From the small town of Amravati to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Priyamvad Deshmukh has come a long way. The VFX artist has major films on his CV: Fast & Furious 7, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) and Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011). And though he remembers being hooked to Disney Hour on TV as a kid, he says he never imagined a career in animation.
Today, the 30-year-old works at WETA Digital (co-founded by Lord of the Rings series director, Peter Jackson) in New Zealand. As a shader writer, it’s his job to create or define a surface (of plastic, skin, metal or glass) and design how they interact with light. “We’re nerds with an artistic eye,” he laughs.
In school, Deshmukh was a math whiz (so good that, he was a merit ranker in the board exams), but was always rather fond of the arts. But faced with the bright-kid-must-study-engineering situation, that’s what he opted for. “Math came naturally to me, and I was fond of programming.” So, he opted for a degree in computer science from BITS (Pilani, Rajasthan). Funnily enough, engineering college is where the love for the arts found an outlet. “There was an active cultural community at BITS,” he says.
But Deshmukh’s story isn’t of the rebel who had an epiphany and quit jobs to pursue the arts. He worked with Adobe (“If you look at the credits of Acrobat Reader 9, you’ll find my name”).
But he wanted to study further, and secured a scholarship to Columbia University, for a masters in Computer Graphics Track. “By then, my parents had left me to my own devices,” he says. A recommendation from a college professor landed him a summer internship with DreamWorks, and when the internship converted into a job offer, he moved to Los Angeles.
The first movie Deshmukh worked on was Megamind (2010). Since then, he’s done VFX for Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (2012) and Mr Peabody & Sherman (2014).
And though he gets to meet legends, he isn’t star-struck: “Hollywood is not as glamorous as it sounds, but it has its perks. Like when actors such as Ian McKellen or Dustin Hoffman drops by your desk. They lend the voice to characters, but a lot of the work is done on the computer. Often, they are in awe of the work that we do.”
In Bollywood, when a Ra.One (2011) or a Dhoom 3 (2013) comes out, the bar rises. But Deshmukh says it’s at a nascent stage. “What’s missing is the collaboration between the artistic and technical guys. Money is a factor, but I think the vision is also lacking.”
Meet Priyamvad Deshmukh on June 26 at 5pm; Venue: India Culture Lab, Godrej One, Phirojsha Nagar, Vikhroli (East)