Sal Umerji, General Manager for Advertising, MPC Bangalore takes us on a virtual tour
MPC’s Bangalore studio opened in 2010 and over the past seven years its evolved from a roto and match move ‘corner’ of MPC Film to a creative hub bursting with exciting talent. That’s thanks to their dedication to nurturing and training talent – competition for skilled and creative VFX folks is fierce in India. The result of this thoughtful approach is that MPC Bangalore has been a major collaborator on massive jobs from movies like The Jungle Book and Wonder Woman to big global Heineken commercials. LBB caught up with Sal Umerji to find out more.
LBB> What is MPC Bangalore’s greatest strength within the MPC group? What do you guys bring to the group?
SU> It’s vital to the quality of our creative output that we don’t divide work by studio – we hand-pick artists who are at the top of their field, with their own unique specialisms from MPC’s locations all over the world. It is important for creative businesses not to have one centre of excellence and weaker outposts elsewhere; every hub needs exceptional people. Bangalore artists are some of the best in the group at asset creation and match move.
LBB> Who are the creative stars at MPC Bangalore? Who should we be talking about?
SU> Most roles within our business contribute creatively. Our new Head of Production for Advertising, Rochel Robert, is one of the studio’s founding colleagues and she plays an integral part in the growth of MPC Bangalore, not to mention the smooth running of the creative teams and managing the shows that come into production globally.
LBB> How does the MPC Bangalore team collaborate with other MPC teams around the world?
SU> We pride ourselves on bringing together the best talent from around the world, regardless of geography or logistics. Our recent work on Heineken’s ‘The Trailblazers’, conceived by Publicis Italy, is a perfect example of how this works in practice. We had our best modelers in the world, based in the Bangalore studio, working alongside London artists who created the sophisticated fluid simulations, while our Amsterdam studio - where the director Matthijs van Heijningen was based - led all the compositing. We apply this approach to almost every production we work on.
While, of course, we rely heavily on seamless systems and processes to achieve this, we discovered early on that successful creative work, on any scale, hinges on close communication; and the most important thing is face-to-face contact. Close up, you can see people’s passion and dedication, read their subtle cues and engage in healthy debate and experimentation. That’s how we push work forward creatively. And without the right culture, this would be almost impossible on a global scale.
LBB> How much of the commercial work that you do is for Indian brands and agencies and how much of it is global?
SU> It’s currently 100% global. Having a global client base means that we work on international campaigns, which encompass the Indian market.
LBB> I hear the MPC Academy is really impressive – how does it work?
SU> The Academy is run by our friends over at MPC Film. In our Advertising division, we hire and cross-train artists through ‘Accelerate’ - our internal learning and development programme unique to Bangalore. It helps artists experience other disciplines in VFX and has helped to grow a senior level of artists in the Bangalore market. In addition, our artists often move to work in other MPC studios and we now have senior leads working in a difference discipline to the one in which they started.
LBB> Is it true that, as part of your training, you send members of the Bangalore team to other MPC offices?
SU> It’s important for us to forge artist relationships in our studios all over the world. It’s vital for knowledge sharing and is a really good experience for our artists.
LBB> I believe MPC Bangalore opened in 2010 – how has it evolved since then?
SU> Our advertising studio started out in the corner of MPC Film, doing match move and roto. Seven years later, it’s a fully-fledged VFX studio with the same outstanding creative calibre of all our studios worldwide.
LBB> Can you tell me a bit about the location of the office and what its surroundings are like?
SU> The Bangalore studio is based in Whitefield – home to a number of leading tech companies. It’s even got its own cricket pitch; quite handy with over 30,000 employees based out there in the tech park!
LBB> I’ve seen Bangalore described as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’ – how is that tech and start up scheme energising MPC Bangalore?
SU> What we do is a combination art and magic; to find the people with the right set of skills we have to cast our net more widely. We look for a specific type of creative talent, combined with real passion and skill for VFX. This presents a bit of a challenge, as the right talent isn’t always readily available.
LBB> What’s the creative scene like in Bangalore?
SU> We are the biggest creative studio based there. We think it’s important to provide a working environment that creates a balance between work and play, and to place creativity and collaboration at the heart of our studio culture. So the Bangalore calendar is packed with events, from employee engagement programs to day trips and Masterchef cooking challenges.
We’ve also recently added a recreation room in Bangalore, so our artists can take time out and recharge.
LBB> How big is the team at MPC Bangalore?
SU> We are currently a team of 200 in MPC Advertising in Banaglore, and still growing.
LBB> Where does most of your talent come from? Do you tend to recruit people straight out of school/college and train them? Are there any schools that are particularly strong for post/VFX talent in India?
SU> Competition for talent in India is very high. We tend to recruit from ‘entrant’ companies where an artist’s progression may be limited to one discipline, such as match-move. Once they join MPC they can cross-train through Accelerate and move up the ladder. Personal referral also plays a big part here. We’re ambitious to address the gender imbalance across the VFX industry, so we offer higher incentives for recruiting female artists. We also focus a lot of our activity around retention; it’s always our aim to challenge our best people and provide them with global opportunities.
LBB> I read that for The Jungle Book, the team at MPC Bangalore were super helpful when it came to heading out and taking reference shots of Indian scenery and nature - what was that project like to work on?
SU> Incredible. MPC Film’s team of more than 800 artists, production and technologists - based in London, Los Angeles and Bangalore - worked on The Jungle Book for two years.
LBB> In the UK and US, post houses and VFX companies are now seeing competition from in-house advertising agency post and production facilities. Is that something that you’re seeing happening in India at all?
SU> There is a huge demand on VFX in the Indian market, and with more and more international companies coming to India, there is a growing strain on the volume of experienced and nurtured talent.
LBB> What are the most exciting commercial projects you have worked on recently?
SU> It’s hard to put together a definitive list, but some of the top contenders have got to include Shadow of War ‘Friend or Foe’ - a huge VFX project led by our friends stateside. As well, of course, as some of MPC’s most celebrated recent work, such as Heineken ‘The Trailblazers’, Samsung ‘Ostrich’ and John Lewis ‘Buster the Boxer’ which picked up a string of awards this year including Cannes. It was an extra-special treat for our team to get to hold one of the Gold Lion awards during a studio visit a few weeks back!
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