Careers: Cinematic animator Sani Spectra
Issue: June 1, 2017

Careers: Cinematic animator Sani Spectra

3D artist Sani Spectra’s accomplishments include creating the original painting “Spring” to help raise awareness of the importance of women’s strength in society. It is now placed on permanent display in the Delhi Museum of Art after being selected from among 120 of the top works of Indian artists. She also served as 3D animator on the video game Uncharted 4, which has sold 8.7 million copies and won numerour game awards, including “Best Narrative” and “Best Performance In Game.”

Here, Spectra talks about her process and role as a cinematic animator at Sony PlayStation. She also talks about the ways she stays both productive and creative.

You went to art school for the 3D animation and visual effects? Was animation always something you had an interest in?

“Yes. I was always interested in Disney and Pixar movies. Beauty and the Beast is my all-time favorite and Finding Nemo and Up from Pixar. I knew that traditional art is a strong foundation to understand CG animation so I went to study art, where I learned composition and play of color and light, which is more like painting and traditional art. And then, later, I went to pursue a master in 3D animation and visual effects at the Academy of Art University. Apart from school, I use to take workshops at Animation Collaborative, which is right across from Pixar Studios. I learned a lot there about Pixar’s style of animation.

“Fortunately, right after graduation, I got an opportunity to do an animation internship at Pixar Animation Studios. I learned a lot and got to meet amazing and talented people.”

Can you tell us how you got the internship at Pixar?

“I prepared a demo reel with three best shots of animation tests. That gives a good idea of my range of skills and my acting choices. Pixar is always looking for fresh ideas and acting choices. They don’t mind if it is in 3D or 2D animation.

“The shots that I put on my demo reel are personal shots. I worked on my demo reel for three months. I got mentorship under Michal Makarewicz, who is a directing animator at Pixar Animation Studios. I learned a lot from him.

“If you want to get internship at Pixar you need to know what is their style of animation and what they are looking for. That’s the first step. Every studio has their own style. I watched a lot of Disney Pixar movies my whole childhood. I always loved them and I always want to create some amazing characters. 

“Second thing is make your work stand out from others. Try giving your personal touch to your shots. Observe the things you do daily or you come across daily. Try to incorporate that into your work. 

“Third thing is less is more. Don’t put too many shots on your demo reel. Keep it simple - just the three best shots are enough. One acting shot, one dialogue and one pantomime will do that job. Put in the best of best - and no loud or background music. Pixar doesn’t like background music on demo reels.

“The last but not the least is making your resume and cover letter professional. Make sure there are no spelling errors and try to write creatively. Final advice I would like to give is work hard and do animation because you love it. Stay connected with the animation community and attend talks and lectures if possible. Accept feedback and take it positive. Don’t lose hope. Keeping swimming. Keeping swimming.”

So, what was your transition to working more on the game side?

“It wasn’t that hard. It’s all about acting and body mechanics. If you know how to use Maya and the basics of animation, it is easy to adapt to any kind of animation. Passion towards the work is key and a willingness to learn new softwares and workflows. The transition to games was more like an organic process.”

In terms of the kind of work you’ve been doing more recently, can you tell us about your day-to-day creative process?

“As a cinematic animator, we do lots of clean up and polishing body and face animation by giving it lots of details. We take references to add in some additional acting beats. Then we attend dailies sessions to get more notes. Since Uncharted 4 is a Naughty Dog project, my shots were reviewed by Naughty Dog, and I waited for the notes to come back. In meantime, I get to jump in to other shots or do facial animation. My first shot was the ballroom intro, where we get to see Sully, Sam and Drake trying to enter the auction hall. I had so much fun animating that shot.”

What are some of the highlights of your work? 

“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. For sure, that’s the best game I have ever worked on, and it was a great experience.”

What is it like working under tight deadlines? How do you handle it?

“We were on crunch for a month and a half, I believe. To tell you the truth, I didn’t feel the crunch and it is not a big issue because I love what I do. I was all super excited all the time to go to work and do more animation. But other than that, I kept myself active by working out and keeping myself surrounded by amazing animators who are always inspiring.”

Can you offer any advice to animators who want to enter the game or film industries?

“Love what you do and keep working hard to achieve your dream. Don’t get disappointed if you don’t hear back from companies. Keep working on your personal shots and keep posted them online. Companies will look for you. Keep good connections and stay up to date with the technology and the tools.”