Just recently, we had the opportunity to interview Vinod Krishnan, a Visual Development Artist whose roots began in Bahrain. He has established his career in the art industry and made his way to Hollywood working for several prominent TV shows, music videos and feature films.
Some of his work have been seen in animation and live action shows including Annabelle Comes Home, Rick & Morty, Avengers: Endgame, Archer, Grown-ish, Black-ish, Grace and Frankie, and Marvel’s Runaways.
He’s also worked on music videos with artists including Taylor Swift, Camilla Cabello, and Billie Eilish.
Through the years, Vinod has worked with Walt Disney Animation, Dreamworks Animation, Nickelodeon, Adult Swim and is presently involved with Netflix Animation: Originals in Los Angeles, California.
Some of his key work has earned nominations for both the Emmys and Oscars.
What inspired you to go into art? When did you realize that this is something you are passionate about and would like to pursue a career?
More than being inspired to take up art as a career choice, I was more excited by the idea of turning my hobby of doodling in school notebooks and textbooks into a profession. I was also simply looking forward to the fact that it wasn’t an engineering or a commerce degree.
Once I began my journey, I came to understand the level of hard work and dedication it would take to be remotely successful in the entertainment industry. I then spent almost all my time working towards my craft, honing and practicing day and night to achieve a quality that resembled the industry standards. As soon as I got a good grasp on the basics, I felt empowered to continually explore the animation medium to all its glory.
I was completely enamored by the art of storytelling and narrative building. I started to use my artistic skill to tell stories. That’s when the passion for this career took shape. At one point, you could say, I was addicted to ‘getting better’ at visual art and it hasn’t toned down even a little bit since then.
Working in the storytelling departments exposed me to an environment that I could constantly learn from and motivated me to remain curious every step of the way.
How did your roots in Bahrain shape you as an artist?
Due to the size of the country, I was blessed with a lot more opportunities to express myself than any kid would be able to in another country. It seemed absolutely normal for a student to be involved in many events back then, but as I got older, I came to realize how incredibly fortunate we were to be exposed to more than a handful of events. We grew up multi-talented and didn’t even know the value until much later.
Growing up in a country like Bahrain is something I would cherish forever. It truly encapsulates the saying ‘Big things come in small packages’. I grew up around a few different cultures since we lived in a diverse community of people from all walks of life.
When I casually speak about my experiences growing up, celebrating all occasions be it Eid, Christmas, Diwali or just spending time at desert camps, or the fact that we drive by a royal palace ever so often- every story comes across as a fascinating tale.
Despite having Indian origins, I consider Bahrain as ‘home’ and it will remain. It has shaped me into the person I am today and I always look back to that beautiful island for inspiration, solace and comfort.
How do you handle being in a very competitive industry, especially in Hollywood?
Being in this industry is definitely not an easy task. In a field where you’re often one amongst thousands of artists that shoot for the same role can be daunting. Along with being competitive, I would also say it’s quite cut-throat.
Over the years, I’ve come to learn the survival instincts through many ups and downs. At this point, I have learned being in this industry is not just about your skill sets, but also the attitude you carry, the tenacity, and one of the most important points- being informed, are traits one should possess to keep relevant. This is an extremely collaborative environment. It’s important to be a good artist, but it’s even more important to be an artist that’s good to work with.
The way one maneuvers around a team environment is crucial. Oftentimes, studios seek good artists with a great attitude more than a great artist with an average attitude.
I think the trick is to embrace the competitiveness of the industry. There’s no way around it. Handling the stress of the expectations we face on a daily basis can get real tough, but I realized it was important to keep my focus on developing myself. It is the only thing I can truly control. It’s hard to not compare yourself to your peers but it’s important to know that you and your peers are one among the same community.
I spent a considerable amount of time working with the community and building relationships I’ve come to cherish.
On a lighter note, I feel the greatest tool to survive in this industry is the circle you mingle with. I would not have gotten this far if it wasn’t for having my friends as my support system over the years. So, make great friends! They’re truly the only ones who can relate to you when you inevitably confide in or vent to them.
Which project do you feel earned you your ‘big break’?
It’s tough to pinpoint what my ‘big break’ was. To think back, I did a project with Adult Swim Network a few years ago. I was tasked to create network IDs for most of the shows the AS network aired (Rick and Morty, Venture Bros, Samurai Jack). That was the first time I was made a lead on a project. The responsibility placed on me was quite overwhelming, but the project was just too much fun to overthink the bigger picture. Those IDs gained traction on the web and people got to know of my work and what I brought to the table.
An exposure like that snowballed into many opportunities that I thought were a long-shot at that time.
What advice can you give to the youth who are looking to follow your career path?
I think one of the most honest pieces of advice I can give is to ‘keep at it’. It sounds simple and cliché, but it is not. Patience is key! There’s a saying within the industrythat you haven’t quite scratched the surface of your craft if you haven’t spent 10,000 hours doing it at the very least.
A major note one should take is to always keep informed on multiple aspects of the industry. It could range from studio business deals, upcoming productions, tech and softwares. Knowing about the industry is important. Instead of having a dream studio to work at, have a dream project you would like to work on. Chase that dream of working on a project where you would be able to relate the most.
I hope sharing my story creates more awareness amongst students or anyone wanting to step into the industry. I basically went in blind and I wish I had someone to talk to about hopping into something as big and uncertain as this industry.
I also want to take this opportunity to say that my contact is always open to anyone who wishes to reach out for guidance. I professionally work with organizations such as ACM SIGGRAPH, ASIFA and The Creative Talent Network as a mentor, helping students shape their portfolios and/or just general career advice. I hope my story serves as an outlet for budding artists on the island to gain confidence that you don’t have to train all your life to get into animation -all it takes is sheer hard work and determination. It’s never too late!
Are you planning to do projects in Bahrain in the future?
Absolutely! I’m always looking for fun projects to be involved in. In all my years in the USA, there hasn’t been a single one that passed where I didn’t look to expand my wings to the island. I’ve been in touch with a few potential leads but nothing has shaped up quite yet. But I’m hopeful for something to pan out someday.
More than a project, I’m currently looking to find ways to help aspiring artists in Bahrain to find a voice. I want to provide a certain level of guidance where students or anyone can use their skills to reach Hollywood. Either through mentorship services or by setting up non-profit organizations that solely cater towards helping local artists gain the knowledge to take their work to the next level.
On another note, where is your favorite place to go to in Bahrain and why?
This might just be the toughest question I’ve had to answer here. My preferences for my go-to places in Bahrain have changed over the years. From being excited by every theme park or garden to going to Seef Mall or the City Centre every chance I got, I’ve had a fantastic childhood during my time in Bahrain.
But as far as I can remember, my favorite place to hang out would be Block 338 in Adliya. There isn’t a single day that goes by where I don’t crave one (or four) Malghoum. It’s been a few years since I’ve been back, but the memory of spending almost all of my time with my friends on that street in Adliya will always remain close to my heart.