Currently busy with his TD role on “Happy Feet II” at Academy Award winning producers George Miller and Doug Mitchell’s Australian digital media company, Dr. D Studios, Rahul Deshprabhu takes a break to discuss exclusively with CG Today on the career he has chosen and the projects he was part of. Carrying almost a decade of experience Rahul decorated roles at various renowned studios around the globe in the CG Lighting and FX departments which includes Look Effects, Digital Domain, Prana Studios, and Weta Digital, helping create some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters that we all enjoyed and shares with us the workflow, tips and tricks and his views on the Indian CG Industry. Apart from the job Rahul loves bikes, culinary adventures and photography. Read On.

Rahul DeshprabhuCG Today : Hi Rahul! Welcome to our pages!

Rahul : Thanks Ranjith and it is always a pleasure.

CG Today : Let me first hear how your interest in animation and computer graphics grew after a Diploma in Electrical Engineering?

Rahul : This could be a very weird story, but my first encounter with this industry started out in the most interesting of ways. I was always intrigued by animation, computer graphics, movies and special effects. I also was a very keen observer - need a lot of that- all along. After I finished my Diploma I went straight to Pune which is where I had gotten admission to 2nd year Computer Science at MIT .Due to medical reasons, later that year I was bedridden and was going to miss a whole year of my further studies. I came across an article in ‘Maharashtra Times’ about the emerging technologies in computer graphics and animation and some of the institutes that schooled people in this discipline. I knew there was nothing to lose by gaining some knowledge on this emerging technology.

This is when I started out at EDIT on Law College Road in Pune doing computer graphics. I found this to be of my liking. So much so that I finished the whole 18 month course in just 10 months including my project in 3DStudio. Much to my parents’ disappointment I never went back to engineering.

My teachers and the staff at EDIT found me so good at what I was doing that I was hired to teach a couple of classes at the same institute. I was going strong. Then I came across Silicon Graphics and Alias Wavefront and I knew I had to get this knowledge too. Fortunately Silicon Meadows by Tata Elxsi just sprang up in Pune. I enrolled for the course to learn Power Animator. My tutor in Silicon Meadows was also a freelancer at some of the well known studios in Mumbai, prominently at Rajtaru Videosonic. I wanted to get away from teaching and wanted to gain hands on experience in applying my knowledge of the 3D software. He recommended joining Rajtaru which I did and toiled in this studio doing title animations for films and commercials for more than a year.

CG Today : Then you moved to US to learn Film?

Rahul : At Rajtaru I met some people and heard of UCLA. I always wanted to know the base of what I was applying these effects for. FILM. Effects in film. That was my goal.

But to achieve my goal I had to first get enough information about a film. How film works, how lighting is mimicked in Hollywood, how special effects make up is done and applied etc. I found this course- New Media and Digital Image Creation for Film Content catering to my needs. And for that I needed to be in the Mecca of FX. LosAngeles - UCLA.

This course was FILM all the way. Everything in this course dealt with various aspects of FILM. Right from film noir to how to script, enlist actors, shoot and edit. The complete process, classes were taught by the pioneers in the industry. We were allowed to visit different studios to get first hand experience in how effects were achieved right from TRON to Blade Runner and more. So this gave me a pretty good insight on how things were done in real film with the need for computers. Armed with this knowledge and the hard work done in the university and good grades from my professor I earned a 3 month internship - no pay - at my first ever studio in Hollywood – Look FX. Here I was given a chance to learn Maya and understand the workings of a typical studio and its processes in the LA land. I proved myself to be an asset before the 3 months were up, and my superior, whose desk and computer I was using part time, evening to the early hours in the morning, cleared it up for me and brought me onboard full time. And this is how I entered the industry.


CG Today : You were concentrating more on to lighting earlier. What attracted you to specialization on lighting?

Rahul : Look Effects saw me doing the generalist role for the most part. While working there I was gaining experience on a lot of aspects but the one I was good at was tracking. For some reason camera tracking and object tracking was one of my favorite things to do. I guess the tedious nature of the work involved somehow attracted me to it. Anything that needed tracking, I was assigned to it.

Lighting was another aspect I was attracted to. How light plays in/on different surfaces while creating shadows was not only fascinating to me but was also challenging. I started lighting. Duplicating natural lighting and giving life to a scene or character gave me immense sense of accomplishment. Lighting complex CG elements to match live action plates is a lot of work and fun. The hard/soft shadows, the glints in the eyes etc were fun to achieve.

CG Today : How your entry to Digital Domain was and what’s the role you played in projects like I Robot and The Day After Tomorrow?

Rahul : Good thing about a small vfx house is that it allows you to be a part of the complete vfx process. Bad thing about a small vfx house is that there is a chance of work drying up for extensive periods of time. This is what happened to me a few times at Look and it became hard to sustain myself during these times.

I decided to take the leap towards my dream job, Digital Domain. I knew someone at DD and asked them if they would take a look at my reel and suggest a position at the company. I was a generalist at Look and wanted to get into specifics – two departments I liked most – lighting and fx. The contact said that I needed to change a few things in the reel to show my skill set as a lighter which I did. Although they did not have any positions suitable to my liking at the time I took up a position in the Integration department to do next best thing that I liked. Matchmoving.

When that phase of the project was over I approached the lighting supervisor and asked if I could light a scene which he readily agreed for me to do. He liked what I did and I joined the lighting department in the company doing lighting for The Day After Tomorrow. I was assigned to light the bird’s eye view of the sequence where the water rushes through Manhattan. On IRobot, I repeated the same work on a couple of sequences where the helper robots don an evil nature and try to control the humans.

CG Today : So what all are the responsibilities of a lighting TD?

Rahul : A Lighting TD is responsible for the design and for creating the look of computer generated objects and scenes. They have to create lit environments and elements, including placing key lights, creating shadows, etc. Maintaining shaders, contributing to the design and development of Lighting workflow and toolset, developing render pass strategies, developing lighting to compositing workflow, assisting in feature pipeline development etc. can be a part of the job as well.

Sometimes the TD has to adjust lighting set-ups as dictated by the team leads. They also have to setup compositions from existing elements, add post-production processing, and render final sequences.

Working closely with compositors they will finish selected shots so that computer generated elements are seamlessly integrated with live-action plates. Assembling a final 3D scene, incorporating the illumination and rendering of all 3D elements required to complete shots as well as compositing to ensure quality and coherency of the elements generated are responsibilities of a lighting TD.

CG Today : What would be the work flow like for a Lighting TD?

Rahul : As far as the work flow is concerned a Lighting TD would receive environments and characters from the respective departments as models. Then he/she would go about rendering them as grey shades to weed out any inconsistencies in them. They would then proceed to get a base light rig in place, in that, they would have to decide the direction of the key, time of day/night, softness of the shadows, if whether the characters are receiving any rims and bounces from any sources etc. They would then render out the sequence on 5's to do a quick check of the frame range and how the elements behave in that light. They would submit the renders either on black OR slapped onto the live action plate to compare lighting and get comments and would then fine tune the renders until completion.

A Lighting TD works closely with the compositing department and is answerable to the Lighting Lead and the Lighting Supervisor. When the Lighting TD submits their work for review, they receive comments on how the environments and the characters look and feel in comparison to the lighting done in the live action plate OR if it is an animated character then what emotions does it bring to the screen etc. Accordingly notes are addressed and the shot is then sent back for review.

CG Today : What are the generic challenges that happen in the first place for a lighting artist in a project?

Rahul : Getting the lighting right for the time of day OR night OR the mood required and being consistent through out the scene are some of the challenging aspects of lighting. Lighting the eyes of a character so that they feel lively is another challenging aspect of lighting. Obvious to say this but an awful lot of lit images are just ugly. They convey no emotion. This is very important and challenging in lighting.

CG Today : So any tips and tricks for making a great lighting render?

Rahul : Being able to demonstrate a good understanding of aesthetic concerns and issues is a key. Graphically your images should be pleasing on the eye.

If you want to light a car, look at advertisements for the same, get some lighting cues. Pick an appropriate style for your particular model and the use this as the basis for your lighting. If you want to capture a certain mood or ambience, think of a movie where you've seen it. Examine the framing, the lighting, the grade, what filters if any were used. As you do this, begin to build up a mental library of images and you will be able to rely less on looking directly at other's work and begin to use your own judgments and ideas.

Dive into the media. Keep your eyes open. Look at an image, examine it. What makes it work, how was it produced? Remember it. Start collecting a source bank of reference images from magazines or off the net. Use this collection to spark ideas about how to tackle issues in lighting for your own work. Whatever problems you come across, someone else has come across it before and solved it. You need to find that out and apply it to your own experience. Think in real life terms and look at real examples and there lies the key to a good lighting scene.

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