Published: 13th April 2021
This 26-year-old from Chennai has worked on all your favourite animated films like Soul and Into the Spider-Verse
Having grown up watching Disney and Pixar films, it was a dream come true for Tarun Lak when he was able to work with some of the best studios. Here's a look through some of his best work yet
Do yourself a favour and find Tarun Lak on Instagram. An animator at Pixar Animation Studios, he has a veritable goldmine of films to his name, including Soul, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Onward and Disney and Pixar's upcoming feature film Luca. Take a closer look at his social media pages and you will see where the creativity comes from. Over the last year, he has been sharing short animated videos about an authentic Indian childhood. Based on themes that would make anyone from the country who grew up inhaling Indian life nostalgic, these revolve around the little things — drinking sweet coconut water in the summer, your grandfather's quick glimpse of the newspaper before his afternoon nap and lunch breaks with aluminium tiffin boxes back in school.
The 26-year-old was born in the United States and moved back to Chennai, where his family is from, at the age of five. So, he spent most of his childhood growing up around Teynampet and RA Puram. He says, "Ever since I can remember, I have been doodling. Even during school hours, when I should've been paying attention in class, I was doodling. I have loved classic Disney and Pixar movies since I was a little kid and used to watch shows like the Looney Tunes and Dexter's Laboratory after school. And when I got older, I got into anime series like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and Death Note."
The influence of animation was always hovering around him but it was watching Toy Story 3 that really drilled the love for it firmly into his head. After passing out from school, he moved back to the US to study Computer Animation at Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida. And from there, he persevered until he landed a space for himself in the industry. He began by creating advertising and cinematics content for Psyop Studio where he worked for clients like Minecraft and Coca Cola. For a short period, he worked with JibJab Bros Studios for a children's show on Netflix called Ask the Storybots.
A large chunk of his career has been spent on feature animated films. In 2016, he received his first film credit as an intern on Kubo and the Two Strings for which he helped with background animation. Later, he worked at Sony Pictures Imageworks on Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse and The Angry Birds Movie 2 where he was able to contribute as a full-fledged character animator. Currently, he works at Pixar, having animated for award-winning films like Onward and Soul.
About his latest project, he says, "Of course, I am very excited about Luca. I am generally excited about anything new each year from any corner of the industry, if it's interesting enough to me as an audience. The coming years in animation will be an exciting time as there are more films and TV shows than ever before in the works from everywhere around the world. I am looking forward to seeing different kinds of stories with interesting visuals, from different cultures around the world."
DREAM FRAME: Tarun's work captures real life
His online series on an Indian childhood — that he calls India Vignettes — was able to capture Indian culture in its rawest form and it was some of the most fun he's had working on a project. "I was aching to try something of my own, something that felt personal to me and that I could do by myself. I found myself gravitating more and more toward reserved acting and filmmaking, which shows something raw about characters, just as they might have been in real life. That made me reflect on my own memories and of what I could try and capture," he says.
He continues, "It's probably the most personal thing I've ever done. It's the only time I've been able to dig deep inside and express something raw. I don't think I had the technical or creative skills until this point to be able to pull it off. They were inspired from some of my memories and observations during my time growing up in India, not necessarily things I experienced myself. They are not exact replicas of what I remember either, I tried to mix different observations together to make some kind of cohesive piece in itself and tried to capture the feeling of it more than anything. Having so many people identify with it is very gratifying."