Posted Jul 20

How ‘Avatar’ inspired a Bangalore key artist to pursue VFX

by Jane Bracher
How ‘Avatar’ inspired a Bangalore key artist to pursue VFX by Jane Bracher

Many artists working in the VFX industry can point to a film they’ve seen in their youth that piqued their curiosity for visual effects. Priyanka Nigam, Key Artist for Technicolor in Bangalore, India, traces a direct line between James Cameron’s 2009 hit Avatar and her pursuing a career in VFX, which has thus far included working on Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and The Lion King.

In the Q and A below, Nigam talks about how Avatar inspired her, her role as a key artist, and why she is optimistic about more women making it in media and entertainment in India.

How did you start your career in VFX? What drew you to VFX?

I was born and brought up in Kanpur, UP. Like many other teenagers, during my senior years at school, I was also fascinated by the Hollywood blockbusters, which had started coming to India and had absolutely beautiful visuals. When the movie Avatar came out, it was the moment that completely changed my mind on what I would like to do for a profession in the future. I was so mesmerised by the visuals that I wanted to learn how to do it. This led me to an institute in Haridwar, where I learnt animation & VFX and ultimately landed in Mumbai and joined Pixion Studios. So, in a way, James Cameron and his amazing visual interpretation of a completely imaginary world was what made me what I am today.

Can you walk us through your job as a key artist? What is your favourite thing about your role and conversely, what is the most challenging aspect of it?

My job as a key artist requires my expertise in creating look development for a shot, working on master shots, which are ultimately used by other artists as a reference point or benchmark for visual quality during compositing. As for my favourite part of the role, I would rather say that I love my job in its entirety and not just a small aspect of it. The sheer joy and excitement of creating visual magic through my compositions, which would ultimately be seen by millions across the globe, is what I love. As for challenges, what’s life without challenges? Every new shot, every new project comes with a new way of challenging the skills and patience of an individual as a VFX professional. 

What was the biggest or most significant challenge you had to overcome to get to where you are now? And how did you work through it?

I would say the biggest or most significant challenge that I have faced to date is my own mental acceptance of the requirements of the industry. Being in the VFX industry, we are always on the clock for the delivery of our projects. This requires a certain level of maturity and understanding from the individual as well as their family. There are certain instances when we have to spend many days in office, have to do late shifts, have to put in extra hours. These are some of the few things that are in the nature of the industry. This was not easily accepted about women in society back in my early years (in the industry), particularly in places like Kanpur. However, with the immense love and unconditional support from my family, I was able to overcome those social and mental barriers and follow my dreams. If it was not for the continued support of my family, I would not have been what I am today.

Women are still rather few in this industry relative to men, perhaps more so in India. Did you ever have any experience that had an impact on you where you felt it had more to do with being a woman than your work or anything else?

I completely agree with the fact that in India the ratio of women in the media and entertainment industry is rather less. Part of it lies in our own reservation as women, in choosing a challenging and new profession in life. Another reason may be the low penetration and awareness among our masses in India who (don’t always have access to) training facilities or the industry. I have, however, never faced any challenges or difficulties in the industry for being a woman. I have always found support and encouragement from peers and seniors throughout my career. I think once women start accepting the fact that the media and entertainment industry can also become a full-time career for them apart from teaching and other jobs, I don’t see significant challenges for women coming to this industry. It has been, it is, and it always will be welcoming to every new talent that has skills, irrespective of their gender.

What do you feel is the biggest hindrance to having more women in the VFX industry, especially in India?

I would rather like to put it in a way that is more encouraging, rather than using the word ‘hindrance’. The fact is, there are absolutely no barriers for anyone to start a career in this industry, irrespective of gender. As I mentioned earlier, this is an industry which welcomes talent with skills. Women who have always been and will always be more creatively inclined have a much better chance at succeeding in this creative industry and have an upper hand over men. It should be noted that more and more women have started taking media and entertainment as a full-time career over the past few years. I am sure the coming years will see a much more different ratio.

What would you say is your proudest work to date and why?

It has to be none other than The Lion King, that sheer technical and visual marvel of a movie. It was and will always be a path-breaking project for all creative professionals in the industry who have had the opportunity to work on it. We were constantly challenged as professionals and were pushed forward to achieve greater visual quality for the film and to make it the way we see it today. An absolute marvel of a movie.

Where do you hope to take your VFX career in future? What sort of shows or projects do you dream of working on?

I would love to reach a point in my creative career where I can have the opportunity to individually supervise an entire VFX film like The Lion King. I want to reach a level of creative excellence where I should be known by my name later but by my projects first. 

What's your favourite film of all time and why?

Hands down Avatar. It was THE movie that defined my career. It was THE movie that shaped my future and made me what I am today. -

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