while I was studying because I was curiosity driven.

In the studio where I work in India, i am grateful to people who have helped me when I am stuck in my work and the senior people who have given me opportunities to get ahead in work. They are the mentors who have helped me grow everyday.

While pursuing animation I wanted to learn everything in the animation industry, but realized that while working in a studio environment, it would be better to focus on a single skill set rather than focusing on all of them. When stepping into VFX or 3D , it is better to have knowledge of everything and have perfection in a one or two skillsets. For example – There are many roles in 3D and VFX production, ranging from concept and design, modelling, texturing and lookdev to rigging, animation, FX (dynamics) and compositing. Though i have some knowledge of all these roles, I presently focus on Texturing and Lookdev. In my free time, i work on my portfolio to enhance my skill set.

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

After doing my diploma (for two and a half years), I wanted to work as a generalist. I joined a new studio which was started by my tutor in Pune, as a freelance 3D artist where my job was to do modelling and texturing. 

We used to work on commercial projects in the studio. In modelling, you basically make a 3D model of objects or environments based on a real reference, and in texturing, maps are painted using software like Photoshop, Mari, Substance and plugged into 3D software for shaders to match them with the reference in a rendering process.

After Effects software is used to add 2D animations in videos, like the animations we see of a company intro logo. Every company and studio has their own way of working, so it’s necessary to find the right work culture and technical software for different companies.

I also worked as a freelance artist and as a visiting faculty teaching animation. This degree course was launched in Pune in Surya Datta college. I taught here for a year and later at Fergusson college for a year.

I always regretted the fact that I should have taken a step further and joined a full time position in Pune or Mumbai at that time, after working for a year as a freelance artist. It was a roller-coaster ride for me while working as an artist, visiting faculty and so on.

After working in Fergusson college, I decided to go abroad for further studies in New Zealand and get a job there. I selected New Zealand because it was my dream to work in a company called WETA digital which is located in New Zealand. This is the company that worked on films like “Lord of The Rings” and many more special effects. I got selected in the Media Design school for the one year course, because of my work experience and portfolio that I had submitted.

While studying in New Zealand, I also worked for a month as a VFX artist in Useful Films limited. Here, I got exposure to how people work in a home environment. After my studies, I joined a studio named Cirkus as a 3D artist working on modelling and texturing. I worked on a Singapore ad in Computer Graphics.

How did you get your first break?

I got my first break as a full time artist as a texturing and Look dev artist in MPC Bangalore. I returned to India after 6 months of job search in New Zealand. I gave a test in MPC for the position and got selected. MPC (Moving Pictures Company), is a VFX production studio which works on creative services required for movies. When I joined MPC, the technical software used in production for Texturing and Lookdev were new to me and it took me quite a while to adapt to the workflow. It was quite a struggle for 6 months to adapt to the production workflow. Later, in Technicolor I worked as a texturing and Lookdev artist working on CG projects, my job was to texture the assets assigned to me and work on the Lookdev stage to match the assets to the reference provided. A Texture Artist’s job is often to make things photoreal.

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

Challenge 1: 

One of the challenges I faced in New Zealand after my studies was finding a job, because the job market is limited in my field. It was frustrating returning to India, because my time was getting wasted and my visa was expiring.

Challenge 2:

After returning to India, I joined MPC . At MPC, the studio workflow was completely different compared to the software I had used in my working process during my studies and past jobs. I struggled a lot to learn Mari for texturing and Katana which were new to me. I had to work on backend jobs for some time. It was hard but not difficult. I also made some new friends and got to know a lot about the industry standards in order to work in Hollywood as a VFX artist.

Challenge 3:

Because of COVID, I was laid off in MPC. After getting laid off, I found an internal opening at Technicolor. I gave an interview and got selected. But I had to work in CG instead of VFX production. At first it was a little hard to understand the workflow of Technicolor and work in CG, as the working process for CG and VFX is different. But I learned a handful of things and worked in CG for 8 months and joined DNEG as a Lookdev artist after that.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your role as Lookdev artist

Currently I work as a Lookdev artist in Double Negative which is located in Mumbai. My job is to match the look and feel of assets with real life references after texturing.

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

Texturing and Lookdev is a shading process in the production pipeline, after modelling of an asset is done. For example – when you watch a movie like Transformers or Jurassic Park, it is very time and money consuming to build such insanely huge robots or Dinosaurs mechanically and make them interact with humans freely. This is where VFX and 3D come together where such huge assets are brought to real life on screen, making them look believable. Texturing and Lookdev play a vital role, where such assets are made painted and shaded digitally and matched with references which artists follow while working, or else you would see grey robots and dinosaurs in movies like Transformers or Jurassic Park.

For a Lookdev artist, you need to observe materials in your day to day life and have a good observation, especially to details. To acquire skills as an artist you just need to practice daily and have an attitude to learn something new in your own work.

What’s a typical day like?

My typical day starts with a Zoom call at 9:15 AM and a cup of coffee, where we review our work and the tasks that are to be done for the day. I start my work at 9:30 AM. I take a one hour break from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM for lunch and continue work again. I am on my desktop for almost the whole day , and sometimes till 8:30 or 7:30 PM if a submission is due in the evening, else work gets over at 6:30 PM if everything is on schedule.

What is it that you love about this job? 

I dreamed since childhood to work on Hollywood feature films and shows. I am working on it right now, so it feels great. Work culture is nice and I try to learn something new from my work everyday.

How does your work benefit society? 

The films and tv shows I work on, provide entertainment to people around the world, through mediums like theatre, Netflix or Amazon.

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

I actually worked for a year learning by making a shot of a dragon flying around a sky tower in New Zealand as my final project while studying in New Zealand. I worked day and night to learn and adapt my workflow and finally bring it to screen, which I am really proud of. You can check out my reel below.

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/YVY0X

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice would be, it’s a roller coaster ride when you enter the animation industry. Be passionate and love the work you do for yourself and for the company.

Future Plans?

I plan to gain experience and would definitely try to to work abroad, which was not possible in New Zealand due to visa and job market issues. I would like to establish my own education center for VFX and animation after 10 – 12 years in this industry.