Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Not-So-Beaten Path

When I first heard the lyrics for the song “Papa Kehete Hai Bada Nam Karega” I felt the music directors where talking directly to me. My Parents would go all googly eyed every time they would talk about my future and how splendid it would be… well a future as an Engineer, or a Doctor, or a Chartered Accountant. Every family event, if we came across any cousins, extended cousins, long lost relatives even, who were in these “chosen” fields, my parents would nod expectantly at me with the sparkly “this could be you in a few years” look.

So it was no surprise that I started college doing what my parents thought was a great choice. I gave it my best shot. Well maybe 'best' is over-stretching a bit. Lets just say I gave it 'a' shot. Its not like I was against doing engineering, its just that I had been convinced that what I really wanted to do wasn't a solid choice. Now what I really wanted to do was, be behind a camera. I had a fascination for seeing the world through a 35mm lens. I had a basic handy-cam that belong to my family and me and some of my like-minded friends spent a lot of time coming up with ideas on what to shoot.So I feel it was one of those destiny things that in my second year at college we volunteered to make a short behind-the-scenes video on the highs and lows of a college fest. It turned out to be such a big hit that they posted it on the college website. They even used it as a video to get potential sponsors for next year’s fests. Tons of people came up to us and told us how awesome the video was and that's when I knew... I had found my calling.

After a lot of heartbreak and ‘emotional atyachar’ on my part, my parents finally agreed to let me take a break from my college and try my hand at what they thought was a passing fad at best. When I started off I was super gung-ho about what I was doing and you wouldn't catch me without a camera even when I was sleeping. Of course I had a dozen creative ideas a day and I would enthusiastically start of making something out of them, but somehow I felt they all lacked proper direction. I figured I needed a place that would let me master my skills and turn me into a proper Jedi at making great movies. I realized I needed a formal education.

After a lot of research, I joined FX School to do a course in film making. I came up with this great analogy that creativity was a sword and formal education the hand that wielded it, the better trained the hand the more effective the sword, right! After a grueling year in the filmmaking program learning about exposure, color, the different type of production cameras, lighting techniques and a lot more, I had a reel that I was proud to show off. I want to say I set off into the sunset right after this but it took me a while to get my first break. After doing a couple of internships I finally got a break as an AD in an upcoming movie with a production house. It was a dream come true and my parents couldn't have been more proud that I had managed to actually do something with my dream. I remember taking them to see the movie in the theater. When the credits rolled with my name in it, it was my Parents that clapped the loudest.

Two years on and I haven't looked back. I actually have a job that I like, one that I'm pretty good at, and it's heading in the right direction. I'm in a pretty good position compared to a lot of my recent grad friends and I'm glad I didn't go run-of-the-mill like them. So in the words of Denzel Washington all I got to say is - sometimes "You gotta do, what you gotta do!"

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Red Pill

It took me 3 career path changes and some major soul searching to finally figure out that 3D computer graphics was my calling. It's a very “soul-mate” type feeling now, violins in the air and white doves everywhere; but it wasn't always like this. CG and I shared a long love-hate relationship. Mostly me loving the output that it was capable of producing, but the software hating me.

I remember the first time I saw the work people had done in CG - I was blown away and I just had to be part of that group. I had some rad ideas that I just couldn't wait to start putting into play. But, I figured out the hard way, that imagining what you want an output to look like and actually working on getting it there in reality, are two wildly different things.

The first time I opened a 3D software I ran out of the room screaming - well almost. Most 3D softwares are fairly overwhelming to look at for a first time user. (My theory: The 3D community does this to weed out the faint of heart.) After a week of staring at the software I finally got the courage to start making something in it. Of course what I wanted to make and what I finally ended up with, mildly put, were quite apart from each other. I learnt early enough, and that's tip No. 1, as a beginner its important to take baby steps. Thinking I could create an 'Optimus Prime' model in my first week was a fool's errand. So I started small, I thought I'd make 'Wall-E'. Lets just say I had to go smaller.

The second most basic step – getting the concepts and cracking the software. The thing that helped me through my teething phase with CG was working with my fellow mates. Nothing bolsters confidence like seeing your counterparts struggling just as much as you – which makes one realize that it’s not you, CG takes some effort to master. There were 3 of us kindred spirits who realized early on that three heads are better then one. Like soldiers at war, we decided that we would crack the software or die trying. The good news is we're still alive and kicking. That's tip 2- Work with friends. For two reasons - if at any point you feel you want to give up, you have people to pull you back from the brink. Also, anytime I understood a concept I would explain it to the others and vice versa; this works amazingly, as teaching others builds your confidence and hammers the concept in your head even more.

The other trick with CG is spending time with it. The more you try, the more you stumble, the more you learn. The software is just the tool and the more time you spend with it, the more you get your hands set on it. The really important bit is understanding the concepts. Visualizing in 3D is a developed art. After spending time 'thinking 3D' you'll feel like Neo in the Matrix. Everything starts to make sense. Like Neo seeing his environment in code after taking the red pill, after working in CG for a while, every object, building, person you look at, you start seeing loops and faces and vertex.Long story short, practice DOES make perfect when it comes to CG. So don't let up and do the right thing.. Choose the Red Pill.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

You Don’t Know ‘Jack’

“Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” Whoever came up with that saying never really thought that Jack would get into the Creative field. Sure, if Jack was trying to be a Doctor, or similar, we would much appreciate him focusing on getting that one specific type of surgery spot-on-right. But once Jack stepped into the ‘Creative’ world, the more he knows about everything, the better he is.

As beginners into the world of Filmmaking or CG or VFX or Digital Art, a person can put on horse-shades towards trying to understand how the other departments work. Statements like “I want to be a CG artist. How does it matter to me how filmmaking works?” or “I’m going to get into Direction, I don’t need to attend these CG, VFX classes!!” are rampant.

Thinking like this not only would shut doors towards any other calling that one may have found one has, but it would also limit the learning one would get from their chosen field.

Without knowing the potential and limits that every other department has, it’s difficult to take even an educated guess as to what is and is not possible. Take for example an eager student who takes on a freelance gig of creating a 5 min shot and agrees to an unrealistic deadline that the client puts up. What he doesn't realize is that the client wants some elements created in CG, some extensive backgrounds Digitally Painted and a whole lot of VFX to get it all to look cohesive. The people who he depends on for getting these elements done may give him unrealistic timelines of their own. Or say things like, “To get this quality of output in so little time, you need to pay a lot more.” Being at their mercy not having a basic understanding of his own gets him in a tight spot when its crunch time on the deadline and his reputation in on the line with the client.

A basic understanding of each department also goes a long way when you find yourself as part of a team where people say stuff like, “This should be done by the other department, it doesn’t come under my line of work.” As a team-head, one needs to understand department capabilities in terms of time efficiency and resources required to know which department should be roped in to get the job done.

At FX School we make sure that your 'Foundation' is rock solid. A good overview into every department gets the ball rolling and the student is armed with enough knowledge to know just what department should be called upon in a real world scenario.

But you can only take the horse to the water, it’s the horse that has to drink. So drink up!