Ravi Kamble Govind
Animation and Visual Effects graduate
- Senior Animator at Dreamworks Animation
- Has worked on projects including How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Penguins of Madagascar, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu
What did you enjoy the most about your time in Bradford?
My experience in Bradford was a real eye opener since it was the first time I had left my country to reside somewhere else. I met people from a variety of backgrounds. The multicultural aspect of Bradford was the main attraction, and thanks to that I met a lot of very good friends, both inside and outside my professional field.
I also enjoyed the National Science and Media Museum which used to host the annual "Bradford International Animation Festival" and several other film festivals, and thanks to that I was exposed even further to animation and film making in general.
How has your career developed since leaving the University of Bradford?
It has been a long journey so far, and is still going strong. I´ll try to summarise it the best way I can.
During my final year at University in 2007, I had the luxury of being part of a creative team to work on an acclaimed DS video game title, "Broken Sword", from Revolution Software's Director Charles Cecil, which lasted for 8 months. That served me as a great platform to start building a professional resume - luckily even before graduating.
So straight after graduation, the VFX studio "Red Vision" spotted my showreel and offered me a position as a junior character animator on their TV series "HeadCases". I was there for 11 months, during which I also had a chance to jump on a different project: a creature documentary series about dinosaurs and prehistoric animals, called "Morph".
As my contract was ending, I was contacted by one of my lecturers from the University of Bradford, Benjamin Smith, who is also Creative Director at Red Star studio based in Sheffield, and luckily helped me secure ongoing employment. I worked at Redstar for 2 and a half years on various stereoscopic animation projects, mostly films. I was primarily hired as an animator, but was heaviliy involved in the design process, drawing artwork, helping out with modelling and character rigging, doing animation layouts, and setting the 3D stereoscopic layouts.
I left Redstar and the UK in January 2011 to finish an online animation course I started back in October 2010 at iAnimate.net, to try and get myself into higher quality feature animation. I ended up completing the programme while working in my first feature animation film at Kandor Graphics in the south of Spain. Although it was nowhere comparable to a North American feature production, I got to learn about animation during my 11 months here, and I got to meet some great animators and future friends and mentors who I would join later in India at Dreamworks Animation.
In 2013 I was lucky enough to be able to share my student work with the Head of Animation in the dedicated unit facility in the city of Bangalore, thanks to my connections with iAnimate. It was here in India that I had my true exposure to what animation really was, and what it was like to actually make a movie in a big studio - I had to be back in my student seat and become a sponge. I stayed in India until the end of 2014, working for 2 years on Penguins of Madagascar, and experienced a considerable professional growth, thanks to which I was then approached to go to Shanghai the following year to help as a supervising animator in the movie “Everest” at the Oriental Dreamworks facility, now known as Pearl Studio.
There I did all sorts of managerial tasks, from character development in early preproduction, to training and supervising a team of 30 animators, to liaising with rigging and pipeline development for the studio and helping build the whole infrastructure of the animation department. Unfortunately the journey didn't work out and, with the purchase of Dreamworks by Comcast and NBC Universal, after two years living in China the studio transformed from an animation production house to a development hub for creatives to outsource projects to other studios, and I decided in 2017 to take a different path and momentarily leave Dreamworks and come back to Spain and do some freelancing remote work and build new contacts.
A short but interesting 4 months stint followed in London at The Moving Picture Company (MPC), working as a senior character developer on the upcoming Pokémon Detective Pikachu film. As part of a team of 4 animators, we worked closely with the director and previz teams to come up with ideas for the characters, scenes and moments in the movie, and I was mainly responsible for working on the villain Pokemon character “ Meowtwo”. I learned a lot about the VFX industry and was exposed to a whole different side of animation.
Finally, last April I rejoined Dreamworks Animation as a senior animator, this time coming to Los Angeles in the US, to work on How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. I successfully completed production on this, and moved on to a new project “Abominable”, due to be released at the end of 2019.
Images courtesy of DreamWorks Animation.
What tips would you offer a budding animator for developing their learning?
Any tools or techniques at your disposal that can nurture your observation skills and sensibilities are extremely valuable, and always go back to real life and the things that set a benchmark, to study and analyse what - in your own judgement - is valuable and interesting to learn and utilise.
As examples, in my case I tend to draw or write as methods to try and visualize a specific idea or picture I have in my head, or to take notes and make rectifications and infuse my own insight of what I perceive, and try to retain what´s essential stripping out unnecessary information. On the other hand, other animators lean more towards using their bodies and interpretation abilities to materialise what they want to do, and learning about acting methods and studying actors is also immensely resourceful.
Obviously working hard is very important, but how do you inspire yourself to keep going when it gets tough?
It can get very difficult at times to be able to keep your focus and enthusiasm over a long period of work. Taking a break doing something else you like besides your work, whenever you feel like you're hitting walls and getting blind to mistakes, can be really beneficial and potentially can spark new ideas and reset your brain when you go back to your desk.
I also love to just look at the work of people I admire, pieces of artwork or films I love, and even things outside of animation that I can borrow and learn from, and get back and link it to the bedrock of my passion for the art-form. But it is easy to be intimidated by all of it and again go back to a stagnant circle where you actually get demotivated instead of being inspired. So I always try to think that the important aspect in these cases is that it's always better to keep going than getting stuck, whether that means to keep the fun going exploring ideas, or ask peers for a hand when you have a mental block. You always learn more whenever you make mistakes.
How important is networking to the development of your career (from university onwards)?
Networking is extremely important; you never know what doors may open from the most unexpected situations. Always be open to any possibility coming out of even the smallest of events or venues, or even out of a casual introduction to a new person you meet.
Keeping good and healthy relationships with every person is strongly recommended, and showing your passion and interest in a very composed way will really be appreciated. But I don't really think it's necessary to force it or be political about it, because in our field I believe your work speaks for yourself too.
When I was a student I was really hungry for jobs, and I'm honestly not a very extrovert person, but luckily my work really would speak for me eventually to those interested. With the mediums we have now on social media platforms, your work can easily reach to many and be accessible. If everything branches out from the impact of your work when it's seen, along with a respectful and healthy attitude it will open doors for sure.
Lastly, depending on where you are in your career, you need to be aware of realistically what can you afford to reject or accept in terms of opportunities, and be patient with whatever the result may be and plan ahead always.
What piece of work are you most proud of and why?
My biggest career growth happened during the time I was in India working on Penguins of Madagascar at Dreamworks Animation.
My supervisor and greatest mentor, Olivier Staphylas, gave me a strong push by trusting me with responsibilities I never would have thought I could do. During this time I managed to develop a complex talking octopus villain character, voiced by John Malkovich, and learned to supervise and manage team members. To this day I treasure that memory and the battles we all fought as a team, and how much I learned from superiors and peers alike.
Can you offer us some key epiphanies for career development?
Recently during the last months of HTTYD3, I experienced for the first time working with a director, a head of Animation and a producer, all in the same room, discussing my work in a more mature tone than just your usual animation notes. It was all about acting, story and what was important for the characters.
I kept being blown away by some of the amazing work the animators around me were doing… and I couldn't understand how to get there. Slowly I realised the importance of going beyond just animation, and focus more on the choices I'm making for the character's performance; when the choices are the best you can make for a particular character, and you are bold and strong in your decision making, you have cemented the base to build the rest of the animation from, and everything you do will support those choices visually. To think of my work in those terms was such a huge discovery for me.
The other epiphany I could share, and perhaps this boils down to each individual's own approach, is tapping deeper into how I feel I see things, and what excites me more. Whereas there used to be a time I would get mesmerised by detail and richness, and really admire the technicality of a piece of work, what has been more attractive to me lately is the confidence some artists manage to express in their work by stripping everything to it's very essence: simplify to amplify.
I learned a lot about this during my time working on Penguins of Madagascar, where it was all about very efficient yet full hearted entertainment, drawing inspiration from the old Chuck Jones or UPA cartoons. I discovered the hard way how sometimes moving for the sake of movement is not animation, and that as animators we need to acknowledge both the motion but also the pauses and silences that create rhythm and texture.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a new student starting out?
As a student, is very easy to get overwhelmed with what all animation can entail, and the level of competition these days makes it even more intimidating. The main pieces of advice I can think of when you´re still learning animation are to be humble, patient and above all passionate!
Animation is a long process; it takes time to learn and execute, and if you don't like it it's probably not worth pursuing it because the more we grow into it professionally the higher the chances are to fall into perceiving it as a weary chore to get by.
Patience and passion are fundamental building blocks to cement from the beginning and they will help you overcome the struggles ahead, and, not only as an animator but in life in general, it's always a good practice to embrace modesty and listen, observe and learn from everyone and everything that you can take value from, and have a collaborative spirit.
Who and what have been an inspiration along the way?
Many sources and people - from the most complex to the simplest, and from the extraordinary to the mere mundane. It's a long list and it keeps getting bigger over the years. Art, theatre, films, comics, music, history...you name it!
The biggest thing I find myself drawn to is real-life occurrences, and looking at simple habitual things or reactions with some component of fascination. Things like people watching, traveling and seeing other parts of the world, and experiencing other cultures also is a huge resource to get inspired. People from my own circle such as my parents or best friends also have proven key to some of my pivotal growth.
For the longest time during my childhood I grew up watching a lot of Japanese animation of all kinds, from Dragon Ball to Akira, to Ghost in the Shell and even later ones like Cowboy Bebop or Monster. I also used to be into crazy dynamic superhero comics, and Spiderman used to be a favourite. Later over the years, once I actually made the commitment to study animation, I discovered Disney and the history of animation in the west, and the curiosity for learning the techniques and tools sucked me in. To name a few, personalities like Glen Keane, Hayao Miyazaki, and Pete Docter are some my biggest idols.
Last but not least, cinematic storytelling has been something I've been drawn into more as my career progresses, and I feel it's the medium in which I love to enjoy animaton the most, from the performance standpoint to the film making aspect. I've had the privilege to see Roger Deakins’s touch really push the look of How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, and there is so much to learn from his knowledge about cinema and live action that we can borrow to enhance animation film making overall.
What is the best thing about what you are doing now?
Working in animation and filmmaking is a great privilege for me because it's purely a creative endeavour, and I'm getting paid for doing something I love to do!
It is a delight to be part of a production making cartoons, films, videogames...entertainment products that audiences will surely engage with in different ways. Although to me personally it's more about having fun creating the content first and foremost, since keeping up my artistic progress will also reflect better quality in my work and help me grow as a human being - although at times this can also become stressful if you feel the pressure of external factors such as deadlines, notes, and lack of enthusiasm for certain projects.
What do you feel are your main achievements since leaving the University of Bradford?
I've been very lucky to participate in some of the world's most well-known animated franchises from Dreamworks as an animator, including How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar.
I feel I've grown the most so far especially working on a film like How to Train your Dragon The Hidden World, where the benchmark was very intimidating when I first started and it took me a while to actually be able to go beyond animation and concentrate on performance and making the right choices. But as an individual, my biggest achievement was back in 2014 when I was lucky to be nominated for an Annie Award for my work on Penguins of Madagascar, leading the villain character Dave the Octopus.
What one piece of advice would you give a new student/graduate that aspires to your industry?
If you are in a field like animation or filmmaking, I think it doesn't harm to embrace your passion for it as a way of living.
In a world where it is so easy nowadays to make any kind of design or artistic content, you will not stand out if you don´t go beyond the tools and the resources you're given. Anyone can grab a mobile phone these days and learn photography or HD video shooting, or anyone can download tutorials and learn to produce content in Maya or After Effects, but only a few want to sacrifice their time to devote to learning as much as possible.
If you want to keep getting better and make a name for yourself, you've got to learn from life as much as you can and enjoy what you do, because to do it for a living will consume a lot of your time. These days the ones who get better jobs are those who manage to stand out, or at least try their best to do so and have the potential to grow.
My interests are mainly within the creative circle, which comprise sketching, reading comic books, attending art and photography exhibits, and watching films. Yoga is also something I'm really fascinated with and would love to pursue further, as well as general well-being. I´ve enjoyed traveling a lot over the years and it always interests me to learn about cultures and people from all over the world.
Goals for the future?
My aim has always been to work on great projects, so for the near future I'm focusing as much as possible in growing within my path as an animator. As an ultimate goal I'd like to tell my own stories, whatever the format may be - animation or comic books or any other - and either as an independent filmmaker or as part of a bigger studio, as long as I find the right time and platform.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I'd like to thank Jason Theaker for having guided me during my days at University, and letting me reach people out there through this profile to share and exchange our experiences.
Also, I believe Bradford to have been a major platform for me to grow as a student. I'll never regret the times I spent there nurturing my learning and making great friends. The facilities at the University of Bradford labs and the library were indispensable for my own research, and the teachers always supported us no matter what we chose to do.