Mukul Soman is creating a buzz in the international scene with his skills in photography, software and art
It's three in the morning at Seattle when the call reached Mukul Soman. It was not a wake up call for the young matte painter, skybox artist and photographer. Mukul was still at work at Microsoft's in-house game production studio, ‘343 Industries', where he works.
Mukul, whose photographs have been used by top brands, featured on pages of international photographic magazines, on the homepage of National Geographic Society, has worked with the visual effects team in various Hollywood movies as a matte painting artist and is now involved in the work of the 4th version of the iconic Xbox 360 game, Halo.
“My job as a skybox artist is to make realistic looking skies and terrain using computer software. Now, it is for the new version of the game ‘Halo' scheduled to be released in December this year. Matte painting is a technique in which a portion of a shot in a movie or game is later replaced with new images or footage which are interleaved by painting over them digitally. The goal is to photo-realistically paint backgrounds both in 2D and 3D, using various tools on the computer. Sometimes entire environments are created fully using the computer to suit the director's vision,” says Mukul, whose works have a huge following.
One photograph that made people take notice of Mukul was the image of the grey wolf featured on the homepage of National Geographic Society as the ‘Animal Image of the Day.'
Talking about this much acclaimed picture, Mukul says, “The image has a strong mystic feel to it. A fair amount of patience, a bit of risk need to come together to get such an image. Also, you need to be at the right place at the right time. The grey wolf is a critically endangered species and perhaps the image managed to create an impact about the species' future. I guess that's why it got picked by The National Geographic Society. It became popular because of the wide connectivity of today's social networks, where the image was shared many times over.”
Photography is Mukul's first love. All that he does, like matte painting, cinematography etc. are for him extensions of that passion. “I was lucky to meet and talk to Dennis Muren, the legendary visual effects artist; the man who has won nine Oscars, the man behind films like, ‘Jurassic Park' and ‘Terminator 2.' He told me that being a good photographer certainly had an edge when it came to visual effects. That has inspired me to continue with my passion seriously.”
A native of Kayamkulam, Mukul was born and brought up in Kochi. He studied at Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Vaduthala, did his Bachelor and Masters in Computer Application from CMRIMS, Bengaluru, and went on to do his Masters in Fine Arts from the Academy of Art, San Francisco, specialising in visual effects.
“I have fond memories of my native place where my parents used to take me very often. The ‘naalukettu' home, set amidst trees, surrounded by chirping birds, naughty squirrels, buzzing dragonflies still bind me. That wonder and appreciation for nature still holds good. My father (S. P. Soman who is Director, Skiltek Group of Educational Institutions) is a great teacher and an avid photography enthusiast.
"He taught me to see the world through his eyes in the form of photographs, sketches and paintings that he created. This deeply impacted my love for wilderness and shaped my vision of the world around me. My mother (Padmakala Soman, a lawyer) always supported my interests in nature, wildlife and art. My aunt, (Anila R., an administration manager) has played a significant role in enhancing my creativity by introducing me to watercolour, which made me fall in love with painting."
A freelance photographer, Mukul has done commissioned work for numerous clients like Taormina Imports, Customised Ford Mustang Cobra and Lamborghini super cars, Just machine Interactive, etc.
But his heart lies in wildlife, and street photography. “Street photography, to me, is life at its raw and honest best. In street photography, the most spectacular photographs are not taken by the most expensive equipment. All that is required is expertise of a skilful eye, daringness to expose oneself while shooting, a prime lens of reasonably wide focal length and the combination can capture some very inspiring and intimate moments that tell a story of life. That is why I do not like shooting images on the street with a telephoto lens as that clearly detaches me from the subjects. Street photography makes me get out of my comfort zone and I enjoy that.”
His latest project is what he calls ‘Seagulls: Up close & Personal.' “I wanted to take images that are unseen and hard to re-create. I have approached this project, focusing on getting moments that could instil a sense of action and wonder in the minds of the viewer. I deliberately chose a common subject, to see how far I can go, to present it in dynamic perspectives. I'm quite happy with the outcome, though there is always room for improvement.”
Before Mukul began working on the Halo 4 project he spent time at ‘The Base Studio,' California's biggest upcoming visual effects production house. Here he worked along with the visual effects teams responsible for many Hollywood movies. “Though I was part of the crew that worked on blockbuster movies like ‘Harry Potter', ‘The Priest', ‘Thor', ‘Smurfs', ‘The Avengers', it was in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger' that I worked on as a matte painter. Even now, along with my Microsoft job, I work with ‘The Base', as their Digital Environment Supervisor. I'm currently working with them, creating matte paintings for the movie titled ‘Mandorla'.”
Mukul is now an essential part of ‘The Base Studio' and its visual effects division. Ask him about this and he says that he is ‘still very much a student of photography.' And that his journey has just begun.