From Dreams to Reality: This Animator from Bahrain is Making it Big at the Walt Disney Company

This is a story of success, realising dreams, and maximising potential, and it all began here in Bahrain. For Vinod Krishnan, video games, movies, and art formed a parallel world – one reigned by the virtues of stories and colourful visuals. At the age of 16, the engineering aspirant decided to follow his calling – animation. Today, a technical director at Walt Disney Company, Vinod loves everything about his career – the storytelling, the creativity, the animation, and most importantly, getting to do what he always wanted.

We had the opportunity to get to know Vinod Krishnan and his work a little more recently and we think this is a story you wouldn’t want to miss!

Vinod Krishnan, Technical Director, Walt Disney

Tell us a little about yourself and your journey from Bahrain to the US in pursuit of a career in animation.

My name is Vinod Krishnan, and I was raised on the beautiful island of Bahrain. Throughout my formative years, I revelled in the myriad experiences the island had to offer. Despite harbouring a natural inclination towards creative work, I never considered them as a viable career path. Like many children my age, I immersed myself in video games, movies, drawing, and painting, viewing them solely as mere hobbies while hopelessly pursuing a career in engineering, a path I felt compelled to follow despite lacking genuine interest.

However, it wasn’t until I reached the age of 16 or 17 that the notion of pursuing animation as a career was introduced to me by a cousin. Reflecting on this pivotal moment, I can’t help but draw parallels to the scene in Ratatouille where Remy (the rat), after savouring a bite of cheese and a strawberry, experiences a profound revelation about his life’s purpose.

In 2014, during a heartfelt conversation with my father, he asked about my aspirations of working in Hollywood, reigniting a dormant dream that had been overshadowed by the pragmatism of job hunting. Inspired by this conversation, we devised a plan for me to pursue a master’s degree in animation in the United States. In 2018, I took a leap of faith and relocated to Los Angeles, a city that had once seemed fantastical (and still does to a fair extent), to pursue this audacious dream. Though the journey has been challenging, it has also been immensely rewarding, affirming my decision to pursue my passion for animation

What does a typical day or week in your life at The Walt Disney Company look like?

A typical day at a place like Disney is nothing short of extraordinary. Each day presents a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the magical world of storytelling and creativity that defines the animation industry. Interacting with esteemed veterans who have left a mark on the craft and being entrusted with a pivotal role in shaping timeless narratives is both humbling and exhilarating. Collaboration lies at the heart of our culture in the animation industry. Together, we embark on a journey to breathe life into captivating stories, ensuring that every frame resonates with emotion and authenticity. As a technical director, my role extends beyond mere technical proficiency; I serve as a steadfast source of expertise, guiding and supporting our dedicated crew throughout the intricate animation pipeline.

Engaging in discussions about cutting-edge technologies fuels our collective imagination, propelling us to explore new standards and redefine the boundaries of creativity. At Disney, a company renowned for its century-long legacy of crafting compelling narratives, the opportunity to contribute to these stories is nothing short of a dream realized.

Could you share a memorable project or experience from your career that had a significant impact on you personally or professionally? What lessons did you learn from that experience?

Reflecting on recent experiences, two projects stand out as profoundly impactful on my journey as an artist: “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” and “Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.”

These projects not only challenged me to broaden my skill set to meet their exacting standards of animation quality but also offered a profound exploration of cultural significance. Throughout my involvement with both shows, I was immersed in the many facets of African American culture, delving into facets of history and heritage that I had not previously encountered. Each episode became an enlightening journey, offering new insights into the intricate web of global history and the enduring impact of diverse cultures on society.

Vinod Krishnan, Technical Director, Walt Disney

As I got more involved in the creative process, I found myself not only honing my craft but also expanding my understanding of the world around me. Every scene I animated, every character I brought to life, became an opportunity to connect with the intricacies of human experience and to contribute to a narrative that celebrates diversity and cultural heritage. These projects have not only shaped me as an artist but have also enriched my perspective, instilling in me a profound appreciation for the power of storytelling to bridge cultural divides and inspire positive change

In your opinion, what are some of the most exciting developments or trends shaping the future of animation?

In the past decade, the rapid growth of various forms of media consumption has significantly amplified the demand for entertainment. This surge has been particularly notable in the realm of television shows and feature films, where bulk orders and binge-watching have become commonplace practices among audiences. The most recent Academy Awards ceremony serves as a testament to the diversity and quality of media productions that have emerged in response to this heightened demand. From thought-provoking documentaries to groundbreaking series and visually stunning feature films, the depth showcased reflects the evolving landscape of entertainment.

The fast-growing landscape of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and virtual production marks a transformative era in media consumption. These cutting-edge technologies not only redefine how we experience entertainment but also revolutionize the very nature of storytelling. At the forefront of this revolution is real-time rendering, a groundbreaking advancement that has propelled narrative innovation to unprecedented heights.

Overall, the intersection of advancing technology, changing consumer preferences, and the ever-expanding array of platforms for content distribution has resulted in an era of unprecedented growth and innovation in the entertainment industry.

As someone deeply involved in the animation community, what role do you believe technology will play in the future of storytelling and animation production?

The process of creating animated shows, affectionately known as cartoons, has undergone a profound transformation, becoming increasingly reliant on cutting-edge visual technology to meet the soaring demand. With software updates rolling out every six months and the integration of AI, we’re constantly creating new approaches to our craft.

As these technologies continue to evolve, they hold the promise of revolutionizing storytelling, empowering creators of all backgrounds to realize their artistic visions with freedom and accessibility. In this dynamic landscape, the possibilities are limitless, making way for a new era where storytelling transcends the limitations of conventional mediums.

Are there any misconceptions about the animation industry that you would like to dispel, particularly for those who may be considering a career in this field?

Like many other industries, the entertainment sector also comes with its own set of misconceptions. Embarking on this journey myself, I initially felt a sense of unpreparedness, unsure of what lay ahead. While I had a clear goal in mind, the process remained unknown to me. As I dove deeper into the artistry, I quickly came to understand that the path to success is far from linear. It became apparent that achieving excellence in entertainment requires a staggering amount of hard work, repetition, and perseverance. The creation of visually captivating images demands a level of commitment and attention to detail that surpassed my initial expectations. Patience is a fundamental virtue in the pursuit of success within the entertainment industry. Progress is often gradual, requiring a commitment to the long-term vision despite inevitable setbacks and challenges along the way.

Vinod Krishnan, Technical Director, Walt Disney

As my journey in entertainment progressed, I came to appreciate the importance of continuous research across a diverse array of topics and industries. In an era defined by rapid technological advancements and evolving audience preferences, staying on beat with the latest trends, innovations, and cultural shifts has become indispensable for maintaining relevance and pushing creative boundaries.

Yet, amidst the demanding nature of the entertainment industry, there exists an undeniable sense of fulfilment and reward in seeing one’s vision come to life. The collaborative spirit that permeates every facet of production develops a sense of camaraderie and shared accomplishment among creatives.

You mentioned your desire to extend mentorship efforts to Bahrain and contribute to the development of aspiring storytellers here. What specific initiatives or programs do you have in mind for achieving this goal?

In addition to my production career, I play a critical leading role in global animation-related organizations, such as ASIFA, ACM-Siggraph, Creative Talent Network and LightBox Expo. Within these influential bodies, I am honoured to serve on either executive committees or core organizational teams. I firmly believe I couldn’t have made it this far without help and support. I only wish to pay it forward and offer my support to the next generation.

In recent years, I’ve actively engaged with both local and global communities, particularly focusing on mentoring aspiring talent and championing educational initiatives within the animation industry. In Bahrain, I’ve dedicated myself to working closely with high school students, offering guidance and mentorship to those aspiring to pursue careers in animation and CGI. Furthermore, as a proud member of Siggraph and ASIFA ‘s Industry Outreach Committee, I’ve collaborated on developing programs in the US, aimed at supporting students interested in entering the entertainment industry.

I am eager to expand these efforts to my homeland, further contributing to the nurturing and development of aspiring storytellers within our local community. By extending my reach and support networks, I am committed to fostering an environment where creativity can thrive, and individuals can realize their full potential in the dynamic world of animation.