Practitioners Perspectives // February 19,2021

Amplify Business Results With Creativity and Technology

Featuring: Megha Davalath , Character Technology Lead, DreamWorks Animation


Megha Davalath Character Technology Lead, DreamWorks Animation

How does beauty manifest itself in the virtual world?
The virtual world is not limited by the same rules and boundaries of the physical world. This doesn’t mean that there are no rules, but the authors/creators decide the rules of the reality in which they will work. This level of control and direction opens new ways in which reality can manifest and evolve.

How is technology transforming the world of design?
Technology and design live in a continuous relationship of evolution and breakthrough. Oftentimes, new technologies pop up in unexpected places and take the design world by storm. Right now we are in the middle of various technological revolutions, like collaborative cloud-based solutions, and AR and VR prototyping and experiences. It is still very early to see where these technologies will take the world of design, but it is certain that they will profoundly affect both the products of design and the process.

What are the joys of co-creation with a computer?
The relationship with art and technology is a beautiful blend: art inspires technology and technology enables art. The computer and digital technology are just a tool in the process of design and artistic creation. But they are a tool like no other in the history of design. The computer is continuously evolving and adapting to the limitations and the needs of design and animation. Each new project enhances further the potential of the next process.

What does “an eye for detail” mean in your design world?
In physical production, you can utilize the entire world as your canvas when filming. You can use the sky, a large grass field, a barn, downtown setting, cars, food, and anything you can think of. It is a matter of designing a set with the things you need. However, in animation, every single thing that you see on screen has to be built in a virtual sense. Every spec of dust, weathering on a table, reflection in the mirror, or droplet of water has to be created from scratch. You cannot get away without polishing the scene to 100%, otherwise it looks unfinished. An eye for detail is a requirement in any part of the animation process.

What have you learnt about teams and collaboration?
Whether it’s official or not, there is a saying that I have heard many times over at DreamWorks and that is: “teamwork makes the dream work.” And it could not be more true. An individual can achieve greatness but a team can achieve the impossible. Collaboration is the best way to encourage diverse solutions for any problems.

What can other organizations learn from what sets DreamWorks apart?
DreamWorks has provided a wonderful environment for our careers and has been a strong advocate for supporting women in technology. One of the most active organizations at the studio which I helped co-found is TECHWomen. There is significant passion on our team to create an inclusive support community for women in technology. We are focused in the areas of education, outreach, and creating overall awareness of issues around diversity and inclusion.

How can animation teach human beings to change?
Animation is a medium. It’s up to the storytellers to come up with diverse stories and themes that can teach change and empower humans to grow. The best way that animation can teach its audience is to focus on its own strengths

What makes women in technology more successful?
Diversity of thought leads to better problem solving and improves innovation. Women provide insight and different angles that can open up new ideas. And in order to have the opportunity to provide unique ideas, one must be heard. For example, proactively sitting at the table or at the front of the room and being a prominent voice in every conversation. One has to advocate for themselves in every situation even if there are amazing leaders, mentors, sponsors — that responsibility is not theirs. It’s also important to not say yes to everything and get spread too thin. Speaking up for one another is also beneficial in the long run. For example, encourage leadership to run every meeting in an inclusive manner. It has been a long journey for women in technology and we still have a long way to go. But if we support one another, we can achieve greatness!

What advice would you have for youngsters considering a profession in design and animation?
Animation is mostly about dedication and hard work, about never giving up and learning every single day. The tools are out there and the earlier you get a head start, the better. Research is key. Stay relevant. Keep up with research in the industry at all times. Bring innovative ideas to the table at all times. Embrace that your path may not be a linear process. Find a role model in the field and follow their trajectory and try to mimic it! That’s what I did.

Describe the joy of successful movie launch?
After having poured your heart and soul into a project for three to sometimes 10+ years, it is the most joyous moment to see the final product on the silver screen. The process of going from concept to art, story, modeling, animating, effects, lighting and final editing is so complex that at completion, every single person that has contributed to the final image finds glory in the achievement.

How can animation for children fire up adult imagination?
Animation and visual effects allow a medium to bring anything you can dream of to life. A world with funny ogres, kung fu fighting animals, a life living with dragons, or dancing with Trolls. The visual diversity and storytelling is compelling for people of all ages.

How can animation bridge the various gaps that plague our world – eg: generational gaps, cultural gaps, geographical gaps, educational gaps?
The gaps that plague our world are due to a lack of knowledge in those areas. Animation is a wonderful way to educate society by telling stories that span diverse subjects that are otherwise not popular — there is no limit to what you can bring to the silver screen through animation. For example, we have been exposed to the Chinese culture around Kung Fu in DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda, learned about the Mexican tradition around the Day of the Dead in Pixar’s Coco, and experienced different types of musical cultures in DreamWorks’ Trolls World Tour. When the visual storytelling is solid, any story can reduce the prejudices of our current society.

How can your personal aspirations transform the world?
My personal aspiration is to help provide happiness to everyone around me and being able to do so through the medium of film and animation is perfect. One of my main goals in life is to foster women in technology, ranging from outreach with underprivileged middle school girls to creating a great work environment for my female co-workers. Therefore, encouraging young girls and women to technology through the eyes of animation is the perfect combination.

Megha Megha Davalath

Character Technology Lead,
Dream Works Animation

A Character Technology Lead at DreamWorks Animation helping facilitate the vision for hair technology solutions at the studio, Megha is a 2020 Academy Award-Nominee (Science & Technology) for her team’s hair motion and simulation system, Wig.

Graduated from the two Texas rival schools, MS in Visualization from Texas A&M and BS in Computer Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin, Megha launched the organization “TECHWomen” at DreamWorks in the Spring of 2017, aiming to reduce the gender distribution gap in technical departments and create an awareness of diverse cultures and inclusion.

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