TRAILBLAZING with Roshni Kakad

TRAILBLAZING with Roshni Kakad
We met Roshni at The Games Animation and VFx festival, GAFX, Bangalore 2024. Chairing one of the panels on Fighting the Imposter Syndrome put together by Women in Animation (WIA, India Collective), she was the very embodiment of calm.
A freelance Visual Effects Producer is how she introduced herself. This was a relatively unheard-of position in the Indian creative landscape. Needless to say, we were intrigued. What does it take to be one? What does the day in the life of a producer look like? Did she always want to be one? There were just some of the questions that bubbled forth.
Her’s has not been a linear path. With the dream of working as a visual artist in the big studios, she enrolled herself in the animation program at Whistling Woods, Mumbai and then the University of Birmingham. Being an overseas graduate student meant that these expectations had to be recalibrated. She was determined though, even if it meant crossing over roles. Fresh off the graduation stage, she eyed a Junior position at a major VFx Studio in India and gunned for it. Alas, neither the presumably good interview, nor the resume glowing with a TBWA internship were enough to get her through the door. This setback sent her in a whole other direction, but….
“... missing out on this opportunity led me to consider an unexpected offer in teaching which ultimately played a vital role in launching me to a future in VFX. Though it wasn't part of my original plan, I took a leap of faith and became a Lecturer at ICAT Design and Media College (Chennai) for over 2 years. I focused on theoretical sessions in animation, design and photography which was an insightful and humbling experience. Unexpectedly, this propelled me to the next phase of my career.”
Grounding in teaching boosted her confidence to take her moon-shot again. She applied for the position of Production Assistant, DreamWorks Animation, India. And lo and behold, she made it! Who says perseverance doesn't pay. At DTV she got the chance to work with a talented bunch of “performance animators”. Deploying motion capture technology, they focused on animating 3D characters to achieve realistic movements and expressions. Together they brought to life some of our most loved characters - Shrek & Donkey, Puss in Boots, King Julian, Po - to name a few.
Shrek Talks
Swamp Talk was an animated series produced by DreamWorks Animation, released on DreamWorks TV
King Julien Stand Up : Selfie Master
Dreamworks Team
DreamWorks India Team, circa 2016
This stint planked the way to a role at The Mill, a division of Technicolor Creative Studios Ltd, another name on her shortlist. She started out in her position as a Production Assistant, and a studio with a modest 20 people team which grew into the role of a Senior Line Producer within a studio of 200! Here she managed multi-disciplinary teams working on high-end commercials for Nike, Ralph Lauren, Marvel, Playstation, Spotify, Starbucks, Paramount…the list goes on. A solidly impressive line up!
Spotify : All Ears on You
Nike : Mercurial Launch Installation
Ralph Lauren : Holidays 2020
“Some of my most memorable projects include the KIA Super Bowl 2018 'Feel Something Again' spot, where CGI magic reversed the charismatic Steven Tyler’s age as he races a car in reverse, and a music video called 'The Most Vicious Cycle' for a nonprofit 'March For Our Lives,' aimed at ending senseless gun violence.”
The Mill_1
The Mill_2
Stills from the KIA Super Bowl Commercial
KIA Super Bowl
A large part of the work as a producer is managing people and processes. Besides creative alignment, you’re often brokering peace between different parties. How did she navigate this tightrope?
Being level-headed under any circumstance is my modus operandi for conflict resolution.
She’s handled her fair share of interventions between coordinator(s) and a creative lead, or an artist and their supervisor. Sometimes they were juvenile, sometimes critical, she says. More often that not it would be a case of lost in translation. Contexts and tones lost over emails and IMs. Nothing a good old face-to-face, even if virtual, could not set right. She recalls one particular incident when the team received a brief for a tight timeline, but was missing the necessary 3D assets to kickstart work. An email requesting the inputs was sent to the 3D supervisor at the cross-site studio. However, it was misread by another stand-in senior as a lack of clarity in brief to initiate work. A loss of a day on an already tight delivery!! It escalated quickly from there. But a timely video-conference set things right and work was peacefully resumed. There’s little an open conversation and a steady internet connection can’t resolve.
“I considered asking myself what type of producer I wanted to be. One with the added edge of technical expertise for guidance and troubleshooting? Or one who goes an extra mile in interpersonal skills, ensuring a good work-life balance for the team?”
“When I conducted any training sessions at ‘The Mill’, I ensured to slip in a segment on production ethics and best practices to emphasize the importance of a culture champion mindset. This includes creating a safe space for healthy arguments, using appropriate communication mediums, and encouraging transparency between individuals and within the larger team.“
The Mill Team 01
The Mill Team 02
The Mill Team
Working with large teams with some of the biggest names in the business comes with it’s own set of learnings. We quizzed Roshni on what were some of the key takeaways that could help all creatives better align their processes. “One analogy that comes to mind regarding workflows is that of a top chef instructing his team to, Always keep your cooking station clean!" Much like how a complex dish is a combination of several ingredients and must pass through several sous-chefs for various preparation stages - so it is with a VFX project. Your workstation, or in our case, the project files must be well organised. Can you imagine working with someone else’s messy layers?
“Whether you're an Artist or a Manager, being organized is crucial. My reporting manager at DreamWorks, Sumit Verma, was the epitome of organization! Whether it was documentation or team building activities. I believe that a workflow's effectiveness hinges on the team's collaborative dynamic. My most valuable lessons have come from cross-department meetings with core project stakeholders, where we would forecast and address potential bottlenecks from both creative and managerial perspectives.”
She rightfully points out how the first leg of any project sets the tone for the delivery. The delicate balance of creative tasks and technical demands, a balance that can only be achieved through collective values fostering a healthy work culture. To this day she harks back to the Production Values session delivered by Damien de Froberville at DreamWorks India. Values she swears by - Having a shared vision - Clear intent - Empathy - Recognizing contributions - Ownership and accountability - Fairness and equal opportunity - Transparency and a safe space for open dialogue.
The possibility of going freelance is something she got introduced to by other colleagues working in studios abroad. After a small break, which she spent traveling, she took the plunge.
The idea of being a digital nomad which once seemed like a distant utopia, began to brew in my mind. The Covid era certainly proved that this practice is possible even in the field of visual effects.
Your role is still the same, she says. You are responsible for the overall project management of films, TV series, commercials, etc. Working hand in hand typically with a production coordinator, the tasks are branched out into scheduling, resource allocation, budgeting, client communication, team coordination, tracking of project milestones and deliveries. The only real difference being, you work contractually rather than being in-house. Though there are models where you could also work as a retainer.
Her advice to anyone embarking on the same path is to first work in studios, build a solid network of colleagues and contacts either at work or through industry events and then jump into the YOLO, Solo life. A friendly word, timely dropped in by these very folks could be your next big opportunity. So, build your bridges folks.
And the advice that has always stood her in good stead? Don’t let one setback overshadow all your other strengths. Words from a dear friend and former manager Dinesh Krishnan. We all need our cheerleaders and mentors, for that friendly advice, to keep that morale in check or just remind us ‘that behind every impressive job title is another human being trying to make sense of the world.
The Land before time
The movie that started it all
But what happens when the going gets tough? Drink from the well of yourself and begin again, as Bukowski said. For her, it’s indulging in illustration. Kind of the reason she steered her ship towards the creative services. Somewhere she is still that kid escaping the birthday party to seek refuge in drawing dinosaurs in her happy little corner. (What is with 80’s kids and dinosaurs 🙂!)
Personal Illustrations
If you’re looking for someone to champion the cause for your project, someone who values the sanctity of the creative process and vision as much as she does your humanity, look no further than Roshni. We for one are eagerly awaiting her credit on the silver screen.
You can reach out to Roshni on the links below
Roshni Kakad
Roshni Kakad