A career path is not just about ups and downs, but also about trial and error, because you can learn only by exploring what’s out there and following your dreams, however improbable it might seem !

Saurabh Som, our next pathbreaker, VFX Compositor, works as part of a team that creates the final image of a frame or VFX sequence.

Saurabh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about a hobby which started with creating random effects using “After Effects” and “Sony Vegas Pro”, and transformed into a full fledged career in visual filmmaking.

For students, every field is competitive. So, you must stay focused and determined to learn and improve, by being your worst critic.

Saurabh, Your background?

Though I am originally from Kolkata, India I grew up in Mumbai and Pune. I was raised in a simple middle-class family with high traditional values. My Father is a Mechanical Engineer, and my mother Is an Arts Graduate. She’s a homemaker and took responsibility to look after me since my dad used to travel a lot. My journey deals with ups and downs. I will try to summarize them as I much as possible.
I was always interested in pursuing a career in movies and visual effects, although back then these sorts of things were unheard of. So, it was quite difficult.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I initially graduated with a Diploma in Aviation and Hospitality. I started working at an airport as Ground Staff. After a few years, I decided to pursue filmmaking.

Subsequently, I graduated with a Diploma in Filmmaking and Video Production from Whistling Woods International, Mumbai, I started working on film Sets as DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) and Assistant Video Editor. After working for a few years and meeting with other technicians, I was convinced that it was about time to develop my skills and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Animation and Visual Effects from Media Design School, New Zealand. 

Can you tell us how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I know it’s a bit cliché, but to be honest, I remember watching Jurassic Park at the cinemas and at that point I believed Dinosaurs were real. Growing up in a traditional family, everything was a battle and I had to deal with it myself .But to be honest, visual effects and films were just hobbies at that point, because I was heavily occupied with other things like playing domestic football, gigs at local pubs and just working full time at the airport. Whenever I had the time, I would just have fun and sometimes clone myself or create random effects using “After Effects” and “Sony Vegas Pro”. But I wasn’t serious. 

After watching the movie Psycho, I wanted to learn filmmaking and it was then that I went to film School; watching Documentaries and Behind the Scenes of movies, made me fall in love with VFX all over again. After working on a Film Set and witnessing the Green Screen setup (Green Screen is a visual effects (VFX) technique where two images or video streams are layered—i.e. composited—together), i wanted to become a VFX Compositor and develop my skills.

I don’t have any mentors as such and even though I am in my early career, I am self-taught. I try reaching out to my seniors and work on improving myself as much as I can.

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

I didn’t really plan my path; I was convinced, and I followed my passion as they say. It’s not just about timing but also about hard work and trying to see what’s out there. As mentioned earlier, I was already working as a DIT. After working on several movies and meeting with VFX Supervisors, I got interested in knowing more about visual effects and compositing. I started researching top visual effects institutions, when someone recommended that I should consider Media Design School because of its hands-on training and competitive program.

Whistling Woods International was the biggest turning point in my career as that school allowed me to explore my passion and creativity.

After graduating from Media Design School in 2019, I was instantly offered a position as a Compositor at ReDefine – Mumbai. Living in New Zealand for nearly 4 years made me comfortable with the environment. Hence, I had a tough time adjusting to the climate and environment back in India. After working for a few months, I decided to move back to New Zealand and look for opportunities. That’s when the entire world went into a standstill. I started reflecting on my journey and took the time to improve myself by reading books, looking at tutorials and helping recent graduates on their short films.

I met a few artists online and we delivered a few projects remotely. Currently I am working on a Star Wars Fan Film Called Shrouded Destiny. It’s a pro bono project and it’s being done entirely remotely. I’ve had the opportunity to meet artists from all over and collaborate. My biggest challenge has been in communicating and managing between time zones. In the end, I take great pride in the shots that have been created so far. My responsibility is mainly at the end of the pipeline and the pressure can be immense. So, being flexible and managing time is key during final stages of delivery. Ultimately VFX and Filmmaking is a team sport. It’s impossible to deliver something alone. 

I have recently joined Mr. X – Adelaide as VFX Compositor.

Filmmaking and Visual Effects are forms of storytelling through which we can deliver messages and connect to the audience. I take pride in my work, and focus on making this community more open and accessible to everyone who’s willing to learn and contribute.

As mentioned before, I am fairly in my early years of VFX. I have a long way to go; However, I remember listening to my parents’ conversation withr friends explaining to them what I do. To be honest that’s an achievement for me. 

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

Being diagnosed as Dyslexic, I had a tough time coping up in school, and as a result, that started reflecting on my grades and I dropped out from college.

It wasn’t easy convincing my parents about my passion. I am extremely thankful for their continuous support, even though they don’t know much about what I do.

How did you get your first break?

It’s a crazy story. After graduating from Media Design School, I made a Demo reel and was applying to studios. During that time, I was visiting my parents in Mumbai, India. I saw a post on Facebook that DNEG launched a new venture called ReDefine and they were conducting a job roadshow in Hyderabad. I got into a flight and travelled to Hyderabad for the interview and rest as they say is history. In any industry, networking is a key. I have been Freelancing in New Zealand and working on my skills by helping other students.

Don’t worry about your setbacks, some of you may find work instantly while for others, it may take a while. Just stick to what you’re doing and focus on improving yourself. Also reach out to people and interact as much as you can, be it in any industry. Try not to give up. That’s all I can say. 

Can you tell us about your role as VHX Compositor?

It won’t be right for me to go into the technical side as I feel there are experienced stalwarts who have supplied the information online, although I can give you generic definition of a compositor. As a Compositor, we create the final image of a frame or VFX sequence; we are mainly the last part in the VFX pipeline.

I don’t have any Marvel, DC or any Fancy stuff to promote yet. My most memorable piece of work till date will be the Star Wars Fan Film, called Shrouded Destiny. The teaser is on YouTube. We are still working on the movie. As its a Pro Bono Project, we are helping as much as we can to ensure the completion of the project. The VFX of the movie is has been done entirely remotely. The reason I like it is that whoever’s working on it is doing it purely for the love of cinema. I hope we complete the movie this year and you guys get to see it.

Your advice to students?

It’s a competitive field out there, you must stay focused and determined to learn and improve; otherwise someone else is waiting to grab your opportunity. No one will help you unless you are willing to help yourself by being your worst critic and constantly focus on improving yourself.

Future Plans?

My primary goal is to continue working as a Compositor and develop myself, along the way try to help other aspiring students as much as I can.

I am interested to learn more about Real time filmmaking, I’d like to consider researching that aspect at some point.