Monday, October 27, 2014

In The Know!

You know the number one question you get asked when you meet new people or go to family events and meet uncles and aunts  – “what do you do a nowadays?” It’s October and family events are on the rise so I’ve been subjected to this question over and over again. For those of you in the average (sarcastic snigger) medical, engineering or MBA programs, this is a relatively easy answer. You say it and it’s accepted with a general nod of the head and wise look in the eye. But what do you think happens when you say you’re in CGI (Computer Graphics Imagery) or VFX or Digital Art?!? For folks like me the 'what you up to now' question is a flincher. Because here's your average reaction to the answer – skeptical look plus narrowing of eyes.

So I've been a CG artist for a while now, and I'm tired of people looking at me like I'm speaking Morse code when I tell them what I do. Most people try to break it down for themselves by saying, you make  cartoons?!? Well I can, but that's not all I do. Or the public favorite, 'Ohh you’re in Animation.' Again No. I can animate but no I'm not ONLY in the animation department. Of course by this time people have decided that I am in 'Animation' making 'Cartoons' and it takes a couple of cold glasses of water and finding my inner peace to actually explain to them what I'm a part of.

Lets start with a basic example. Meet Richard Parker (the tiger) from Life of Pi. You think good old Richard was sitting in a zoo somewhere doing tricks until he caught the eye of Ang Lee (the Director). Hell no! Richard didn't exist. Richard was imagined by Yann Martel (Author of the book) and brought to life by people like yours truly. I mean not me me. But CG VFX artists like me. Richard was drawn out on paper by a concept artist in a studio and then taken from 2d to 3d. Lost you yet?

Walking you through the CG pipeline for creating “someone” like Richard Parker starts with Modeling the tiger. Imagine molding clay, except you're doing it virtually on a computer and three-dimensionally. The modeler makes Parker look big and well fed or starving and half dead based on the requirement of the shot. Once Parker is modeled and roaring to go, the Texturing and Materials team steps in. They give Parker the color and coat that turns him from a dull grey into a vibrant golden-orange-black-striped mean machine. So we create Parker, color him exotic, now we got to put some bones into him, I mean literally. The Rigging team makes sure that Parker has joints in his legs and movement in his jaw and can swipe his claws. I mean so far Parker was a static statue; after the rigging team is done with him he can now jump into action. That is Animation. Whether Parker is supposed to look like a ferocious bad-ass, roaring and walking with the swagger of being a royal beast, or he's half dead, barely able to stand, hobbling around with an expression of death, is all done by the animator.

Then there’s the Lighting department—mood setters. Should Richard be traumatised by lighting strikes and light blitz, or is it harsh daylight with stark shadows, or is it a cool night with soft moonlight filling the scene? So once we’ve created Richard, textured him, put bones into him, lit him up and basically got him all ready to go, the Rendering team takes it from here. Very simply, it is the last major step where you take everything done so far and put it together so that it can play as a movie.  

I‘ve merely scratched the surface and given you just a taste of what the world of CGI is  made of. This world is far more humongous then you can imagine. Books could be written on the different levels and departments it consists of. While hoping you'd read these books might be asking for a bit much, I guess you now have a little insight the next time you ask someone like me what it is that I do. Roar to that!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Odd Ball

I love Family events. Since you are reading this you can’t hear the heavy sarcasm dripping from that sentence. Now don’t get me wrong—I love my family.. well my immediate family. It’s the extended family that can get very, you know.. extended. Let me give you a little background. I come from a family of engineers and doctors. If someone walked off the trampled path they’d go become a CA. One cousin even had the cheek to go do an MBA—now that was different. Until, well, I came along.

I started off with engineering and realized early on that it wasn’t my cup of anything. So of course concerned family members subtly (same heavy sarcasm note as before) pointed me towards the medical field, then (a little frantically) towards accountancy, then (with a gun to my head) towards an MBA program. But every family has a black sheep and I spectacularly disappointed everyone by announcing that I was entering the ‘Creative Field.’

Three basic reactions met me everywhere I went (remember those family events I mentioned earlier) 1 Blatant Disbelief; 2 Unabashed Shock; 3 The Head Shake / Look-of-Shame. Blatant Disbelief came from the younger crowd. Mainly because they realized that my days were numbered. I was definitely going to be cut out of the will. But also because they never really thought ‘Creativity’ was something you turn into a career option.

Unabashed Shock was from the parent-age crowd. Mainly shock towards my poor parents, who everyone assumed had “let me go out of hand” (literal translation from the Hindi “haat se choot gayi hai”). “If only you would have been more strict.” Also it doesn’t help that my elder brother is one of those mathematical child prodigy types (I never stood a chance, see). The shock was more since my ‘gene-pool’ was obviously so strong.

The Head Shake / Look-of-Shame thing happened from the grandparents’ gang. Since they have seen the world, this anomaly (yours truly) was something to be expected. The proverb should have been ‘A Look is Worth a Thousand Words.’ With the looks I’ve faced, I swear, less thick-skinned people would have dropped like flies. But luck favors the brave and I’ve withstood all the Head Shakes and Looks-Of-Shame with a smile.. by that I meant skittish simper.

Now that I have all your sympathy and you are feeling like I come from a family of weirdoes (its not their fault.. it's society playing safe as a whole), let me assure you, I’m no unique case. In our country where ‘trend-changer’ is only a thing for the big cities (that too only some parts of big cities) a ton of my friends have faced and battled similar reactions. I’ve done an earlier blog on ‘the not so beaten path’ which was basically my journey from aww-some.. to awesome (wrong blog if you were looking for modesty). But I recently had a chat with a couple of people who told me how they were struggling with getting their families to understand what they wanted to do—their ‘Passion.’ And I just wanted to reach out and say.. hey.. you are not alone (I just felt like Charles Xavier… how cool is that!!!).

Some of the greats all started under family pressure but stepped out from under-the-wing so to speak to achieve nothing short of utter greatness. Alfred Hitchcock, started as an estimator (esti…whaat) for the Heneley Telegraph and Cable Company (oh and you thought you had it bad). Bill Cosby was a bartender (that’s a pretty cool job actually). Ashton Kutcher was studying engineering and working odd jobs as a carpenter and farm laborer (how can someone so good looking be allowed to do that!!). James Cameron majored in physics before changing his ‘Avatar’ to become a filmmaker. I mean, wow!!.. can you see where I’m going with this.

The stories of so many people who have made it massive in the creative world started just like us (may be farm laborer is stretching it a bit). But my point being if these people had buckled under family pressure or gone with the flow and continued down the path they originally were put on, the world would have been at a loss. (Tell me you’re not inspired yet). Since I’m going all Professor Xavier on you, I’m going to quote from the man himself to keep the fire in you burning, ‘A new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate: each choice, each moment, a moment in the ripple of time. Enough ripples, and you change the tide... for the future is never truly set.’