I’m originally from a beautiful beach state called Goa in India. Like most of my peers, I was initially set on working towards becoming an engineer or a doctor after high school. I remember for my biology classes, we had art assignments such as sketching out science diagrams. For my final exam, I spent a lot of time making a model of the digestive system. I carved out and painted every single organ meticulously, and soon realized that I enjoyed creating the model far more than learning what function each organ did. My mom encouraged me to pursue art classes outside of school and took me to a lot of local art competitions.
A movie called Finding Nemo changed my life. I remember seeing the beautiful underwater world designed in that movie, such as the anemone where Marlin lived and the shipwreck where the sharks resided. Although I watched a lot of other animated movies, Finding Nemo was special since I’ve always loved the sea world. The movie impacted me so strongly as a child that I had nightmares about a shark attacking me for a couple of weeks! When I visited the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, I saw characters from that movie like Marlin, Nemo, Dory, and Gill in real life and later found out that a lot of Pixar artists visited aquariums like this one for research. I realized animation is actually something that people can do as a career, and that’s when I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue it myself.
My earliest memory of storytelling is listening to my grandmother, who was an amazing storyteller. I would point out the prettiest colorful image in the book she would be reading, and I would be captivated by the stories of magic, princesses, and the triumph of good over evil. She would sing catchy songs and rhymes from the stories that would help me remember them far better. I was particularly fascinated by the story of a king and an evil spirit who hangs upside down from a tree. The king is instructed by a sorcerer to bring the evil spirit back from the forest and each time the king tries to capture the spirit, it tells a story that ends with a riddle. Thanks to my grandmother, I started reading books from the magical, fantasy, and adventure genres at a young age.
What I love about fantasy is that most stories use magic or other supernatural elements as a main plot element, theme, or setting by using real world folklore and mythology as inspiration. Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Harry Potter left a strong impact on me. The wizarding world of Harry Potter exists parallel to the real world and contains magical versions of the ordinary elements of everyday life, while the fantasy land of Narnia was an alternate universe and the Lord of the Rings was a mythic past. Harry Potter in particular came across as an intelligently patchworked derivative motif from all sorts of children’s literature. I’m hoping my next project will have some element of magic and mystery that could bring a piece of my childhood back and also cater to the minds of young children. It could be inspired from the stories that I grew up with and continue to be passionate about.
At the moment, I’m directing a short film inspired by my journey as an immigrant moving to the United States and trying to fit in as an outsider. I knew that moving to the US and trying to break into a competitive industry would require me to work hard to build a strong portfolio but there were several other challenges that I was unaware of. Early on, I felt like I had to repeat myself constantly because people didn’t seem to understand my accent. Due to this reason, I initially hesitated to participate in group discussions and decided to stick to groups of people from a similar community. Eventually I did realize that since I’ve made a choice to be an expat and live in a different country, I need to make a conscious effort to fit in and embrace a new culture. After spending the last 4.5 years in the US and interacting with people from different countries, I’ve realized that people are similar in a lot of ways despite coming from different cultural backgrounds. And there is something new you can learn from every person you meet if you’re open to it. Being an international, my work visa determines how long I get to stay in this country and I’m determined to learn and grow with every opportunity that comes my way. Because despite all the challenges, the satisfaction of getting through a hurdle is highly rewarding. My short film is a story about a young female elephant who is trying to find her place in a circus and the trials and tribulations she faces are a reflection of my journey in the US as an immigrant.
I hope I’m able to tell a story where we can find a way to bring awareness for conservation and environmental science. I want to instill a sense of hope and awareness amongst the youth that can empower people to take steps to save the world from drastic circumstances like climate change or an apocalypse or the pandemic like the one we are currently going through. David Attenborough’s films and work are a huge inspiration for me. I love the enthusiasm and love for wildlife that he has even in his 90s. My stories at the moment are directed towards a niche audience but I hope in a few years, I work and have enough experiences to create a film that would have a broader appeal. I've recently found a fascination for documentaries. My Octopus Teacher in particular was a passion project that made me feel deep empathy towards the main protagonist. I’ve watched several interviews of the filmmaker Craig Foster and was impressed to know that he had been diving every day for 8.5 years and documenting his observations of underwater life. The film which Foster began filming in 2010 was 10 years in the making and deservedly received much love as well as critical acclaim from viewers. I hope my last project is a project of this magnitude made with a lot of love and which will be remembered for years after it has been released.
For others on a similar path in animation, here are three things you should know:
1. Never stop learning and be prepared to be a lifelong student.
2. Seek mentorship and guidance from your supervisors and colleagues in the industry.
3. Be willing to give back and help others along the way. It's very important to be remembered as a good person who was talented but also easy to work with.