Interview by Missy Griffis
During my visit to SIGGRAPH 2019 I was able to visit two of my friends working at Walt Disney Imagineering. After a wonderful tour and a delicious lunch, we made our way to a courtyard and sat a picnic-like table next to a beautiful water fountain.
What made you chose to attend SCAD?
Maya: It was one of the best animation programs that I got into. I knew that I wanted to pursue animation but my background was in math so I wanted a somewhat general program that could help me figure out specifically what I wanted to do and SCAD’s program was exactly what I needed. It started out general enough that I could create the curriculum to how I needed it to be.
Sou: I joined SCAD because it was a really well reviewed animation program. To be very honest they gave me good scholarships making it easier to afford.
What area of animation did you focus in?
Maya: I graduated as a 3D generalist, with a focus on character animation.
Sou: I did environments in 2D and 3D, more layout oriented.
Did you come with the expectation you were going to do something different?
Sou: Not really, I mean I am an architect so it was easy to transition into environments for animation.
What advice would you give yourself you first started at SCAD?
Maya: (Laughs) Decide as early as possible the electives you want to take with as much intention as possible. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so the ones I did choose were more haphazard and you only have so many, 6 or so? Which is so little in two years that I wish I had planned better what classes I was taking.
Sou: Speaking over that one, I wish I had been told or found out about the directed projects earlier. I feel like a lot of people don’t know about that stuff and it just looks like a random class on the roster. I think that really helps you focus. If I had to recommend things to other people I’d say if they have two electives and they’re near the end of their degree, they should take the directed projects. Maybe for the first Directed Project they could focus on work for their portfolio or anything they want to do, and the second they can use it for their thesis. With SCAD you have to do so many things so quickly that having a class where you are just portfolio building is VERY necessary, and it’s there for the undergrads because they have time, but we (graduate students) don’t have time.
How did you get your current job?
Maya: I got it through the Imaginations Competition which was brought up to me at SCAD. I didn’t really know what Imagineering was and I saw this competition and then got an invitation to join a team from a few themed entertainment majors I knew. I joined, did the competition, and we ended up doing really well and we got sent to see the campus in Glendale.
Me: were you surprised?
Maya: I was very surprised. I was really confident in our project but I was surprised about 1. How much I enjoyed doing it and 2. How well we were working as a team, and when we found out about finals I was very excited. I was definitely flattered that they felt the same way, it was very exciting but it wasn’t a total shock because it was an amazing project. (laughs)
One really helpful part that came out of the competition is when they fly you out as a finalist, you interview with a bunch of department heads at WDI and they see what you’re interested in and how you would fit into their department. That was very crucial in finding out where my interests aligned with Imagineering.
Sou: In my case (laughs), Maya got the job here and I think someone asked her about… what was it? What did they ask you exactly?
Maya: Our boss was looking for interns and asked me if I knew anyone that I thought would fit in skill-wise and mindset-wise here, and Soumya automatically came to mind.
Sou: And I was done with school so it was easy for her to recommend me, and then I had to interview and send my resume and portfolio to them.
Me: When did you find out that you got the job? Wasn’t it around Christmas?
Sou: Yeah I think so, because when you came over for Christmas I hadn’t received any paperwork from HR because no one was at work. Someone had TOLD me I got the job but I didn’t have anything written out, so until they sent me something (for me) it’s not real. (laughs)
What does the usual day look like for you?
Maya: Now that I’m on two projects one of my projects (and they are at very different stages) is more meeting focused. My mornings include 1-2 meetings about the project, meeting with feature animation talking about our hand-off to them and then in the afternoons I’m usually sitting at my desk working on the second project and creating content for it.
Sou: I just got put on the second project with Maya. The other project was in its mock up stages so I had to go to a lot of places where they had made like sets of our ride but not like actual stuff, but basic set up, test lighting and they’d test the media. I think that was what I did most of the time working on that project, then once that settled down we had to get rid of the mock-sets and move out of the spaces I started working on actual media for that ride.
Me: What are some of the softwares you guys use?
Maya: Predominately Maya, about 80%. I use a lot of Nuke as well. All the content and animation is created in Maya, and then we, since we are dealing with real screens and projectors, we do all the projecting/compositing/color correction work in Nuke.
Sou: For the chunk of time I’ve been working here I have been working a lot in Unreal because we had to give a VR demo sort of thing to officials in other countries so they can approve of it. Now it’s predominantly Maya.
Me: Do you guys use Substance?
Sou: When I was working in Unreal I was using substance a lot because I had to do a lot of the texturing of that project. And right now I am using Zbrush a lot.
Me: How do you like it?
Sou: Z-brush is fun, actually. I’m just surprised I never used it before, but actually it’s mainly because I never really needed to.
Maya: Yeah, if you’re comfortable with a certain software you just use what you have to use to get it done.
Sou: Yeah, like if you’re confident with Sketchup and your project has access to it then you can use it, it doesn’t matter. As long as the thing, the deliverable is done and you can give it to other people.
Maya: Like I’ve used Houdini for things just because it seemed like the most efficient way to get something done. I could have done it in Maya or in Z-brush but I just felt like Houdini was the fastest.
What have you learned since working in the industry?
Maya: Time is not your friend. I’ve learned the importance of time, at least. In the industry, things are on a strict deadline. When you’re at SCAD and you have a project, you can choose to push things back, especially with your thesis. You can say “I’d rather take my time and do this better,” but you don’t have that luxury here- your deadline is your deadline. So it really forces you to prioritize from the get-go on what’s important and what you need to spend your time on because time is money.
Sou: One big thing I feel like I am still learning is how to let things go. I’m so used to completing a project all on my own, from start to finish that if I’m told “hey let this person do that, don’t worry about that, just concentrate on this,” I CANNOT stop worrying about that because I know that it’s essential to make this work. But in a work place it’s not like that, you have to be okay with other people pick up stuff that you can’t properly get to.
Maya: Yeah, it really teaches you collaboration, because with our projects at Disney, there are two hundred people working on a ride at the same time so you are a cog in a machine. It really teaches you how to work with people.
Sou: And you HAVE to be okay with having that person deal with it.
Are you working on any independent projects in your free time?
Maya: A lot of my side projects are all outside of animation. One of my friends is making a music video so I’m helping animate that.
Sou: Yeah she’s also been making a lot of stuff, physically!
Maya: I like to pick up hobbies that are not what I do at work because I think that helps me work better while at work. I don’t like to take my work home and I am more efficient at work because of it. I’ve been wood working, which is really fun, it helps clear my mind.
Sou: I’ve been trying to get better at drawing, so that’s been my side project. I’ve been slowly working on putting my film in festivals, reworking some of the animation.
How have you adjusted to life in LA?
Maya: Pretty well, actually. A lot better than I thought I would, I’m not from around here. I’m from the East Coast so the move was pretty big for me but it’s been really nice. It’s a nice mix of city and greenery. It really does have everything you want, like if you want to get away…
Sou: You can go to the beach, you can go to the mountains, you can go anywhere!
Maya: You can take a 10 minute uber ride and you’re in the middle of the woods, or if you want city go ten minutes in the opposite direction and you’re in the middle of downtown, it’s amazing.
Sou: I’ve had to constantly adjust so it doesn’t really matter at this point, I’m just going with the flow.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Maya: It would be the same advice I would give myself. So, really do your research on your electives and really figure out..
Sou: What you want to do! That’s SO important!
Maya: yeah, what you want to do
Sou: Don’t say ‘animation’, that’s very broad!
Maya: What you want to do and what is going to help you get there. And once you decide, COMMIT. You have, this specifically for grad students, you have two years to figure it out. You cannot be changing your mind halfway through, you have to commit.
Sou: Also if you do badly in one class and decide that you’re not made for it- Don’t discourage yourself, have some sort of will power!
Maya: Choose and commit.
Who do you admire within the Industry?
Maya: … Soumya Iyer! *we all laugh*
Sou: There are a lot of people I like and admire in our office
Maya: Yeah, I was really lucky, well we were both really lucky to be placed under the supervisors we were put under. I really really admire my supervisor, I try to emulate him as much as possible. He has a really good way of thinking about things and he knows when to let things go and decides what’s important, and I think that’s a really good skill.
Sou: I admire my supervisor as well for the same reasons. What I love most about everyone here is how helpful they are. If you go to them with a stupid question its not like they are going to treat it as a stupid question. They will answer it and probably give you more than you asked for.
Maya: When I first started, my supervisor was very big on bringing me to meetings that maybe didn’t directly involve what I was doing but he wanted me to learn how pipeline works here, and that’s what makes him a great mentor.
Is there anything you miss from your time at SCAD?
Sou: Like I know I’m learning a lot here but at the same time because SCAD was such a new experience for me, I miss that. I miss just learning and having more deadlines for assignments. I mean I get that here but it’s so different with school.
Maya: I miss… Zunzi’s sandwiches.
If you could be an Ice cream, what would you be?
Sou: Butterscotch with extra scotches
Maya: Rose ice-cream
Maya: It’s unexpectedly delicious!
Me: ROSE ice-cream?
Maya: See? Unexpected.
Thank you so much to Soumya and Maya for taking the time to have this interview with us! Check our their social media links below!