Often when we go to see a film, we praise and shower with appreciation the actors and actresses who play out the characters and bring the script to life. Rarely do we as an audience, stand back and acknowledge the work that goes on behind-the-scenes in order to create the magic we are experiencing on screen. Most of us probably couldn’t even name anyone on the lighting, sound or costumes team.
Anshul Dayal is part of such a group of people. A behind-the-scenes visual technician specialising in lighting and effects on some of Hollywood’s hottest films, he’s worked with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Robin Williams. His projects have gone on to win BAFTAs and Oscars. Yet he’s just a quiet, humble and very successful Australian-Indian, who thinks of himself no differently than anyone else in any other profession. Well, G’day India would like to place the spotlight on Anshul this month, keeping him behind-the-scenes no more!
Anshul grew up in India like many others and then came to Australia in the mid 1990s to pursue a degree in Architecture. From a young age, he was always fascinated by the way things came together on screen, especially after he saw Jurassic Park. Anshul knew from then on that he would pursue a creative career.
In order to turn this dream into a reality, Dayal enrolled into a graduate course from Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada in 2003, one of the most prestigious schools for the visual effects profession. It exposed him to a new way of approaching his architectural skills in order to understand how effects worked. Upon finishing his degree, he returned to Australia and began working on some minor television commercials and small projects.
Anshul’s big break came in 2006, when he landed the role of a lifetime as a Technical Director on the Oscar winning film, ‘Happy Feet’, which was entirely based in Sydney and run by the visual effects group, Animal Logic. He was introduced to those running the film by a previous group of people who had liked his work and recommended him. Anshul believes that his ability to build relationships is what helped him here and that one must always present themselves with passion at all times in his profession, for without it, you become very forgettable.
“You have to build a good relationship with people in this industry. It is very largely driven by contacts and word-of-mouth recommendations. After all, I may have a major Hollywood film on my CV, but so do twenty others. The networking is what sets you apart. That way, you can display not only your talent but also your personality so you are considered for future projects.”
His persistence paid off and Happy Feet became his launch pad for success.
“Happy Feet was an amazing experience. I’d never worked on such a large scale before. It wasn’t just ten or fifteen people working on a film to make it all come together. It was more like five hundred people, including all the actors, directors, lighting technicians, animators etc. It was just mind-boggling to see how everything unfolded and came together to create a final project.”
The film went on to win an Academy Award and undoubtedly took Anshul’s career to dizzying new heights. But he says it’s not all fun and games when working on such a large production. The experience also comes with several challenges. Anshul notes that despite it was amazing to work in such a large team with a lot of support, the technical challenges were also maximised due to the scale of the production and therefore more precision was needed. It required him to be quite the perfectionist.
This same attitude of persistence and maintaining excellent working relationships also led Anshul to have the opportunity to use his skills on several other major Hollywood productions since 2006, including The Tale of Despereaux with Harry Potter actress and superstar, Emma Watson in 2008. The film was another animation and produced by Framestore animation in London and Universal Pictures. Anshul has also worked on films such as Legends of the Guardian for Warner Brothers and the film adaptation of Graeme Base’s “Animalia” children’s book series. Alongside his repertoire in film, Dayal has also tapped into the TV industry, being a part of the team on a series of Lego Starwars commercials that were aired during the Superbowl Football event that occurs annually in America. It is the highest charging advertising program in the USA and any ad shown during the event costs a minimum of several million dollars to show.
When asked how others can replicate his success, his advice is simply to never give up, especially when wanting to dive into an industry as competitive as Hollywood. Anshul says to keep determined and persist despite every possible obstacle that may arise.
“Be passionate. When I was learning, there was hardly any technological development. Things were still moving forward. Now there is something new to learn everyday. This is not an industry that simply opens their arms to welcome you in. In fact, now the number of people interested in pursuing this career is probably double what it was back then.”
Anshul wants everyone to know that the American or international cinema scene sometimes seems like a far stretch with the level of competition there is in the market nowadays. He recommends starting small and realising that if you can work in the Australian film industry, consider yourself on the way to success.
“The Australian market itself is so hard to break into. But once you get in, you’re in. Then it definitely opens a lot of doors for you from there. The important thing is to build relationships despite the work being challenging. Because at the end of the day, that networking is what will benefit you the most.”
Besides visual effects, Anshul also has another love in his life. Coffee. Having grown up in Sydney and working in the professional culture of the city, in many ways it’s inevitable that he would fall in love with coffee.
“I love a cup of good coffee. Then again, in Sydney, who doesn’t?”
He is a qualified Barista and will soon be releasing his own e-book on coffee-making too. His ultimate dream though, is to open up a series of swanky Café-bars around town that allow others who share his passion to enjoy great exotic coffees from all over the world and then franchise the concept so others can share it in various cities.
For now though Anshul is enjoying his success and hopes to continue working on major motion pictures, having a good cup of coffee with his wife and spilling the beans on his new e-book!
By Rahat Kapur