Interview with CG expert Jesh Krishna Murthy “We need to implement a whole new way of working and producing jobs at the earliest”

CG expert Jesh Krishna Murthy

“We need to implement a whole new way of working and producing jobs at the earliest”

Been there, done that. Looking at his career graph which includes long stints at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (London) and Toybox (Toronto & Vancouver), a lot of people would have loved to be in Jesh Krishna Murthy’s shoes. Leaving his dream job at Jim Henson’s where he led the 3D team for 60 shots of Batman Begins and created a water surface replacement system which was used in movies such as Water Giant and Tomb Raider-2, CG expert Jesh Krishna Murthy has moved back to India. India to him offers a challenge, which is far more exciting than working on big movies abroad. Animation ‘xpress’ Anand Gurnani touched base with Jesh while he was in Mumbai and had a long conversation on the challenges that India offered as well as faced. Excerpts – How did you get involved in this industry? I entered this industry around 15 years ago. Dad had a software company and I grew up playing with tools like Corel and AutoCAD. Before I knew, I was doing 3D work for studios in Delhi. Back then I used to work on Amiga, did some graphics work for Siddharth Basu. After a couple of years, I went to Germany and joined Dussledorf as a graphics artist. It was the first company to produce multimedia CD Roms in Germany. Post that I did an animation course at Bell Centre of Creative Arts, Toronto. It was a 24 months program – no breaks. I’ve been working ever since. . Which studios have you worked with internationally? II’ve worked at a lot of high end boutiques in Toronto like Spin Productions and Toybox which is Canada’s largest post production and VFX house. I was involved in lots of projects like Lost in Space, Existenze, Fight Club and a whole lot of high end commercials for clients in New York. After 4 years in Toronto, Toybox opened a division in Vancouver where I headed the VFX, this was around 98. We started out with doing a lot of commercials. Gradually I built a relationship with one of the VPs at Universal studios and we got the assignment for ‘Josie and the Pussy Cats’ movie. I did around 17 long form shows including TV movies. Also supervised The Pledge, which was directed by Sean Penn and starred Jack Nicholson, the movie was executed at ILM. When 9/11 happened, there was a lot of chaos and air traffic was stalled. I ended up doing VFX supervision for a lot the commercials that ILM was shooting in Canada. In 2001 I took a break and came for six months to India. While here, I got a call from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop in London. There, I developed Jim Henson’s water surface solution to do full water replacements of surfaces like Oceans, Sea’s and lakes. This was used for Tomb Raider 2. I also supervised for Water Giant and Are we there Yet? Its got some real good character animation. We also did 60 shots for Batman Begins, I was the 3D lead. And now I am here. (Phew!)How come India? Why Not? I mean why would you want to return here when you have been getting to work on the biggest movies in Hollywood? See, I never planned to go out. Similarly I never planned to return. India is my home. As a creative person, I have always wanted challenges and full control. I could have gone on doing big movies out there. But for me India is offering a lot of challenges. The challenge for me in India is far more exciting than doing big movies abroad. “I want to sink my teeth in and help studios get bigger, more complex jobs. I want to help execute them” What are the challenges that India offers you? What excites me about India are the possibilities that lie. It is like a great blank canvass and we can do whatever we want to do today. We will require a lot of patience, perseverance, hard work, dedication and single mindedness; we are capable of reaching the top. What I like about the Indian system is that it is very guerilla based. Talent is very home grown. They are capable and talented, but they are very raw. I have seen how many efforts some of the studio heads have put in the past few years in getting jobs and getting known. While there are some unhappy clients, there are also a lot of happy clients and India is getting noticed. Hopefully I would like to play a very constructive role in this industry in India. I want to sink my teeth in, to help studios get bigger, more complex jobs and help execute them. I’d also love to work with the non profit organizations to help raise the profile of animation in India and help Indian artists raise their skill sets and skill levels. I would love to see openness between the Indian studios where they can tackle problems and big jobs together. There is a lot of will and desire, but we still have a long way to go. What are your business plans? It is too premature for me to talk about my plans. One thing is sure that I want to be associated with quality. Right now I am in the process of testing out various facilities for a large US content creator. At the end of the day, no matter what business ventures I am involved in, I am an artist. And I know that an artist can make all the difference in making or breaking a company. I am working with international people right now to bring hi end training in India. My intention is to make part of the training available to deserving people free of charge. This of course will have a business aspect to it where we will be charging the professionals. It will be designed for professionals who want to make a leap forward. It could start within the next 6-8 weeks time. The same thing could be done with studios that want to enhance skills and are looking to upgrade. We badly need skill sets here. We are lacking in many skill sets, and need to quickly cover the gap between here and the west. Skill sets like? One of the big things missing is rendering technology. Of the shelf software is great but to do high end you must be able to write tools and work on correct OS, Robust data management, lighting pipelines, shading pipelines, compositing etc. A lot of the studios out here ignore color management. We need additional software to manage colors across all machines. We also have to change the mentality that once we buy software that has been used to produce amazing movies we can go home and in three years time we too shall have a product. To produce hi-end, high quality work, we need to get into the gut of software that we buy off the shelf. We need to develop our own software and plug-ins. We need to get into the gut of things like lighting, shading etc so that we make sure that our artists have all the tools at their disposal. CGI effects is a very unique medium. Over the years I have learnt that math is also art. So is picking up a pencil and letting the imagination run wild. So what if we let both these kind of artists run riot with the skills they posses?

“Over the years I have learnt that math is also art”

Technically, One area Indian studios should focus on? The Pipeline. In a way the pipeline is the most integral part of a project. Scheduling, data management, rendering, compositing, lighting, color management, delivery pipelines are all part of it. Most of our pipelines are not set up to do huge production. Our pipelines are based out of a small setup growing big. Whereas a real production pipeline is one that you can just build on, grow and maneuver easily. Having seen what it takes to produce high end work and having done that it myself, it is quite obvious to me that we need to implement a whole new way of working and producing jobs at the earliest. Or we risk being left behind by the competition in Asia and Eastern Europe. What is an ideal pipeline? Each project demands a different kind of pipeline. An efficient pipeline is that which gets from start to finish with the least amount of headaches. It should be really flexible and be able to adapt any change in the working environment. You need to start of the with the right OS, That way you give the sys admin the best tools available to manage, multiple Terra Bytes of data which can consist of thousands of assets on a big project. A pipeline should have all the repetitive actions, as automated as possible. It should be structured in such a way that any given person in production on location or remotely can go in and find out what lies where, what stage it is in and what’s going to happen.

Pipelines are a very deep subject and I can go on and on about them. “In a way the pipeline is the most integral part of a project”

What has been your most challenging work as an artist? I am primarily an artist, over the years I have learnt code and mathematics. When I went to Henson’s , I volunteered to create their water tools. Job was to first create a water surface replacement system that could do full CGI, Oceans lakes, wakes, foam so on. And I created a plugin called J-Flo which is basically bunch of tools created within Houdini. J-Flo was used for water replacement shots for Tomb Raider 2 and Water Giant. That was my most challenging job because doing water is one of the most difficult things to do is CG. Parting Shot? At this point I have just landed in India Its interesting meeting and observing people who have beenl sogging it out here. People have done good work, you’ve got studios like Crest who have delivered, Maya has delivered for BBC, I have also seen a decent amount of simple VFX work. In a broad perspective, when people think of high end cg or VFX, I would like India to be in the top 3-4 destinations in the world. I am not looking at it from the outsourcing point of view where things are cheaper. I am looking at quality, let’s compete with the best. But the great thing is by default, things will be cheaper. Also lets raise the bar in VFX & CG in advertising. There is no reason why ads go out for 3D and CG. Ditto for Bollywood. I am not keen on copying styles and FX, I am here to create our own style. There’s so many people talking big. They are all bullish about how big things will be. But my only question is who is going to do all this work? If we do it right, then this industry has a bright future in our country. There is definitely money at stake here. But while we are chasing the big dreams, we should also remember a bit of the basics that will get us there. For me the most important factor is the artist who will create these images. We really need to strive hard to make sure that the artists get the training they deserve. The right working environment and confidence required to take on the biggest jobs possible.

“We really need to strive hard to make sure that the artists get the training they deserve” I am very interested in education too, I think thereis a lot more that can be done.