Applied Gravity CEO Satya Murthy

“What I have learnt is a million times more worth than what I have earned over the past years.”

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Applied Gravity CEO Satya Murthy
One thing common amongst the awe inspiring scenes and visuals in global top grossers like Jurrasic Park, Terminator, Anaconda and Jaws is Animatronics. That’s not all, the list of impressive movies with animatronics goes on …Nutty Professor II :The Klumps, Me Myself & Irene, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Stuart Little… and many more. Animatronics = Animated Electronics There are quite a few animators in India, there are probably hundreds of thousands of electronics engineers too. However there are probably 5-7 Indians who have been involved with the art and science of animatronics. While in Hyderabad, Animation ‘xpress’ Anand Gurnani touched base with Applied Gravity CEO Satya Murthy . In a freewheeling interview Satya who has been exposed to a lot of advanced robotics and animatronics shared his perspectives on the scene in India as compared to abroad. Here are excerpts from the conversation… What got you interested in animatronics? How has the going been? I did my first flip book when I was 13. Remember we used to get those “Limca flip books” some 15 yrs ago. One of my uncles got me one of those from the US even before it was available in India. But animation never was my core competency or interest; I was more excited about electronics, robotics and ham radio. Slowly my passion for robotics grew and I started understanding Hollywood movies and creature effects there. I never got any direction or help from anyone. Everyone only talked about engineering or medicine. But somehow I stuck to this passion of movies, special effects and robotics/electronics. My biggest break came when I joined NID (National Institute of Design). It gave me a window of opportunities to explore and learn. In the second year, my design concept was selected to the international browsers day contest and I was selected to present it along with 15 other students from MIT and Royal College of Arts (London) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. That was the activation energy required for my career and learning curve. I got an opportunity to learn and work in the research division of Lego Toys, UK and was exposed a totally new world of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics. After I came back to India, it was absolute out of place for me. No one understood what “Animatronics” was; it was too difficult for me to survive here. When I got an opportunity to join Disney Imagineering in US, it turned out to be a boon for me. I learned more than I earned as an intern. Most of the days I could not afford a cab, and had to take the bus. But as they say, patience and perseverance always pays. You have do what gives you satisfaction or else you can’t sustain long. I kept doing a to’n’fro from US. Later on I shifted base to Australia, where I worked for a company called Fire Fly entertainment. I got good opportunities to work on projects like The Scorpion King and LOTR. All this while, my learning in Maya, SP. FX, Physical effects kept increasing as I used to spend at least 4 hrs in a day experimenting with them. I never saw animation as software, and never considered maya/3dmax/softi = animation. They were tools for me. When you consider them as tools it becomes easier to learn. Today I know Maya, 3D Studio Max, Softimage, makeup-fx, animatronics, robotics and game design. Surprisingly I never “formally” went to a college to learn these. All of them are self taught. What I feel is the growth of an artist depends on the exposure you get. I am lucky to have got all of that. .

“What I have learnt is a million times more worth than what I have earned over the past years”

Please elaborate on your experience with animatronics? Animatronics’ was coined by Disney which means animated electronics. It goes way back to B/W cinema in Hollywood when it was not as complex as it is now. My biggest and proudest achievements come with working on LOTR, which is the biggest name on my profile. I was with the design team of physical effects division. I have not done much work in the past one year after coming back to India. But Disney Imagineering was one totally out of the world experience. We did a lot of theme park simulations, rides and live animatronics displays. I am so grateful to all the seniors with whom I worked. They are the main reason for my learning today. I really wished I was with the AVP (alien verses predator) team as it was my dream project to work on. Did you try doing animatronics in India. How many animatronics specialists do we have in the country? When I was with Nipuna last year we worked on a demo project for Zee TV – “Chi and Me”, which was a very primitive form of animatronics but Indian budgets are always miserable on a project like this. Other than that I personally had no time to pursue this area as the focus of my parent company was more BPO than Intellectual property and Physical effects. I had put together a great team at Nipuna (Satyam) then. We hardly have 5-7 specialists in this field in India from my knowledge out of which only 2/3 of them have worked on some good projects.

“The future belongs to them who own content”

How long were you at Nipuna and which were the projects that you oversaw while there? I joined Nipuna in the month of April 2004. We did quite a number of pilots, and demo works for various companies like Eden games which produced NFS 1, 2 and 3 and some other companies. I resigned towards the end of March 2005. There were a lot of reasons for me quitting the company. The core focus, as you are aware was outsourcing for them as for most of the other Indian companies. I wanted to venture into IP as you know the outsourcing market was dead five years ago. And the future belongs to them who own content and current trend is “Co-productions”. But finding the right partner is also an issue. People say that Indian animation studios don’t co-produce, that is true…but if the other party is transparent and capable enough this situation would never have aroused. At Nipuna we also worked on some game design project from Singapore, and a music video which is yet to be released. Whom does the Applied Gravity trademark belong to? When I started Applied Gravity in the year 1999, it was in a garage in Australia. I owned it completely so that I could keep it under control. Applied Gravity belongs to me. In 2004 I included a new share holder into the company who is a film maker and has done her course in filmmaking from New York University, US. We will let out the details soon. There is another investor coming into the company who does not liked to be named as of now. What are your future plans with Applied Gravity? We are planning to kick off a shop in Singapore. We plan to focus on Animatronics training also. We are looking at setting up an academy and a production house. Applied Gravity will be the first academy in Asia to cater education and training in Animatronics in addition to 3D Animation. We plan to focus on what is most important for a student to succeed in this domain. The course covers makeup-fx and robotics too. I want to give back as much as I can… I have learnt so much…does not harm me to share some with the society. We Asians are very good at animation, but when it come to special effects and physical effects, the scenario is pretty terrible. This is a small effort to see if we can break that barrier. We are also looking at an IPO or a merger at the end of 2/3 yrs.

“We Asians are very good at animation, but when it come to special effects and physical effects, the scenario is pretty terrible”

Once in Singapore, Will you be maintaining your India connection? I don’t think there is anything like cutting the connection with India. The only reason I am looking at Singapore is because India is more focused on BPO and I am heading towards IP. Singapore is the hottest base now for media and especially for IP. As of now we don’t have plans for a backend anywhere, but we love to have connections with studios to have a back end delivery structure. We don’t want to have 1000s of people working for us. We keep the core team small, 5-10 and execute the projects by having tie-ups with other studios. We keep the creative and production control with us so that our deadlines are met. God only knows what holds for us in future but we will soon see the studios realizing what it means to produce and own IP and we would want to be pioneers of it by then. connect@animationxpress.com
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