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Rising Star: VFX Up-and-Comer Santhosh Koneru

When you talk to someone early in their Hollywood career, it’s exciting to think about where they’ll end up in the future. After all, people like John Dykstra (Star Wars) and Douglas Trumbull (2001, Close Encounters) started out somewhere, right? So has Santhosh Koneru, an up-and-coming filmmaker and VFX artist. We chatted with him about his current projects, as well as what inspires his love for VFX and science fiction.

RECURSOR: How did you get started in visual effects work?

Santhosh Koneru

SANTHOSH: I started my career as a digital matte painter. I then got into UI/UX design. But my passion was in movie making and VFX. So, I moved to Hollywood to attend the Gnomon School of Visual Effects, where I got to learn all the tools required to bring my stories to life — such as my first CG cinematic short, The Legion.

Was there a particular movie or TV show that sparked your interest in FX work?

I was influenced by Indian mythology as a kid, but when I was later introduced to sci-fi movies, it felt like a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me. So, I cannot just name one movie. There is a huge list of movies and stories that sparked my interest in VFX.

What has it been like to attend the Gnomon School of Visual Effects?

Gnomon is much more than a school for me; it’s the beginning of a new chapter in my life. The instructors we had were amazing! They are some of the most reputed artists in the industry. The most challenging part for me was the pressure of delivering the best work possible with every assignment and keep up with the amazing work that other students delivered, which was a major driving force for me to work harder every day.

Mother Ship from The Legion

You studied with Nina Unlocked’s Martin Hall. What was that like? 

Martin is an amazing instructor! He taught Art of Compositing and Advanced Compositing classes at Gnomon, which covered compositing in Nuke. He not just taught us software tools, but most importantly he taught us how to troubleshoot an issue when we ran into one. He also shared his experiences in the industry just so we could learn from his experience.

Do you have traditional art experience that has fueled your interest in digital art?

I started drawing at a very young age, but I got into traditional painting at the age of 9. But the moment I was introduced to Photoshop and After Effects, everything changed. The endless possibilities of conveying a message/story is what hooked me to digital art.

What is The Legion about? What inspired it? And what are your plans for it?

Alien from The Legion

The Legion is inspired by a couple of Indian mythologies with a touch of science fiction to it, and Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. The Legion is formed by powerful hybrids and aliens. They are the sworn protectors of all the life and planets in this universe. They want all species to live in complete freedom, whereas the antagonist believes that the balance in species should be maintained to let all the life forms coexist.

So, both sides are fighting for a good cause in each of their perspectives. The story is not about who is good or who is bad, but it’s about morality, honor, and how both parties find a common ground to the issue.

I definitely would like to make this into a major film, but I’m currently thinking of proceeding with it as a web series.

Your other current project is Vikings. What is it about?

Vikings is a prequel to The Legion. It’s about a celestial power that takes human form every 500 years and gets unstable as it grows, which could be a threat to the very existence of life in the universe. So, the Vikings assemble to find the celestial being and help it control its powers and keep it from falling into wrong hands. I have a team of 20 insanely talented people helping me with this project, whom I’m fortunate to call my friends.

You’re currently working at Blur Studio, which specializes in live action, animation, effects and design. What has the experience been like for you? 

Matte painting for the environment of The Legion

Blur is an amazing place to work. People are super talented and very friendly and patient. I learn something new every day I go to work, which is amazing because that keeps me improving my skills as a CG artist.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’d like to see myself as a director in five years. I really enjoy sci-fi, mythology and fantasy, so I’m looking forward to working in these genres and blending them together to make stories more interesting and entertain everyone. Though I love doing VFX, storytelling is what I want to do, because that way I can share my crazy stories with the world and entertain them. So, I set directing as my long-term goal.

Have you had a chance to check out Recursor.TV and Nina Unlocked?

Yes. I really like how Recursor has organized its content. It’s very easy to navigate and browse what I want to look at.

Nina Unlocked is really cool. It’s amazing how flawlessly some of the complicated shots were handled. Usually in a concept like this, if the VFX is not done the right way, the CG could cloud the good concept behind it. But in Nina Unlocked, the VFX was really good, which allowed me to pay attention to the story while admiring the CG work. Truly kudos to E.J., Martin and the team for putting together this short series!

Santhosh Koneru is a Freelance Graphics Designer & 3D Generalist. His hunger for learning more has always pushed him to the edge and try something new, so after 4 years of working as a digital matte painter, UI/UX designer and Photoshop Instructor, he moved to Hollywood for specializing in 3D and VFX, where he studied at Gnomon School of Visual Effects before moving on to work at Blur Studio. Find more about his past work or upcoming projects on his website.