In film and entertainment, adaptability is the name of the game. With the rapid evolution of technology, consumer preferences, and cultural trends, professionals in the field need to be nimble and versatile. Enter Tirumalaimuttu Shanmugam, a seasoned professional whose multifaceted expertise spans various domains such as movies, gaming, tech, motion graphics, academia, and independent animated films. This range of experience not only underlines his versatility but also his adaptability, aligning with the ever-changing demands of the entertainment industry.
Tirumalaimuttu, fondly referred to as Tiru, embarked on a journey in the entertainment sphere, which saw him wear many hats, from a technical artist to an instructor. His portfolio, eclectic and expansive, boasts projects that span the gamut from movies to motion graphics, academia to independent animated films, and even tech industry roles. His involvement in critically acclaimed projects, such as Food Conga and Ostrich Among Us, underscores his flair for crafting captivating content. Moreover, his role as a facial rigging artist in The Witches (2020) speaks to his technical prowess and ability to navigate complex challenges.
While many professionals find their niche and excel within it, Tiru’s mantra has been one of continuous exploration. This quest for knowledge and expertise across domains hasn’t been a mere happenstance but a deliberate pursuit. He has always positioned himself as a generalist in the realm of 3D animation, honing a plethora of skills ranging from basic to intermediate, ensuring he can seamlessly transition and adapt across different sectors of the entertainment industry.
Given the breadth of his expertise and the intrigue surrounding his multidimensional career, we had the privilege of interviewing Tirumalaimuttu Shanmugam. Our conversation revolved around his extensive experience and how he manages to navigate the diverse and ever-shifting sands of the entertainment landscape.
Tiru shed light on his approach to various industries, emphasizing the importance of understanding project requirements above all else. Whether it was addressing the real-time performance needs of gaming, adhering to the intricate demands of the movie world, or navigating the incessant cycle of research and development in the tech sector, his focus remained unwaveringly on the task at hand. This, he believes, has been his North Star, guiding him to consistently produce exemplary work across domains.
Read on to learn more!
Hello, Tiru. Your expertise spans across diverse domains such as movies, gaming, tech industry, motion graphics, academia, and independent animated films. How do you navigate and adapt to the different creative demands and requirements of each industry?
The specific creative demands of each industry are often inherent to the job description. Regardless of the industry, I consistently maintain my focus on my role, which grants me a comprehensive understanding of a project’s key elements. This clarity enables me to navigate and fully grasp the overarching needs of the project.
While I tend to adapt to the industry as I address project requirements, there are some foundational aspects to revisit for each sector:
- Emphasis on real-time performance in gaming
- Adherence to specific instructions when working on movies
- The importance of research and development within the tech industry
- A heightened focus on branding for product explanatory videos, such as motion graphics
- The clear guidelines provided by academia regarding training and syllabus offer invaluable direction
With such a broad range of experience, what skills or qualities do you believe have been essential in successfully transitioning between different domains and effectively contributing to projects in each field?
I’ve actively sought to expand my skill set, leading to my diverse range of experience. I honed both basic and intermediate skills across all domains of 3D animation, positioning myself as a generalist. In my early days, I embraced every project that came my way, relishing the distinct learning opportunities each industry presented. Additionally, my intermittent teaching roles have been invaluable, allowing me to continually revisit 3D fundamentals and stay updated on the latest tools.
Each industry has its unique challenges and opportunities. Can you share an example of a project where you encountered a particular challenge specific to a domain, and how you utilized your expertise and adaptability to overcome it?
When I served as a facial rigging artist for the movie The Witches (2020), I encountered a unique challenge within the rigging domain. Even with my prior rigging experience, adapting to Method Studios’ pipeline was a challenge, especially since I joined the project at an advanced stage with limited time to familiarize myself. Nevertheless, my broad experience in 3D enabled me to quickly grasp their pipeline. Crucially, my intermediate skills in Python scripting were instrumental in adjusting to their procedural rigging approach, even though my programming experience wasn’t recent at that time.
Collaboration plays a significant role in successful projects. How have you leveraged your versatility and experience across different industries to collaborate effectively with diverse teams and stakeholders?
In production, a Tech Artist serves as a critical bridge between various departments, ensuring seamless communication. My foray into procedural workflows deepened when I worked on projects integrated with machine learning algorithms. Collaborating with AI scientists and developers elevated my tech art proficiency. When creating 3D assets using a procedural workflow, it’s crucial to adopt a nondestructive approach. This often entails applying mathematical concepts, such as linear algebra, to Tech Art. While I had only encountered these concepts theoretically in high school, seeing them come to life in 3D creation was truly exhilarating.
From movies to gaming and academia to independent animated films, you’ve worked on projects with distinct creative visions and objectives. How do you ensure that your contributions align with the artistic vision and goals of each project, while also bringing your unique expertise and perspective to the table?
I tailor my approach to each project based on its unique requirements rather than its industry classification. Considerations like team size, the chosen workflow, and especially the deadline, play pivotal roles. My expertise truly shines when I can operate within these parameters and produce outcomes that integrate effortlessly into the existing pipeline. I find it vital to dedicate time at a project’s onset for a comprehensive understanding, ensuring that my skill set aligns perfectly with its demands. Over time, while my primary aim has been to adapt to each project’s nuances, I’ve inadvertently found myself evolving with the industry as a whole.
Each domain you’ve worked in has its own set of technical tools and software. How do you keep yourself updated and proficient in the latest industry-standard tools across these different fields?
Before diving deep into the technology, I typically start with a set of foundational questions. These straightforward inquiries center on the basics, guiding me toward the information I seek. It’s also worth noting that studios continually refine their pipelines according to project needs, making daily updates a norm. This adaptability is mirrored in academia. The syllabus is routinely updated to reflect industry standards, providing a valuable roadmap for educators to stay aligned.
The ability to adapt to different projects and industries requires a flexible mindset. Can you describe a time when you had to quickly learn and master new skills or techniques to deliver on a project’s requirements in an unfamiliar domain?
I’ve encountered such scenarios during challenging short-term projects. In one instance, while designing a poster for a short film, the director wanted hands-on involvement. To facilitate this collaborative process, I shifted from traditional linear image editing to a node-based workflow. I quickly familiarized myself with DaVinci’s basics, enabling swift turnarounds. Though the project was intricate, it provided the director with insights into image editing techniques.
In another endeavor, I was tasked with creating 2D character animations for a children’s book using illustration images. To maintain the author’s visual and technical parameters, I adopted a tool specifically designed for node-based workflows. This approach empowered me to craft captivating animated illustrations, especially beneficial given the project’s iterative review nature.
Your versatility allows you to switch between different creative roles such as Tech Artist, Generalist, and Instructor. How do you approach each role differently, and how do these different roles complement and inform your overall creative process?
Transitioning between projects across diverse industries demands a rapid understanding of essential tools. I’ve found that toggling between academia and the industry offers mutual benefits. In the realm of teaching, staying abreast of the latest tools is imperative, given that the curriculum is grounded in contemporary industry standards. Industry employers consistently value candidates who possess the most current knowledge and skills. Based on my experiences, every bit of prior knowledge can yield long-term benefits.