CG Today : You moved on from a graduation in electronic media to further studies in 3D and visual effects at Vancouver. How did you zero in on Vancouver, for those readers who would benefit from some career advice?

Pavithra : Ever since I started working on productions and appreciating movies as an art form, I knew it was only a matter of time before I seriously tried my hand at animation. In fact I couldn’t wait to become an animator. During the final year of my Bachelor’s degree I started my research on different places to study animation. I knew I had to choose a place that would be completely equipped to give me as much knowledge in the field as I could take as a fresher and at the same time gain exposure from people who have valuable industry experience. The best way to learn about a variety of good schools to choose from is to ask people who know exactly what they are talking about. You need to find animation geeks and nerds for this kind of information. I did my research through multiple forums and CG groups. Everyone had a lot of ideas and opinions but it was enough to get me started.

I listed out the top five I could come up with from the whole bunch of schools that were suggested. Vancouver Film School seemed perfect to go to in a lot of ways. One of the main reasons was the city, which is known to be the second most beautiful city in the world. I love travelling and it seemed like an icing on the cake. The other main reason was, the faculties were highly experienced in the industry and the school produced remarkable show reels. The school also attracted a large amount of attention from Hollywood production houses. I prepared my show reel during my final year at MOP Vaishnav. I put together the work I had done throughout my study there along with some personal projects I had been working on my own. I spent most of my final year putting together works that I felt would match up to expectations. I applied to a number of animation schools after that, including Savannah College of Art and Design, Sheridan College, Seneca College and Vancouver Film School among a few more. VFS was the first to reply back and I didn’t find a reason to wait for anything else. I couldn’t wait to go to the next step so I didn’t hesitate to take it up.

CG Today : As a graduate in visual effects and 3D from a reputed school, with interest in VFX movies, can you tell us which of the recent movies has been most impressive to you in terms of visual effects and the use of 3D?

Pavithra : Well to begin with the very recent ones Inception was extremely impressive, very closely followed by Avatar. Even though Avatar had its excellent visual points, I liked how the story telling was carried out throughout Inception. It kept me asking for more! Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 1 had some great moments in it. I enjoyed especially, watching the multiple Harrys in the Dursley’s house. The scene with Nagini at Godric’s Hollow was good as well. The shadow animated story of the Beadle and the Bard is especially worth mentioning. District 9 was great too, especially with the alien creation. I have come to look at it with a bit of respect since a lot of my own seniors from VFS have been part of the team! Star trek was a great fun ride. Prince of Persia had some great matte paintings, even though I am much more a fan of the original game by Ubisoft. Enchanted was a visual treat in a whole different level! I have always had a vivid imagination of myself as a 2D character. To see something similar to that as a movie is very delightful. The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy was excellent! Another favourite of mine is The Dark Knight.

 

 

CG Today : Apart from animation, you have shown a strong interest in documentary film making as well. You have, to your creative credits, the documentary film called Postpartum Depression, which spreads awareness about the solutions to this concern. Postpartum depression is a phase of depression, sadness, fatigue and irritability in women after childbirth. How did you decide to make a documentary on this subject?

Pavithra : When my faculty first introduced us to the project, each one of us came up with a list of topics we could work on. The topics had to be a current concern and something that could show a little light on the solution involved. It is a curious question as to how I did finally land up at this topic. It is certainly not the first thing that would jump to your mind, considering the fact that not a lot of people are actually aware of it. This fact itself is an excellent reason to make a documentary on such a concern. A few years prior to working on the documentary I read a reader’s digest article on Postpartum Depression. It was a real life story of a woman who underwent such an advanced level of the problem that she was a menace to both herself and her children. The story was very sad and way too personal to have been portrayed on a bit of magazine article. I felt truly sorry for the mother more than anyone else and also fretted over the fact that not a lot of people would have understood what she was going through. I was sure that most readers would rather blame her than really absorb how profound the actual situation had been.

 

The story had such an impact on me that even after nearly four years, the topic jumped to my head clear cut and so vivid that I knew instantly what to do. I realised that a lot of people needed this awareness especially during the current social scenario. It was primarily made with the help of a small team and the extremely knowledgeable Dr Nirmala Jayasankar, whose insight has been exceptionally valuable in spreading the awareness.

CG Today : You have said that that you had the chance to learn a lot in the process of making your short film called Scatter about a hungry rat and its arch nemesis, the vacuum cleaner. How did the idea occur to you and what were the challenges you faced in the process of completing it?

Pavithra : That’s an interesting tale. When I was living in Vancouver we had to accommodate ourselves on our own. These accommodations came at a high price of security deposits. To get it back completely by the end of our stay we had to keep the house very neat and intact. Cleaning the house was our own business due to the lack of maid servants. The vacuum cleaner I used to have then, was something very similar to the monster vacuum cleaner that you find in Scatter. One of those cleaning days, I was vaguely wondering about my story concept and working with the vacuum cleaner at the same time. I was really getting into the strenuous job when I came across a giant spider making its way rapidly up the wall, skittering across the floor, creating a havoc in my brain as I chased after it. It took me a remarkable fifteen minutes to get rid of it. I should give it a hand for putting up a brilliant fight. Actually that’s when the idea struck me. I decided to settle with a rat for the story since I felt a rat would have a good screen presence and an actual target of its own, namely the donuts. The hunter becomes the hunted concept was thoroughly intriguing and I decided to develop it from there.

There wasn’t much of a challenge to making it apart from taking it step by step. When you are a beginner you are impatient. Impatient to get to the next step, see the final output before even you form a full story. To curb down that enthusiasm of mine was a big challenge. I had a lot of help along my way while working on that idea. My faculties at VFS were an amazing group of mentors. My classmates were equally amazing in their encouragement, ideas and advice. When you care to listen to people’s views and feedback on your work, that’s when you get the output you intend to see on the big screen.

CG Today : You have written that the saying, ‘acting is essentially just reacting’ is true for animating too and the essence of a reaction can be captured only if you feel what the character feels at the moment. Can you elaborate on this from the perspective of the story Scatter, based on a rat?

Pavithra : Scatter is basically about a hungry rat who is pretty excited about finding all the wasted donuts lying about in a very untidy kitchen. He is thrilled, exhilarated by the find and doesn’t feel too shy about showing his emotions. Sound familiar? Very much like an everyday hero of movies, he is quiet enthusiastic, adventurous, outgoing and charming. To understand how his body language works in situations you need to study your own body. Study movements during different emotions, reactions and every day activities. Shooting references of yourself when acting out a shot can be greatly helpful. It also helps convey emotions on a more personal level, thus giving the character realism. When you watch an animation you shouldn’t feel like you are watching cardboard fake dolls moving around in space. The whole point is to make the audience forget that they are watching something artificially generated and instead give the illusion of realism.

As far as feeling his emotions goes, personally I didn’t have much of a problem. When you feel the same emotion while acting it out, you’d know exactly what needs to be animated where. The key is to understand the emotion correctly. Is he scared? excited? Happy? Irritated? Then, imagine what makes you scared more than anything. How would you feel to be chased by a monstrous nightmare, or tsunami, or even a mad stray dog? Imagine it and your reaction comes out automatically. This can be quiet a challenge when you are camera conscious. But with or without the aid of a reference you’d still benefit from enacting out a shot and understanding your body language at that moment. I’d like to suggest this great book that helped me understand a lot of things about acting to a scene. It is called ‘Acting for animators’ written by Ed Hooks, a great animator in his own right. It will infinitely benefit anyone who wants to become a better animator.

CG Today : You have written on your blog about your next personal project in storytelling with a dog and ball matching wits against each other. How do you go about achieving the right blend of imagination, expression, 3D modeling and finally the animation, when it finally plays out on the screen?

Pavithra : Imagination is not something you need to concentrate on to achieve. That is the reason it is called so in the first place. The spontaneity of it is what brings out the inner most desires and help visualise something that cannot actually be possible but still seems quiet fascinating to believe. The best way is to not think too much about your concept. Keep it simple. Ever wonder why Tom & Jerry has always been such raging success? Think about what would tickle your funny bones. If you are an observant sort of person then this is really easy to achieve. Most of the humour you can put on screen is something that happens in your everyday life. Watch other people when you are bored and I am sure you can come up with numerous concepts. Experiment with them in your head. Mull them over, daydream about it. Concept wise, that is all there is to it. Try not to be too inspired by the stories you see on screen. It is always a sore point to see repetitions.

For me, when I have formed an interesting idea usually it gets me too excited very quickly and pushes me into hurrying up with my animation. This is the reason it is always good to work on other people’s models. It is also quiet alright to do that. An animator need not be a great modeller, so it is necessary to bring up a team. Team work gives a better output all the time. I am working on a borrowed model as well, for this story. Most animators are also riggers, so am I. I like rigging and prefer to rig my models sometimes. It helps in giving the character the kind of rig structure you are comfortable with. The key is to go step by step and never to skip ahead just out of impatience. Proper planning is important when you are dealing with a short film on your own. I get feedbacks from most of my friends and this has been the best part of making a short film. The tweaking, correcting and reanimating part. It is surprising really, how much you can push the animation to deliver something quite powerful in the end.

CG Today : Thank you for your time and we wish you all the very best in your future endeavors.

Pavithra : Thank you! It was great answering your questions. Have a nice day.

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Pavithra Ramamurthy - Trainee 3D Animator and Rigger

Blog:
Pavithra's Blog

e-mail :
pavithraram.8 [at] gmail [dot] com

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