We are thrilled to share this update on DreamWorks Lead Animator and Animation Mentor Alumnus Prashanth Cavale. We talked about his recent Annie Awards nomination, his career since graduating Animation Mentor, and advice for up and coming animators.
From Engineering Major to DreamWorks Lead Animator
Animation Mentor: Tell us about your animation journey. How did you get to where you are today?
Prashanth: I hail from Bangalore, a vibrant city in Southern India. After completing my engineering courses in 2003, I initially ventured into the tech industry, a path followed by many in my peer group. My final year project, however, had introduced me to the world of 3D space and I was captivated by its potential to craft immersive narratives.
This led me to doing a course in 3D Studio Max and After Effects at the end of which I wanted to switch from the much revered tech/software stream to a relatively ‘unknown’ field of Computer Graphics. Though there was no real job market for it back then, it was in many ways a shot in the dark and there were very few companies in India doing quality work. Deep inside however, I was hoping that things would magically fall into place cause I had started to love 3D work and CG in general.
My first job was at a local studio in Bangalore and in the year 2004, along with a couple of friends, I launched a startup called ‘Raydrops’ that catered mainly to the design visualization market and gaming clients in Europe. Though I contributed there as a generalist, animation was fast becoming a favorite. By the time the company hit rough weather and had to eventually shutter down because of the 2008 recession, I had enrolled in Animation Mentor which, in my view, was a big turning point in my career.
I was very lucky to be mentored by world class animators, a couple of whom later would become my colleagues at DreamWorks! (Fred Nilsson, Sean Sexton)
My first significant break was with the DreamWorks India Unit, which very conveniently for me had started operations in my hometown. In the eight years that followed, I progressed from being a Junior Animator to a Lead on ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ and eventually an Animation Supervisor on ‘Trolls’. Unfortunately, the unit closed when DreamWorks underwent acquisition by NBCUniversal.
I then briefly explored VFX animation in London with Framestore on movies such as ‘Paddington 2’ and ‘Mowgli’ before receiving a call from DreamWorks in 2018 to join them in Los Angeles. The last five-plus years have been a fulfilling homecoming for me. I take pride in all the projects that I have contributed to and consider it an honor to collaborate with top talents globally on some of the finest animated feature films.
Annie Awards Nomination & ‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken’
Animation Mentor: Congratulations on your recent Annie Awards nomination for Best Character Animation in a Feature for your work on ‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken!’ What did it feel like to get nominated?
Prashanth: It was totally unexpected and a pleasant surprise! In all fairness there was a lot of amazing work done by many of our animators on ‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken’ and it almost feels awkward to be in that nominee list which has some incredible talents across the globe!
Animation Mentor: Can you give us a deep dive into what it was like working on ‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken?’
Prashanth: The animation style had to bring about the contrast between Gillmans and humans and this was also aided by their contrasting designs.
While the Gillmans had a curvy, boneless and fleshy appearance, the humans had straighter shapes and sharper angles and so while animating, we would make sure the Gillmans have smooth arcs, ample overlap and fleshy exaggerated transitions while the humans had a more solid articulation and limited range of motion.
I was the lead on Ruby’s father, Arthur, and my role was to make sure he was visually appealing and looked on-model through the sequences.
I would often do draw-overs to make sure his mustache and beard would work well with his mouth shapes. At times it would be the shape of his arms, getting clean and appealing silhouettes or even the fact that his brow-lines which literally were the outer edge of his beanie hat having simpler shapes.
My favorite among the ones I animated is the busy breakfast scene that introduces the whole family for the very first time. It was challenging to tie together a lot of different elements in it- be it the sense of urgency in the parents while having to calm Ruby down, or Sam jumping in to nag Ruby at the very end. I relished working on that bit and had a lot of fun!
More Animation Career Highlights
Animation Mentor: What other scenes or characters throughout your career have been your favorite to animate?
Prashanth: On Puss in Boots: The last wish I had the great fortune of animating the Panic Attack sequence which gained a lot of acclaim. I also loved animating some of the final battle shots between Wolf and Puss.
I have a lot of favorites in ‘The Bad Guys.’ I enjoyed animating Mr.Wolf swinging Mr. Snake and also the part where they break up.
I also enjoyed animating a crucial moment in ‘Boss Baby 2’ when Tim saves Tabitha on the tree leading to a cute father-daughter moment. With Trolls, you can go wild with your ideas and I had a lot of fun animating the Reggaeton trolls in the second movie.
Reggaeton Trolls from Trolls World Tour, animated by Prashanth Cavale for DreamWorks.
Animation Mentor: What is one of the most challenging shots you’ve ever animated and what did you learn from it?
Prashanth: There have been many and it’s really hard to pinpoint one. Off the top of my head, the shot from The Bad Guys where Mr. Wolf swings Mr. Snake was one that mentally drained me out not only because it had a lot of technical and creative challenges tied together, but also because it was around the time my family was stuck in India during the deadly Delta COVID wave and to add to that my Visa renewal here in the US had hit a roadblock.
Working on the shot, I had to deal with a different variant of Mr. Snake and had to use his rig in a creative way to mime the big belly and to work out a constraint system that would let him get swung from his tail.
With Mr. Wolf, I had to keep his actions broad and together I had to hold their poses and favor the extremes to keep up the energy in the shot. This let me feature them in entertaining poses which worked really well for the shot.
The big takeaway from this shot was not to over-automate controls using constraints/parenting and to rely on crafting poses manually by eyeballing my way through the shot.
In many ways animating this shot was therapeutic because it momentarily took my mind off all prevailing issues and would refresh my thought process.
Experience as an Animation Mentor Student
Animation Mentor: How did Animation Mentor help prepare you for the industry?
Prashanth: AM definitely gave me the exposure to standardized workflows followed within the industry.
The curriculum was tailored to build our skillset on top of strong foundational principles and it helped me get a solid grasp of them before I took on acting and complex assignments.
The courses exposed me to the way things work on a project and the critiques were modeled on actual studio scenarios. It was also a learning step not just to embrace feedback from mentors and peers, but also interpret and implement the notes the right way.
Most importantly, at AM I got to learn from my mentors’ experience of being in the industry and to understand common pitfalls, the do’s and don’ts, etc.
Animation Mentor: Is there one thing every successful animator has in common?
Prashanth: It’s very hard to single out one factor because I think successful animators are driven by a deep love for the art form, a genuine enthusiasm for bringing characters and stories to life – which is shown by the amount of care they put into their work, and a commitment to continuously refining their craft. They have a sense of humility, acceptance and an innate resilience to steer the ship while being pulled in all directions.
The best animators I have come across are also great collaborators who are open for feedback and set an example for the rest of the team to follow.
Animation Mentor: Any final words of wisdom for current or future Animation Mentor students?
Prashanth: Your talent will make initial inroads, but it’s your character that will take you further.
Prashanth Cavale in the credits
|Trolls World Tour
|Boss Baby 2
|The Bad Guys
|Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
|Ruby Gillman, The Teenage Kraken
|Trolls Band Together
|Kung Fu Panda 3 and 4
|The Wild Robot
Want to be mentored by professional animators?
Start your animation journey just like Prashanth Cavale did by learning from animators at studios like ILM, Disney, and Blizzard! Get more information about Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program.