Venu Victor started out by working on small projects on his own. Now he’s the Head of FX and Tech Anim for MPC Film & MPC Episodic and MR. X in India.
Read our Q&A with him below to learn more about his international experience working in visual effects as well as how he approached the FX work required for 2020 film Underwater.
What sparked your interest in working in the creative industry?
Pencil sketching and watching movies were always my hobbies. When I was at university, I watched The Matrix and was amazed by the visual effects. I learned that certain software applications can give wings to the imagination and create amazing characters and scenes. Exploring on my PC, I saw the unending opportunities in the creative industry of VFX.
Tell us a bit about your path - as well as the hurdles you encountered along the way - to your role now.
Along with my university studies, I did animation training. I worked on small personal projects like an ivy plant growing on a fence and the impact of a stone hitting glass and so on. However, classroom learning was never sufficient to understand complex shots. I gathered all possible books and materials I could find on visual effects and simulations as they were not many materials available on the internet compared to now. Seeing the characters and simulations in various movies, I lived in a world of imagination and thought about how I could create them if I were to do it. Perhaps that was my best way of learning.
I applied and got the position of FX artist in a small studio at Bangalore, India in 2005. One big turning point in my career was joining DreamWorks India as an FX Artist. I worked on some of the best-known DreamWorks films during my eight years with them. I then worked at a studio in China before joining MPC Montreal, where I worked on films like Justice League, The Greatest Showman, and Underwater. After a stint at DNEG London, I joined Technicolor Creative Studios in Bangalore as I was offered an opportunity to build a new FX team.
My learning never ends. Even today, I enthusiastically look at any good simulations – be it in a good film or in the showreel of a job applicant. I contemplate how it was done, and it registers in my mind. My craving for learning is perhaps what keeps me going strong in simulations.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
As Head of Simulations, I start my day with a positive plan and a determination to get things running well in all simulation departments. I view my notes on matters that were kept for the day and look at scheduled meetings. I keep notes of what more needs to be done during the day. My main task is to keep in regular communication with all my leads and artists on various shows in FX, tech anim, and crowds from MPC Film, MPC Episodic, and MR. X, as they all come under one simulation department. Since Head of Simulation is also head of department (HOD) for each simulation department, I often need to review the work and guide leads and artists on how to make shots look better. I organise the resolution of any technical and other resource-related issues that are beyond the scope of leads.
I have regular meetings with HODs for production, resource, systems, tech, HR, render farm, training, and recruitments. Some of these meetings are with crew in other parts of the world (London, Montreal, Toronto, Adelaide). I am actively involved in interviewing and shortlisting the best talent for the team here. It is a joy to see the talents of budding artists and listen to their aspirations and ambitions. Everyone is unique.
Day-to-day work involves planning, implementing, solving problems and making decisions at different levels in many departments and within Bangalore as well as across sites. Every day is interesting and different.
What is the most challenging part of your job as well as the most fulfilling aspect of it?
The most challenging part is to acquire, upskill, retain, maintain, and develop people's resources. Getting people is not a major problem as MPC is a strong brand present in India in the VFX industry. However, it’s getting the right people that’s the challenge.
We attract some of the best talent in India and we continue to develop people with the required knowledge, skills, and standards in the art and technology aspects of VFX.
We have started organising the Technicolor Academy much better, and we are able to develop the strengths of the young artists selected. I try to understand the strengths of the artist and build on it to enable the artists to become production ready.
We need to ensure that the work done by our team achieves and exceeds the quality levels within the deadline. So, another challenge is making use of technology with the purpose of increasing quality and efficiency of production. Since we work across global locations, we have to ensure that our technology and workflows are in sync with the cross-site teams.
The most fulfilling aspect of the work is that my efforts have contributed to timely and high-quality work by the production teams, with support of people and the technology that enables them. A good example would be when an artist we interviewed, selected, and supported through our own Academy does complex shots that are appreciated by the client and project heads. That brings a great deal of joy and satisfaction to someone like me in coordination and management of the simulations department.
What is one misconception about your role or something that most people don’t know or understand about it?
My role is an enabling one: to enable people to take the step, to trust us, come in, develop, and work efficiently. It’s also about enabling future leads and supervisors to lead the team. Then there’s enabling artists through the technology and pipeline they require. My role is also about management as I am responsible for all ventures of the company in producing simulations. People can approach me as a representative of management, and I have to translate the vision of the company to actions and results. It is sometimes difficult for people to understand this role, combining aspects of production and management. Let me sum up: my role enables production and it supports management.
Something else that most people don’t know or understand about my role is that it involves bringing together all simulation artists – FX/CFX/crowds – from MR. X and MPC and making them feel part of one team. This arrangement helps us share resources and talent as required by the shows.
You’ve worked in other locations throughout your career. What would you say has been the benefit of having diverse international exposure?
You see, the simulations we create are part of films that are screened globally. The expectations are naturally of international standards. So, my exposure to simulation works in India, China, USA, Canada, and the UK helped me to be conscious of the global standards for quality of shots.
The exposure to different cultures also helped me experience various modes of teamwork and different styles of leadership, enabling me to adapt best practices in team building and leadership approaches within the VFX industry.
What was your approach when it came to the FX work required in Underwater? Was there something particularly challenging about the FX for that film?
Water was always my favourite subject in FX. But once you are deep under the water there is no more water simulation to be seen. Still, Underwater was an extremely challenging film for the FX team. The dynamics of FX change when it occurs under the water. Everything starts to slow down and you get a very different form of physics compared to what we are used to seeing in normal world conditions. An explosion underwater looks completely different to what it would look like on land.
Our approach was to synchronise all FX with the movement of the water so they would feel like they are being driven by the flow of the water current. We created custom fields to create this Underwater current. This film gave me great insight into MPC's pipeline and tools and over the course of it I was promoted from Key Artist to Technical Artist at MPC.
There were many challenging shots in Underwater
like explosions, destructions, bubbles and even a huge underwater sand fall. I remain indebted to the entire team and MPC Montreal for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to learn while working and delivering one of the finest works in FX globally. – thefocus.com