Creating films that are set in expansive and imaginative worlds, often requires breathtaking visuals that seamlessly blend real imagery with virtual imagery !

Drishti Gupta, our next pathbreaker, Senior Matchmove Artist at Trace VFX, virtually recreates the camera shots and angles, to resemble the camera physically used on the sets, to help integrate virtual/3D elements into real-world footage.

Drishti talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being strongly influenced by 3D movies (Avatar) and wanting to be a part of such magnificent experiences, not just as a spectator, but as a creator. 

For students, don’t forget the worlds you created based on your childhood imagination. Bring those dreams to reality by making your career an extension of your creativity !

Drishti, Your background?

I was born and brought up in Kolkata, West Bengal. My parents were in the textile business which created quite a stir in local markets, owing to their creativity that was brought to life on clothing material. As a child, I harnessed my creative skills quickly, but never intended to take up the line of Arts as a future career option. Rather, I was always inclined towards pursuing a career in the Science field.

I used to have a crush on fictional characters, on screen, and was always mesmerized with the magical/mystical worlds of Harry Potter and Star Wars. Also, my interest in comic books initiated an undying love for art in general, which, as a kid I had not known about.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I completed my Bachelor’s in Multimedia and Animation from St.Xavier’s College, Kolkata. It was a 4 year graduation program which taught us all the nuances of the field. We studied photography, videography, film study, sound design, all under the canopy of multimedia. 

In order to enhance my skill set in modern day VFX, I completed my Advanced Specialization program in Visual Effects for films and advertising (3D animation, compositing and matchmoving) from ZEE Institute of Creative Arts (ZICA).

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

I don’t have any specific person(s) whom I can call a key influencer who really got me into this line of work. It was more of a self-realization type progression throughout my academic life.

I have been a self-motivated person, but whatever I have achieved today, wouldn’t have been possible without my parents’ support. They always pushed me to perform my best in whatever I chose to do, on my own terms. 

An event which influenced me and propelled me in this field, would have to be when I first watched James Cameron’s Avatar. I believe it was a magical experience for everyone around the country because it was the first 3D movie that most of us witnessed. But, it also meant much more to me than a plain experience. It spoke to me and made me feel that I wanted to be a part of such a magnificent experience, not as a spectator, but as a creator. 

After watching Avatar, something just clicked and I started to delve deeper into what a job of a VFX artist entails and how it is executed. The Oxford Bookstore is where I used to collect more and more books on Animation and VFX. I used to spend days doing comprehensive research in order to be fully aware of the kind of space I was about to enter.

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.

Since my career choice wasn’t mainstream, I had to be sure of all the steps I took and their repercussions. Hence, I had to do enhanced research on the same.

I achieved the 2nd rank as a student of Multimedia in college, and with it came many offers from small-time editing firms in Kolkata. But I wanted to gain more exposure and thus, shifted to Mumbai, where I completed my Advanced Specialization at Zee Institute of Creative Arts.

After 4+1 years of academics/courses, since the students need to gain practical experience, I did 3 internships. I started my career with a graphic design advertisement agency in Kolkata namely Techpourri Pvt. Ltd where I made advertisement banners and learned the art of copywriting. I was also making company logos, business card designs etc. for a start-up called Poptarts Studio for roughly 2 years in college. I learned how to deal with clients and their ever changing demands. 

As part of the 3rd Internship in 2015 at Zica, I joined a company called Sepehr Screen. It was a Cinematographers’ studio with Camera DOPs (Director of Photography) and Producers only. They wanted students to make them a storyboard for helping the director and Camera DoPs understand the angles and shots to be taken on live-action set without the pain of explaining to them the same during shoot hours. Satyajit Ray was greatly acknowledge for the art of drawing out the scenes (though not very precise as comic books) on a picture book which could easily communicate his creative vision to the artists and crew on set. It minimizes a lot of the directors’ efforts and is a highly recommended department for all animation and VFX studios alike.

The above internships gave me a glimpse of what the movie-making and vfx industry would have in store for me. My main goal was to be a Matchmove artist. Though there are many departments in the VFX pipeline, I was always focused on being a matchmove artist from the beginning. All I had to do was make a great matchmoving showreel to display my technical skills to get selected for interviews at well know studios at the time. As of today, its been over 6 years and I have been promoted as a Senior Matchmove & Rotomation Artist at an Internationally acclaimed Hollywood Studio- Technicolor India. I have plans to become a Lead and Technical Director (TD) of Matchmove in future. I like being busy always.

You can visit my page anytime to understand what Camera matchmove and Body tracking//Rotomation is in the Vfx Industry.

How did you get your first break? 

During the period between my Sepehr Screen internship & my graduation from Advanced Diploma at Zica, I was idle for 3 months. At that time, I was focused on making an attractive showreel to attract the attention of hiring companies by showcasing my previous works. After much struggle and applying at many studios, I finally found myself working at Red Chillies VFX, Mumbai.  By the time I joined Red Chillies, I realized how big of an opportunity I had been blessed with, and how moving to Mumbai changed my rate of progression as a VFX artist, which would’ve been stagnant otherwise. 

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

One of the biggest challenges was right before I was hired at Red Chillies VFX. A meeting with the HR Department was underway and since the studio has a reputation for hiring the most talented individuals, and open to hire, only once a year, it was a really difficult situation. The interview process itself was complex as they held high regard for recommendations and didn’t really advertise job openings, as it was a niche and silent affair- only for the ones who were called for. I had to get in touch with the faculty at ZICA and further get in touch with a few employees who had been working at Red Chillies, in order for me to get a shot at proving myself in the interview stage.

The next stressful challenge I faced as a VFX artist was when I had to shift my field of work from Bollywood to Hollywood. I worked at Red Chillies for over 4 years (2015-2019) and was prepared to switch to a studio which took up Hollywood projects, and The Mill, Bangalore, was the perfect match. A major change was to adjust to the pattern of working, the new environment and work culture, which I did once I made the shift.

Coping with the pandemic became all the more challenging since I had lost my job at The Mill, which had to lay off employees in order for the studio to cut the cost of production. This left around 1500 people, including me, stranded with no income, and looking for a new job opportunity. I could call this situation the most stressful phase of all time. But I couldn’t just simply let time pass by, which is why I revamped my skill set by coaching myself in the latest software called Unreal Engine, which was a certified course. During this time, I also worked on creating a new showreel, by using examples from my work at both Red Chillies and The Mill, to show my growth as a VFX artist. I kept applying at studios across India and abroad, and faced a lot of despair when rejected due to a low demand for people with our expertise. Inspite of the growing costs of living and slimmer chance of having suitable income, giving up was never an option.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your role as Matchmove / Rotoanim (MMRA) Artist

My current place of employment is Trace VFX, Mumbai, which is a subsidiary company of a larger firm called Technicolor. It is an international studio whose clientele include DC, Disney, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and various other reputed studios. 

I am a senior and semi-lead artist whose work depends on the kind of specialization I bring to the table on a specific project. My specialization is in the field of Matchmove, and my job basically entails virtually recreating the camera shots and angles, to resemble the camera physically used on set. My role is vital and carries a huge responsibility since it’s the 1st department which comes under the 3D pipeline. A VFX studio is divided into separate 2D and 3D departments and the pipelines are segregated on the basis of specialization. My job requires me to successfully match the virtual camera with the one used in the live-action shooting, along with its movements, as per the scene in the most precise manner. This is done to enable other departments to add their creative skills in the scene accurately. 

The software one might need to be efficient in, to meet the requirements of my role, are 3D Equalizer, Autodesk Maya and Foundry Nuke. 

What is a typical day at work?

A typical day in my work needs me to be dedicated and focused. I need to log into the system according to the time slot allotted (since the pandemic has restricted us to a work from home environment), check the list of tasks uploaded and start working on the camera creation process, as per the scene’s requirement. Production coordinator and leads are assigned to each team, who determine the role for each artist according to everyone’s skill set, efficiency and the complexity of the shot given.

What do you love about your job?

Our work demands a lot of focus and patience since we need to pay attention to intricate details, wherein we have to go through every shot at a pixels per second rate. But, what makes all the hard work worth it, is the output on the big screen, which is viewed by people across the globe. Sure, we get to see our names in the end-credits of the movies we were involved in, but it’s nothing compared to seeing our work of creating, destroying and rebuilding worlds, bringing them to life and being widely loved or cherished by audiences world-wide. 

How does your work benefit society?

As I’ve said earlier, my field is not mainstream and doesn’t have much societal recognition even after all these years. Along with that, the line of Arts is still looked down upon by many people who strongly stand-by traditional careers such as Science or Commerce. There needs to be a larger group of people supporting Arts/Humanities enthusiasts by helping fill in the empty seats available in the field of Matchmove and VFX. I believe, my contribution in my line of work would help in creating an awareness for the job itself and inspire students. Also, my work helps in bringing films to create expansive worlds and stories, which may stir up positivity for good causes and in turn spread widespread awareness for issues, ideas, concepts and even emotions, bigger than our everyday lives.

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

My first ever big screen project is hands down my most memorable work ever. It was in the year 2016 when the movie FAN (dir. Maneesh Sharma) was released, starring Shah Rukh Khan, my favorite Bollywood actor. Working at Redchillies was as overwhelming as it could ever be and I had not gotten over with it, but then FAN came along. The plot of the movie itself was so relatable to me because I have been a die-hard fan of Shah Rukh’s work since childhood. Working on the movie gave me chills and I used to pinch myself everyday to make sure everything is real, and remind myself to soak into all of it to the fullest. The movie was awarded by Filmfare for its VFX work, and I got to hold a real Filmfare Award in my hands! The project was a motivator in the sense that I could feel that it was a “first of many to come” along the way. I knew I belonged in this field.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice to everyone out there would be to not to get too comfortable in the company they’re working for, rather, they should keep an open mind to new prospects since change is the most crucial constant which will help you grow and widen your range of expertise. 

And for those looking to pursue a career as a VFX artist, you should approach private or local institutes like Arena, MAAC, Frameboxx etc. If you want to be trained to use software like Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Autodesk Maya etc., get your basics cleared out of the way first. These software are the ultimate tools used by a professional vfx artist but, it is important to note that a basic understanding of the art of vfx  and the enabling power to question work ethics will be born out of proper training experiences. For which I advice students to enroll themselves at India’s premier institutions like National Institute of Design, NID Ahmedabad after giving the Common Entrance Examination for Design (CEED) and Undergraduate Common Entrance Examination for Design (UCEDD) for a Master’s in Design at IIT Mumbai/ Guwahati.

Future Plans?

The pandemic gave perspectives for future plans and helped me kick them off in motion as well. Canada and Australia are recognized as the major hubs for the VFX industry and I have been actively gunning for landing an opportunity to work overseas in either of the two countries. Settling there in the future and working in a high standing firm is what I am looking forward to.