What is your name and your current occupation?
First off, please allow me to thank you for doing this interview with me. I really appreciate the opportunity.
My name is Prashanth Pandurangaiah and I currently work as a Technical Director in the Assembly dept at Blue Sky Studios.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Before getting into Blue Sky Studios, I worked in the IT industry for a few years as a programmer. This was right after my Bachelors and at the time I did not know that animation could be a career for someone who has no art background, so I pretty much went with the flow without realizing my heart sought something else. I worked there until I found out that I could actually work in animation with my background.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Our curriculum at Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), where I did my graduate studies, was not quite what we’ve come to expect from a master’s course. We worked on semester-long projects and learned on the job rather than sit through classes. This also helped me take on different roles in the team and worked as an FX Animator for a project, in which we had to create animated videos of traveling in space. This was a very cool project and I learned so much.
Apart from my school projects, I would have to say my first animated film (also my first at Blue Sky Studios), Epic, is my most favorite project that I’ve worked on. I worked with amazing people on Epic and it felt really great to finally have my dream come true.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Bangalore, India. Ever since I was a kid all I really cared about is the kids hour and cartoon network on TV. It was mesmerizing to be carried away to a magical place, be it about a silly little mouse being chased by a cat, or seeing a dog owned by an anthropomorphic mouse getting entangled in funny business or watch a duck in a sailor’s outfit throw temper-tantrums. It was then that I decided I wanted to be one of those behind the scenes, whose work would put a smile on my face, and wanted to do the same for others. After getting my bachelor’s in computer science, I worked for an software company for a few years and then decided to do my masters (at CMU) in the US, which then served as a gateway to the industry. I was given the opportunity to work for Blue Sky Studios right after I completed my master’s degree and haven’t looked back since.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
With my computer science background being put to good use, I primarily develop tools (or software) for the team. If we’re doing something more than twice, my department looks for ways to automate the process. There may be some processes that, when done manually, are tedious and might lead to errors that are easy to overlook. That’s where I come in, and after discussing with my supervisor, I develop tools that will simplify the workflow. In addition, I also work on the digital sets and environments in the animated movie.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The best feeling is when I see my name on the big screen at the end of the movie, when the credits roll. Also, seeing the happy faces in the audience while watching a movie I’ve been a part of is extremely humbling and that’s one of the things we try hard to achieve here at Blue Sky Studios.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Sometimes things don’t work the way we expect it to and we don’t realize that until it’s quite deep in the pipeline, and we have to finish and deliver our work while maintaining the original deadline. It can be exhausting, but in the end, it all works out, and we’re always happy with the result.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
We use Autodesk’s Maya for most of our work. Maya is used by every animation studio and is a very important software to learn if one wants to work in animation. Some of the tools that I develop are developed to be used within Maya. With computers getting faster and more resources at our disposal we’re now able to do more in less time. This has resulted in improved technology being developed to be able to “see” something better way before we need to render, so that render cycles are not wasted, allowing us to work more efficiently.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
A lot of people from outside the industry do not fully understand how 3D animated movies are made and to explain the process can be challenging as the lingo used in the industry is not easily translated over to the natural language.
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
I’ve always been intrigued with different departments and how they achieve their output, or how they solve the issues that they encounter. Most of the time there’s a communication gap because we may not clearly understand each other’s work-flow. I have found that there could be more opportunities for inter-departmental exchange, so that those interested can work in different teams and gain more varied experience.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Yes!! It’s curious that Ice Age was the first ever 3D animated movie that I saw as a kid and now I work here at Blue Sky Studios. Co-incidentally, the first movie I worked on was directed by the same director (Chris Wedge) who directed Ice Age. When I saw Chris Wedge in the hallway and he said “Hi”, I was pleasantly surprised and mumbled something in an alien language. I often also run into the director of Rio and Rio 2, Carlos Saldanha, and both, Chris and Carlos are amazing people. Once on a school tour to Walt Disney Animation Studios I got to see Glen Keane.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I once got stuck in an elevator and pondered life and its meaning. The elevators at work were going through a rough patch this one time. We decided to risk taking them, got stuck with just enough space to see the hallway, but not enough to get ourselves out. Firemen had to be called in. It was a long evening.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I’ve been learning different technologies that could be useful at work, and I constantly try to improve myself and keep myself updated on the latest technologies.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I like playing the guitar and play it occasionally. I can only play the intros to a few of my favorite songs though.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
I know it sounds cliché , but from my experience what I’ve learned is to never give up. Also make contacts, reach out to someone on the various forums available. People in the industry are generally very helpful and usually don’t turn down requests for advice and feedback. There are also tutorials available online for basically everything today, so utilize them to learn something that may not be taught at school.