Navdeep Singh – Character Animator, Project Lead, The Mill New York

Thank you so much Navdeep for this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself.

I am Navdeep Singh, and I have been working as an animator for past 6 years, with The Mill, New York. I worked on some of the finest projects like PETA – 98% Human, Norfolk Southern – the city of possibilities, talking chameleons from Valspar, facial animation for Muhammad Ali for  Porsche – Compete and many more. Lately, I have been a project lead for commercials with the talking box, for Progressive Insurance.

What made you want to have a career in animation?

I’ve always wanted to become an automobile designer. For which, I studied Maya for 6 months. It was absolutely mind blowing for me to design cars in a 3D software, render it and then post is as a desktop wallpaper on my computer. As I learned how to model and render, I was curious to add motion to it. Basically animate it. For which I had to learn how to rig. Using basic constraints I was able to rig the car. And then later, I animated it. Now, this was not when I decided to become an animator. As I noticed that the car that is animated is without a driver. I decided to model a race driver, rig it and animate it. Once I was able to put everything together. That is when I decided to go for animation.

Which animation school did you go to?

I went to Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah, Georgia, USA, where I did my Masters of Arts in Animation. I applied to various schools in USA. As SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) was one of the finest schools for learning animation, I just couldn’t resist to accept it.

How did you end up animating for The Mill?

When I was about to graduate, I had an option to either apply for feature film studios or advertising studios. And the diversity of animation styles in advertising impressed me to apply for advertising studios. I wanted to try my hands on stop motion, 2D flash animation, 3D animation and explore various aesthetics. Hence, I decided to go for advertising.

Savannah College of Art and Design was holding a career festival, where VFX and animation studios from all across USA would come and have there little stall or a booth and all the graduating students who get to visit the festival would pick the studio they like and drop their portfolio into the studios booth. I stopped by more than 20 studio booths and talked to their representatives. Some of the representatives were nice to talk to, while the rest were just there to eat free hot dogs and drink coke. After 2 months, The Mill contacted me and offered me an internship position. And without a second thought I accepted their offer. As my 3 months internship was about to end, I asked The Mill, if they liked my work and if there is any chance to work as a full time employee. They offered me a full time position and without a second thought, I accepted it.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been part of?

Every project has its own challenges and I try to learn from all of them. But one project, PETA – 98% Human, was way more challenging than my expectations. My shots required very subtle animation on chimpanzees hands. To keep the sense of believability consistent throughout the project, I had to re-do my shots again and again till I was satisfied with it. I learnt quite a lot  from it, so I would count PETA – 98% human, to be one of my favorite project that I am proud of. Another project that I feel super proud of is Mill Characters. So it wasn’t too busy at the studio one year, and I came up the an idea of looking at The Mill’s logo as bunch of characters. I shared the idea with some of my colleagues and asked them, if they would like to work on it. They liked the idea and helped me create a short animation clip of it. Now that animation clip is the opening shot of The Mill’s character demo reel.

What is your favorite shot or character you worked on?

The Mill characters are my personal favorite. I think those characters have a lot of potential in them. One can play with the style, the look, the personality, the story of short clips of those characters. We were 6 animators, at The Mill and each one of us animated each of those characters and added kind of our own personalities to it. It was a very random idea to do so, and it had a happy ending to it.

What’s the coolest thing in being an Animator?

I think the coolest thing about being an animator is that we have an ability to bring the fictional characters to life. Yes, there are artists who can imagine the characters and draw them, sculpt them, add textures to them and all. But the coolest part (may be I am being little biased here) is to add life to those characters.

What are some of the challenges of being a project lead?

In my personal opinion, I felt leading a project to be similar to parenting. Making sure, my fellow artists are doing the right thing, if they have finished their work how it was required, if they will be able to meet the deadline, making sure they are saving under correct folders, all these things are very similar to, making sure, your baby ate food well, they are sleeping on time and all.

The other challenge that I felt was, organizing the time to work on my own shots. So when I was leading Progressive project, I was spending more time making sure my fellow artists are working good. And that used to take my whole day. So to work on my shots, I had to stay late after work to make sure I finish my shots and stay on track with everyone.

In your career, what artists have been your biggest inspirations?

I have a long list of artists that have inspired me. I cannot name all of them, but I can definitely name a few.  Firstly, Piyush Pandey. He is the executive chairman and creative director for Ogilvy and Mather India and South Asia. He has the ability to make a laughing person cry and a crying person laugh. The way he complies the commercials/advertisements or the way he puts his thoughts into his work, I think it is absolutely amazing. His commercials can be understood by any person of any ethnicity, because he executes the commercials more with the music and less with the dialogue. That way, his commercials convey a consistent idea globally. This Fevicol commercial is one of them.

Second of all would be Eric Goldberg. I think, the way him and Robin Williams added life to one of my personal favorite characters, Genie, from Aladdin, it is amazing. I can look at that character all day long, over and over again and not get bored of it. It is hard for me to think of any other person than Robin Williams, who could do such an amazing voice acting for Genie. The way he modulates his voice from one character to another, It is phenomenal.

Last, but not the least of all would be, Rowan Atkinson, also known as Mr. Bean. He has the ability to express his feelings using his body language. Again, Mr. Bean rarely speaks a dialogue,  but is understood worldwide. I admire Rowan the most, his sense of timing, anticipation and staging, those are some of the basics that an animator needs. And I think he is the best source for it.

Is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation business?

When I was a student, I was never sure about, how to present my demo reel? What work to put and what not?. So, my advice for students and artists trying to get into business regarding making their demo reel would be  Always put your best first. Something that is finished and polished. From my experience, I can tell that your work is not judged by quantity, it is judged more by the quality.

One other advice that I would like to share with everyone is, “Always ask for fresh eyes”. What it means is, that sometimes, we spend so much time working on one animation, that our brain easily accepts it and we tend to lose some of the details of it. So, it is always helpful to ask someone, to take a look at the animation and critique it. You will be surprised to see how they can point out things that you would be ignoring unintentionally. So, don’t be shy to show your work and have someone critique it.

To find out more about Navdeep’s work check his website, LinkedIn profile and definitely his latest animation demo reel:

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