Exclusive: Cinesite Pipeline Director Dushyant Kashyap shares his VFX journey

Having worked as a 2D animator, fx artist, compositor and Pipeline Engineer in feature productions for more than fourteen years, Dushyant Kashyap has seen various chambers of the VFX landscape in his career.

Currently working as a Pipeline Compositing TD at Cinesite Vancouver, Kashyap has collaborated with many Hollywood studios and worked on noted big-ticket projects like Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049, Star Trek Beyond, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Bohemian Rhapsody, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Red Sparrow,Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, as well the Resident Evil: Extinction, Repo Men.
Cinesite
His most recent work as a Pipeline Compositing TD includes Addams Family and several other upcoming feature productions. AnimationXpress caught up with Kashyap for a candid conversation on his journey and the VFX industry. Tell us about your journey as a Pipeline engineer.
It was one of the very unusual ways you can think of that I ended up being where I am now. The goal of my career, after finishing school, was to get into the colorful graphic designing industry where I, very soon, realized 3d animation is where the real fun is. But I had no idea how differently VFX and animation studios work, for a very long time. But luckily I ended up in a VFX studio very soon, when I was still a flash artist. I already had some idea how Aftereffects works and I was already automating things in Flash, so my Boss asked, do you know “what is a pipeline”? Being blunt as always, I was like, Nope. And that was the beginning. With time, my focus shifted slightly towards blasting and smoking up things as FX is one of the most technical processes of the animation/VFX pipeline. But those effects needed to look and feel nice and bright, right. So there were shows where I did a lot of environment painting, match-move, lighting and final compositing, learning everything on the job. And then there was a lot of compositing, so much so that I used to see roto-splines in my dreams. There, I thought that now I am a compositor, finally.
VFX Pipeline representation
But in the next few years I found myself struggling a lot between the idea of being an artist or the technical guy. And I lost my interview with Dreamworks Bangalore to that dilemma. Finally I ended up in Prime Focus where they minted my fx skills for shows like Immortals in the beginning but because they were going global and integration with technologies from the London office was imminent, I finally got a long term goal. With Prime Focus, I made a lot of trips to London which helped me see the global perspective of things. And how different we are as a culture are, even though we have been working for Hollywood flicks for such a long time. Now, everyone knows that Prime Focus is a workhorse, and it’s said that a year at Prime is the equivalent of five years anywhere else. That’s exhausting. Pipeline being itself is a multidisciplinary department, I decided to focus on Compositing Pipeline for sometime, and ended up at my current job. In the future I plan on shelling out my own software bundles to help artists and cg/vfx-shops. I am also keen on seeing my own stories on the big screen, someday.  What sort of trends is the VFX ecosystem witnessing currently?
Trends have changed drastically. The last decade was disruptive, the industry right now is in a robust position. There’s been a tremendous growth in the quality and complexity of visual effects, as well as constant innovation in photo-realism. Then there are news on shops closing every now and then, but that’s largely due to the unorganized nature of business.
Tell us about any recent project that you worked on. The Addams Family (2019 film) - WikipediaMost recently I have worked as a Compositing Pipeline TD on Addams Family, it was a fun and relaxed show for me. And coming out of VFX it was the first time I was witnessing the production of the entire feature length movie at a single facility in a single stretch of time. And it did well at the box office. My part on the show was to support the daily functioning of the Compositing department from a technical perspective, solving any pipeline or compositing technical issues coming from the department, creating tools for automating tedious tasks or enabling better work practices. I also did a lot of workflow documentation and helped production to Tech QC the final deliveries. Does your background in compositing help in streamlining the VFX pipeline and workflow? A lot, because that’s where everything ends up being. My motto when I approach studios for work is “I have been an artist and I know how artists work, so the tools and procedures I design will resonate with you far more easily”. A programmer in the CGI/VFX/Animation industry is not your regular IT programmer making boring software. And most of the pipeliners I know have some experience in some department of the industry and with me it was the gradual progressive learning of the craft in one hand always keeping the code in another. We understand you are an active member of VES society. You’ve also been a jury member. (If I am correct) Share your thoughts on the recent nominations and the nature of VFX in the current times. The goal of the jury, which I was part of, was to select from the submissions the work that is good for nomination. Which will then be passed on to the entire VES community for the selection of the best works in respective categories. Essentially we were selecting a few best of the lot which will then be judged again to select the best of the best, if that makes sense. The process was transparent and unbiased and open to all qualified members who chose to and could make themselves available in selected global cities.
The number of entries each year is ever increasing. During those 4 hours in a small closed theater it was a daunting task to choose four nomination worthy works due to sheer volume and innovation and ever improving quality of work. This year’s nominations contain heart touching Klaus, painstaking and exquisitely crafted stop-motion marvel “Missing Link” which employed 3 D printing as well. Disney has always been on the forefront of technology and they did it again with Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4. And if you have missed the grandeur of Avengers: Endgame in theater, you missed a lifetime worth of movie going experience. A lot of studios are employing game engines and VR/AR to perfect their CG cinematography. 2019 was a dream year for CGI enthusiasts, and things are going to get better. Earlier in this decade, we started seeing directors forcing VFX in every movie they make, but the past few years’ submissions prove that thinking completely wrong. VFX is a fantastic tool to enhance your story telling capabilities. You’ve seen the level of VFX sophistication rise over the years from up close. How do you see the growth? Back in 2003, when I decided to start this journey, there were hardly any recognized university programs for VFX and/or animation. Even so called animation institutes were highly concentrated in cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore. Being from Jaipur I decided to move to Mumbai, as there was no other sensible option. In the name of fully featured VFX flix, India had hardly anything to brag about. But it is early 2020 and our appreciation for animation and those that inspired the industry has gone through the roof. The late 1990s-early 2000s marks a turning point for CGI. Pixar’s release of groundbreaking films such as Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, along with PDI’s (later DreamWorks) Antz and Shrek were all catalysts for a huge amount of change in our industry. CGI animation was effectively born, and the revolution that it created, in terms of use and abilities of CGI software and render technology, was to be immense. Over the last two decades, the VFX industry has evolved and grown at a rapid pace. Trends reflect an industry that is constantly reinventing itself. The CGI animation industry has now come of age and is at a point where it can create anything. We can all scale new heights and take on more challenging projects, so I believe the future could not be any brighter! AI is helping in revolutionising the creation of VFX and simplifying the techniques of VFX for everyone. MA/ML can learn from data and can help create hyper realistic natural simulations. Infrastructure support made available by Google and Amazon in recent years have enabled studios to churn an unbelievable amount of number and complexity of shots. Although software has undoubtedly improved vastly and aided the technical progression of the CGI industry as a whole – and of course, behind any great render, is a fantastic R&D team – though this is at the forefront of the leaps and bounds in which the industry has come… It is also down to our abilities in terms of a greater understanding of the artistry of animation.
What are the issues that plague the VFX industry? Shortest schedules and still at the highest quality possible; how much work do you want to manage under one roof in a stretch? This is, I suppose, the main issue which branches off in other problems with time. It’s an incredibly competitive industry with extremely low margins. And there’s plenty I can talk about it and even if the problems in the industry are far from over, what’s for sure is that: visual effects have never been more in demand than they are today – and where there’s demand, there’s hope. Your VFX journey is inspiring. What advice would you give to budding artists? Take your time and make sure you know what you are doing. The schedule could be demanding, you might want to do something else but could end-up doing something else, but please don’t exit the industry to start a restaurant joint, leave that to engineers and MBA’s (no offence intended). This is an industry of passion, do your research and keep upgrading your skills, be smart and enjoy your efforts. And in this field, self learning is the best learning. How do you see the Indian VFX scenario?
Technically, VFX in India dates back to the silent era. We have come too far since then. Every major studio in the world wants to have it’s own direct presence in India, with partnership or on their own.
But for some reason, programmers from India are hired in plenty in international studios but R&D teams in India are still a novelty. Programmers are the last bunch of people a studio thinks about hiring early on. This has changed a lot in the last few years but there’s still a need of awareness that you need these guys and need to keep these guys. Education scenario has also improved over the years but university curriculums are not well paced and private institutes are still goto places for learning specialisations. Also, from the last couple of years the visual effects society (VES) has been a driving force in bringing VFX professionals in India together. With the help of veterans like Tim McGovern and N. Madhu Sudanan, people like Devrishi Chatterjee and Pankaj Verma have turned the tide. And India has its own VES section after decades of presence here with a handful of members, it’s a strong community now. Which is very healthy for the VFX ecosystem in India, coming together and sharing knowledge and expertise.