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An Interview with Megha Thakar

Megha Thakar is a Team Lead in a very well known CG company named Xentrix studios (Banglore)and was earlier Texturing \Surfacing team lead and artist at (MPC) Technicolor, Prana & Crest Studios, she started her career in advertisements as Visualizer, and worked as Graphic designer, Production coordinator, Web designer, CG artist- Texture Surfacing artist, Bg Modeling, Camera projection, Lighting, Rendering, matte painting and that too both into CG projects and also VFX projects. She is having diversified work experience in CG Industry and has worked on Projects like Tron Legacy, Delli 6-Bollywood movie, Newsum (documentary), The Chubbchubbs Save Xmas. Megha is here to shares with us different aspects of a Texture artist and role of Project lead.

Hi Megha tell us something about you, your career and current things going on in your life.

I have been in to this field from last 10 years. And it's not been always a texture artist as my position says as of now. And I am really glad that I have been into various fields being in the same industry which very few people get the opportunity to explore. I am very much an undergraduate student from commerce field who apparently bunked college for learning multimedia course. It's strange but creativity has always been my passion. Apart from job, be it painting, visiting exhibition, photography, film making, home decors, dancing, drama.... everything is creative and that keeps my life going. Currently I am in Bangalore based CG animation firm. After been working in Mumbai and Delhi, Bangalore has been next destination for most of the CG artist and me too due to its IT history and welcoming nature.

sony chub chubs

Texturing and BG Work in The Chubbchubbs Save Xmas Film by Sony Entertainment Animation 

Either its graphics or vfx or Web, You have worked in all streams of CG Industry? How you landed up as surface/Texturing artist? 

Yap! It's been really interesting. I never thought i would be in the 3D industry ever. My first year went as a web designer and web development, flash animations etc. Later on into production were it was more interesting than just web development. I worked in famous house of animation and it was like a whole lot of technical and production experience. Later leads me to crest animation were I upgraded myself from a matte painter to the 3d texture artist and then I guess it was something I continued with. Nowadays people decide to be a particular specialized artist but I guess we didn't had enough exposure that time about this industry and field as much as it is now.

You are currently working as Project Lead & Texturing Artist; can you tell us what pipeline you follow in Production?

A pipeline mostly depends from company to company and also on projects, most important is on budget but definitely Pipelines are basically needed for 

  1. Normal Shading and Lighting 
  2. Projection Functions which involve texture coordination's, Transforming Object positions in to texture space in planner. Cylindrical and spherical projections. 
  3. Surface Normals and other attributes. 
  4. Wrapping methods

For many common objects, pre-existing shaders can be assigned and adjusted to represent common surfaces, especially if they are just props or set pieces. For other jobs, especially characters or special surfaces, custom shaders are written. As soon as shaders are created on a surface, texture painters go to work creating maps for it.

Texture painters develop texture maps using a variety of tools and sources. Some of the image sources include:

  • Painting maps from scratch in a 2D or 3D paint program.
  • Basing all or part of a map on a scan or photograph of a real-world surface.
  • Starting the map with a photograph of a painted maquette from the art department.
  • Projecting images from the live-action portion of a film onto 3D models, and modifying as needed.
  • Mixing procedural patterns and noises.

These techniques can be used in various combinations depending on the type of maps that need to be created. Even when digitized or procedural sources are used, texture painters almost always need to paint into and manipulate an image to produce their final set of texture maps.

With maps assigned to the model, the texture painter will create a turntable test to show the mapping from all sides. A frame from a live-action scene can be used as the background image in the test, to show how well the model integrates with the real environment.

What is your role as project lead and what is hierarchy of artists in texturing department?

As a project lead my whole responsibility is to guide team and complete task on time according to desired project output.

Hierarchy of artist in texture department depend on company or a studio and also projects, like a 3d feature film will of course have a big team of project leads, supervisors, shader artists, texture artists, algorithm designers and photographers where as a small budget project and a studio can have only one artist handling entire project.

How important pre-production is when it comes to texturing and lighting of a project?

Pre production help to define look and feel of the characters, props and backgrounds as we already get familiar with look and feel and on later stage we give details and reach to realistic output based on that. So as for other process preproduction is important, for texturing and lighting too it helps a lot. Most of the times we need to dig into references online or click pictures videos, Study about based on it. Observe it. It's like almost gaining knowledge about everything and then start with something and it's kind of fun.

Any time management for texturing?

Oh yes there is time management for everything. Nothing is spared not even texturing. You need to consider every aspect of a project internally and also as per the demands tries and manage your resources and achieve your objective.

How you decide about creating a texture? How you go about look and feel of any object?

First of all, you need to first know what your project is. Amount of details required and kind of output. Whether it is going to be realistic, toon, gaming or it's for films or TV or DVD. Based on this you decide your pipeline or project pipeline for example- which software you are using for rendering output quality.

Time is set based on what needs to be achieved for a desired output. We gather references, and try to achieve as close as to the references as possible. More the correct references, more the faster is the output because you know what you need to achieve.

What kind of softwares and techniques you use for texturing? What is current going on trend in industry for texturing?

It's not about trend it's about what suits the best in all aspects. When I say all aspects it means availability, cost, service, upgrades, support from software companies' etc and most important improvisation and education. And yes "user-friendly” from artist Point of view. People need to understand and need to get a grip on software faster because no one has time. As per company point of view and it needs to be faster, best and of course RESONABLE..

What is difference in texturing for Props (Objects and accessories), Backgrounds and Characters?

There is a lot of difference. Every category mentioned has an environment and characteristic of its own. Along with its stylization (realistic, toon or gaming) time allotted for each differs for example, if a set is very huge and with lot of elements in it then it needs to be organised from unwrapping, resolution of texture maps etc. for example... if the object is very small barely visible it may not need a high resolution texture or probably you need to layout UV's in a way that it manages most of your element in one map which can be made high resolution.

Characters are totally different from props. The characters UV's needs to be set according to the materials and details has to be given importance as they play important role in any project. They are more focussed by camera so you need to attain the required details on them.

You need to also see storyboards. If your story board has a particular element which is very near to the camera then you need to make sure that it's the best. (Could be a smallest element).

What are types of texturing methods? How it's related with Lighting and Rendering?

A basic setup of light rig always helps texture artist to understand how their textures respond to lights and environment. Methods are mostly painting, projecting and shading (surfacing). Texture maps created can be applied as 2D but its real output only can be best seen once its rendered. Final product always matters.

One needs to understand that you create textures (2D) to apply to Shaders (3D) which reacts to lights and environment in 3D setup to give the rendered output.

All are dependent. There are ways were people don't need to create 2D textures and can still get the output.

What is use of matte painting and digital Painting in Texturing? How you decide about using matte painting for project?

Matte paintings help as backgrounds in scene environment where we don't need to model and texture backgrounds and it saves lot of time where as a digital painted image can be used as texture for a character or props surface.

What are Camera Projection Technique and Multiple Projection techniques, how it's useful in CG Project? 

Camera projection is a great way to deal with matte paintings. It’s a techniques where backgrounds are painted in painting software’s and later brought into 3d software where its staged according to required Camera Projection can be done with both moving cameras and still. multiple camera projections help to deal with complex camera angles. we try to texture the scene with x, y, z cameras and there will be a shot camera to render. which optimises the overall render time and yet maintains d quality. saves your time and money... :)

These days texturing is not limited to only 3D projects, it's also useful in web, graphics and VFX? Can you give some inputs regarding this?

Yes that’s true. few years back there was no 3G or something called wifi.. nowadays we are rooted with internet everywhere and hence this has lead to lot of e-commerce activities which in return increases competition between vendors and everyone wants to promote best. So 3D has made its palace in a way in web graphics providing more interactivity and dynamic graphics. for VFX it’s a boon. we have so much access to our ideas and imagination through 3D. its definitely good till people are enjoying the 3D experience. it’s still very new in India and the trend I guess will continue for quite a while. unless something really new and affordable comes in the market.

You have worked in Tron Legacy as a production coordinator, Share your experience? 

It was totally different experience from being an artist. It was more about calculations and man days, bids and kind of like keeping a track on your team if everything is fine. Not only that also mailing to the clients on uploads and maintaining Excel sheets so more on the management front. It was a quite different experience but was worth as you start knowing the importance of deadlines. 

You have worked on Bollywood movie Delli-6, how different this is to work on a feature film compare to other projects? Share your experience. 

As far as the difference is concerned it's just the style and the approach towards your work considering the output. So Delhi -6 being a live action film my work was more CG and approach was to make it look realistic and match to the environment around in the shot. Apart from that the work was quite similar to what I do in texturing and shading. We need to make sure that the Shaders react to lit in a realistic manner with the use of HDRI maps!

artworks of Megha Thakar

Share most challenging work/Project in your career span. 

 Most of my work has been challenging i say that because every project has its own challenge and its own aroma!! haha... but yes the most challenging has been "Newseum", this project which deals with 3d when we really didn't have many inbuilt plugins for the same but it was all on the logics and calculations of the cameras. Even after finding the solution for it every shot was a challenge, as it had its own way and we had to deal it in different ways. Newseum was a combination of camera projection techniques with CG and also with Stereo. It has been my platform of a complete learning process and has made us not to just follow the pipeline because we had to digg in to it. As that was the one of a kind project we had that time in India although it was not published much but it was worth an experience. 

Washington DC's interactive museum documentry

You have shared your views regarding Indian Animation Industry in some Interviews, How you see Indian Animation Industry growing? Share your perspective.

Yeah.. to be honest.. this is a controversial topic. Indian animation industry is growing but its growing technically. as creatively we are still somewhere dependant on outsourced contents. we have got to learn a lot from outsource work in that terms. as few years back we lacked knowledge in many aspects unless we started taking outsourced work and people got trained on every aspect .. be it artist, production, managerial, creative. etc..  after learning from them and delivering high quality outputs we have an industry of trained people. but still we haven’t really done anything creative yet for Indian animation industry. currently Indian animation industry for me personally is excellent for taking outsourced jobs. to be clear we haven’t really started anything of our own except few vfx jobs. yet a long road ahead... :) 

How was your experience on working 3D stereoscopy? Now a day's mostly CG Films are 3d stereoscopy. Do you think Indian films will adopt this in long term as now trend has been already started as numbers of movies are being presented in 3d version too like RA-One etc? 

Working first time on a stereo project was an amazing experience as i was not aware about the technical aspects of the concept and it made us as a whole team working on it to go right to the root and the process of it. Like how it works and how can we implement it as per the resources available. 

Yes now days we see most of the films in 3D stereo and Indian films haven't really gone into it that because 3D stereo is interesting with what kind of movie it is. A commercial Indian cinema might not need the stereo concept as it doesn't serve any purpose and also adds to the movie making budget unless you are making movies like Sci-Fi and fiction where it has a requirement of stereo medium as the one you mentioned RA-ONE. 

What resources you use for texture references and updating yourself in this field? 

The software's which are preferable to most of studios is Maya and Photoshop. As now a days there are many studios who are upgrading themselves to software's like Mari and Nuke! Updating comes from various options available in the market and also depending on the company you work with the kind of projects involved and its requirements. As far as texture references are concerned we follow what clients provide and yes there is always internet and free maps available. Or it's safer to click your own texture maps because most of the stuff available online might have controversial issues considering Copyrights! 

As a woman do you face any challenges in this field? What is your advice to female aspirants who want to make career in CG Industry? Do you think more women should be part of CG Industry? 

Yes as a Woman we face challenges everywhere and in this field too there are many challenges. It was not easy to convince my family at first to be in this field as it demanded late nights and at times stay back in the office and also work during weekends and holidays. But I guess what made them convinced is my commitment to what I wanted to achieve which they saw in me every time and as the awareness grew about the industry they had that trust in which field I am into. My advice to the female aspirants would be that be sure of yourself when you decide to be in this field because if you want to make a career here then you need to commit yourself first creatively and technically both. You need to constantly update yourself and i am sure that things will favour you. And yes more female should be a part of this industry. It should definitely help. 

What are job security aspects in Indian CG Industry as a Texturing artist? Do you think Companies and studios provide good working environment and facilities to employees? 

To be very honest as an artist I would say it completely depends upon what kind of an artist you are, what has been your contribution to the studio, and of course the ECONOMY..! Sometimes you are good in all the aspects but as few years back we saw that there was a major recession and many people not only from our industry but other also were hit by it. And I was a part of it. So the reason for this is again our industry in India is very young right now it's going to take a lot of time to get to that consistency. Which I am sure we will, because so far I have seen all the studios in India are making efforts to do their best what they can depending on their resources available. Things will take time, it's just that everyone has to take an effort we can't only say the Studio has to do that but we as an artist also need to contribute to it. We need to highlight about things which can be improved and act on it. 

Who is your source of inspiration? Apart from job what are your hobbies and how you constantly motivate yourself for new opportunities? 

My source of inspiration has been my Parents, My Father, he is very creative and an amazing person, I always look at him and try to be as strong as he is. He is someone who always inspired me and made me strong and been there for me. My mom in spite of being a housewife she is a perfect example for me for perfection and a strong support system in terms of having belief in yourself and others at the same time I m truly blessed by them.   

Megha, Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us.

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