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Hagerstown native makes good at Pixar Studios

January 26, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown native Hemagiri "Hemu" Arumugam works for Pixar Studios in Emeryville, Calif.
Submitted photo

The next time you watch Pixar’s Golden Globe-winning animated film “Brave,” you might want to pay close attention to the scenes with hundreds of characters in the background.

Hagerstown native Hemagiri “Hemu” Arumugam might have had a hand in putting them in there.

Arumugam, a 2006 graduate of North Hagerstown High School, estimates there are about 60 scenes in “Brave” in which he dropped animated characters into the background. He even had his favorite.

“There was short, stout, kind-of-fat guy. I always tried to put him in as much as I could because I really liked him,” Arumugam, 24, said during a telephone interview from Pixar Studios in Emeryville, Calif. “I think he just kind of looked funny. He just had a ridiculous look.”

As technical director for Pixar’s crowds department of about five people, it was part of Arumugam’s job to help populate the background scenes with characters that were not the main character. Using a catalog of characters built by the characters department, Arumugam placed the characters into the background scenes of the film.

“That means anytime there’s more than a handful of characters on the screen, it goes through us,” he said. “We handle all the background characters. We take care of putting them in the scene, animating them and basically everything they would need.”

Arumugam, the son of Arumugam Munuswamy and Kantha Arumugam of Hagerstown, lives near San Francisco. He landed the Pixar job after interning with the company in the summer of 2010. The following spring, after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a dual major in aerospace engineering and computer science, Pixar offered him a full-time job.

“I was always interested in computers,” Arumugam said. “Animation was more of a recent thing after I got to college. I just picked it up from there and kind of started learning it on my own since we don’t really have a strong animation or computer graphics program at MIT.”

However, he said, his computer science major prepared him for the job.

“Basically, it’s just having a technical background in programming, and computer graphics is the main preparation for my job here,” Arumugam said. “They do have some kind of creative intuition, but it’s not completely necessary for the work that I do. I don’t need to be an amazing artist or painter or something. I’m more on the technical side here.”

“Brave” was the first movie on which Arumugam worked. He said most movies take about four to five years from conception to actual film. The production side usually takes about two years, the length of time he has spent with the company.

“Brave” won a Golden Globe on Jan. 13 for best animated feature film.

Although Arumugam spends time working with animation, he also is involved in the more technical aspect of programming. One part of his job is writing programs to build tools for artists.

“We basically write programs that make it easier for our artists to do the things they need to do,” he said. “For example, since we’re doing crowds, animating just one character takes a lot of effort and a lot of time, so since we have hundreds of characters, we really need a program to do it all efficiently. We write a program that lets them efficiently do things and to do batches of hundreds of characters.”

Arumugam was a standout distance runner at North Hagerstown High School.

“I’m taking a break right now (from running) and figuring if I really want to get back into it,” he said.

The next movie on which Arumugam is working is “Monsters University,” Pixar’s next film.

Arumugam said he’s enjoying his time at Pixar. His work on “Brave” has landed him his own Internet Movie Database (IMDb) profile.

“It’s just a lot of fun being here,” he said, “I really like the atmosphere here and the environment they have. And to be honest, just coming in to do what I normally do is pretty exciting to me because I come here and work with virtual characters.”

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