The Cartoon Network. That is what internationally sought-after Visual Effects Artist Jyothi Kalyan Sura responds with when asked what initially sparked his interest in filmmaking. Growing up in Hyderabad, a city in South India, he spent his weekends immersed in every show the channel had to offer, and his curiosity for the intricate aspects of filmmaking sprung from watching those cartoons. He knew one day that he too wanted to bring such amazing stories to screens all over the world, creating out of this world characters with his artistic capabilities, and that is exactly what he did.
Sura is known for his work on many movies and television shows, including recent hits like Men In Black: International and Dark Phoenix, but the highlight of his career came when he began working on Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. Pokémon was his favorite cartoon during his youth, and it felt like his life had truly come full circle the moment he realized he would be working on the iconic franchise’s newest movie.
“On my first day at MPC (Moving Picture Company, Los Angeles), Mark Austin, my project supervisor welcomed me and walked me to my desk. He had emailed me references for my project and asked me to familiarize myself with them. When I started looking through the references, I found images and clips of Pikachu and Mew Two and I realized that the secret project I was hired on was none other than Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, my favorite cartoon from childhood,” said Sura.
The story of the movie begins when ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry's former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu: a hilariously wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth who is a puzzlement even to himself. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to communicate with one another, Tim and Pikachu join forces on a thrilling adventure to unravel the tangled mystery. Chasing clues together through the neon-lit streets of Ryme City – a sprawling, modern metropolis where humans and Pokémon live side by side in a hyper-realistic live-action world – they encounter a diverse cast of Pokémon characters and uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe.
“Pokémon has been a huge part of my life throughout my middle school and high school years. I was a huge fan of the cartoon, the movies, the video games and I collected the trading cards. The cartoon not only influenced my imagination, but also my art as I had a sketch book in which I drew over 100 Pokémon from memory alone,” said Sura. “Given my history with the show and the characters, I was overjoyed when I found out that I was working on the Pokémon movie. I was especially excited for some of the most famous Pokémon battles which inspired me growing up and was keen on perfectly capturing the magic to share with a whole new generation of fans around the world.”
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu was released May 10th, 2019 and has amassed over $400 million USD at the worldwide box office. Sura and the entire VFX team’s work was essential to that success, as they turned the beloved Pokémon from cartoon into real creatures. Animating Pikachu and Mew Two, two of the most recognizable Pokémon, was a dream come true for Sura.
Sura began work on the film by researching references and studying the animation style on the show. It didn’t take him long to get the hang of the workflows and animation styles, after which he started shot work. From the first day, he started helping his teammates in After Effects and optimizing their rendering workflows. Every day on the project was a fun challenge for the artist. For a couple of tricky camera animation shots, he traced out many possible animation paths on paper and created quick thumbnails framing the characters. The approach, which was rare at that point, helped him quickly iterate over the possible options and select the best-looking framing even before touching the computer mouse, making the whole process extremely efficient.
Undoubtedly, Sura is a force to be reckoned with in the VFX industry and will continue bringing enchanting films to the big and small screens for years to come. For now, however, simply being a part of a film like Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is enough to remind him why he chose this career in the first place.
“Working on a series that I grew up watching was truly a great experience. Being a part of the Pokémon franchise, a true global phenomenon that is loved by children all around the world is a privilege and blessing,” he concluded.