VFS recently had the pleasure of being joined by Sonali Dutta – a Look Development Artist – for an Industry Talk. For those who don’t know, VFS hosts a recurring Online Industry Talks series where we invite professionals from all sectors of the industry for a fireside chat with VFS students and the creative community alike.
Most Industry Talks are open to the public and they are always available online on our YouTube channel VFS Originals after the event.
Sonali Dutta (she/her) is a CG artist based in Vancouver. Previously a Materials and Fur Character Artist at Blue Sky Studios, she currently works at Image Engine. With expertise in textures, look development, and grooming, Sonali has contributed to feature films and series including The Mandalorian Season 3, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Hawkeye, Nimona, and – of course – the recent Emmy-winning series The Book of Boba Fett.
Originally from the US, Sonali graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design and is also a mentor for Women in Animation, an organization that brings together the global animation community to empower and advocate for people of underrepresented gender identities in all facets of the industry.
The Industry Talk was hosted by VFS’s Head of Animation, Colin Giles, and in just one short hour, Sonali provided some amazing insight on working her way up in the animation industry and lessons she’s learned along the way.
Sonali started off by sharing her lifelong love for art, which started at an early age. At just 4, Sonali was already drawing and painting; fortunately, she came from a very supportive family who always supported her artistic aspirations. What’s more, Sonali is a hardcore Disney/Star Wars stan (as most of us are!). As she grew older, Sonali was drawn to animation & computer graphics, making CG art the perfect career path.
She then went into detail about what it was like trying to find work in the industry after graduating. Entering the male-dominated 3D & VFX industry, Sonali definitely felt the pressure. She explained the imposter-syndrome that she felt, how 3D & VFX felt like an industry that was “not for her.” However, always driven by her ambition & the talent she knew she’d developed in school, Sonali landed a Character Artist internship at Blue Sky – the perfect foot-in-the-door opportunity for her to get some industry experience (and reel content) under her belt.
Sonali also spoke about the incredible work she’s done as a mentor for Women in Animation. She recently participated in the organization’s Mentor Circle, where she was paired with 6 mentees. Over a 4-month program, Sonali coached these young women in modeling, texturing, look development, and lighting, with a focus on landing that first job as a 3D artist. The mentorship also covered resume & cover letter writing, building a reel, upping one’s social media presence, and the interview process. Ultimately, the mentorship is meant to help aspiring women animators build the confidence & tools they need to succeed in the industry. While the 6 mentees all started with a fear that they would never be hired, most of them had landed their first job by the end of the program.
Throughout the entire talk, there was so much of Sonali’s journey that felt relatable – no matter the industry. When Blue Sky was shut down after 25 years in business, Sonali was one of 450 employees laid off, which came as a complete shock. But she quickly landed on her feet, starting her current employment with Image Engine in the middle of COVID. As someone who has been laid off multiple times AND started multiple jobs during COVID, this writer can definitely relate!
It just goes to show that through determination, hard work, and fortitude, life has a way of eventually sorting itself out!
In the Q&A that followed, Sonali was asked about life lessons she’s learned throughout her career. The top three: 1) Fight for the salary you believe you deserve. You have more leverage than you think; 2) Don’t be afraid to network. The person on the other side of that conversation or email is probably just as nervous as you; 3) YOU WILL GET THE JOB. Don’t stop believing in yourself.
Sonali concluded the talk by sharing her career highlight: working on the Star Wars franchise and, specifically, the bragging rights that come with getting to work on Darth Vader’s helmet!
A very special thanks once again to Sonali for sharing her incredible observations, wisdom, and knowledge of the animation industry with our community! If you missed the online event, or just want to watch it again, you can view the full Industry Talk right here.
If you are interested in starting your journey to the galaxy (and beyond!) as an animator, join us for Vancouver Film School’s online School of Animation program preview on July 24 to discover which of VFS’s 12-month animation programs is right for you!