Sahar Kausar is the perfect example of someone who has successfully combined passions for art and engineering in their work. After getting degrees in Computer Science and Entertainment Technology, she has gone on to use her technical skills throughout Disney. She started out as an audio-animatronics engineer, working on robotics for Disney parks, and now works as a Technical Director at Disney Television Animation.
We sat down with her for a Q and A about her journey and how you, too, can bring coding skills into the entertainment industry.
Have you always wanted to work at Disney?
I always had a passion for storytelling that instills hope within others, diversifies communities by sharing untold stories, and that also combines rich artistry through colorful and unique characters with the leverage of ever-growing technological platforms.
Growing up, I was always fascinated by Disney as they demonstrated the ability to harness a vast base of characters that had enthralling backgrounds whether that was through their animated films, parks, or other mediums. As such, I always had a passion and love for the company and animation. I would say that this certainly grew my childhood dream to one day work at Disney!
How do you combine art and engineering in your job?
I combine art and engineering in my job daily. I work closely with my supervisors and the directors at the Studio to gain an understanding and artistic vision of the story at hand and study the cultural background, target audience, and gain a perspective of how we would like to present our animated story to the world!
As a technical director at Disney Television Animation, I am currently working on the Disney+ Series: Monsters at Work which is a sequel spin-off series to Monsters Inc. I work to ensure we are capturing the vision of these beloved characters and environments as I work directly on the lighting and compositing of the shots.
Additionally, as I am working as an artist in those shots which propagate to the final image we see on screen, I am also using my technical background in computer science engineering to help automate any workflows by developing tools or programs that would be beneficial to my team’s workflow that helps save time and effort along the way.
What is your favorite project you have worked on?
My favorite project thus far has been working on the Encanto film during my time at Walt Disney Animation Studios. It was a pleasure to serve as a technical animator to bring both the characters and environments to life, explore the culture of Colombia, and work on a diverse set of characters of the Madrigal family that the story revolves around. It holds a special place in my heart as it was my first animated film and it was incredibly gratifying to see and experience the film going on to become an Oscar-winning film which certainly comes full circle back to fulfilling that childhood dream!
What technical tools do you use in your work?
Depending on the role I have served in the entertainment industry where I have worked as an artist, engineer, or both concurrently, I have found myself picking up different toolsets as well for the needs of the specific studio. From various artistic applications of utilizing Maya, Unreal Engine, Nuke, Houdini, and more to the technical programming languages of C++, Python, Java, and other scripting languages, I have been able to elevate three-dimensional mediums as a technical artist for animated films, games, virtual reality, and theme parks.
What advice do you have for any students wanting to pursue your same path?
I encourage any student desiring to pursue a similar path to explore the vast pipeline across the entertainment industry to first find what they are most passionate about. The entire pipeline is exceptionally extensive and rich so there are different areas of art, engineering, and production within films, games, parks, and other mediums.
Additionally, growing a portfolio of projects that help develop your skill sets that also showcase your areas of interest will serve both as a learning avenue and will only add to your skill set.
Lastly, if possible, finding a mentor within your intended area of the industry or simply connecting with other like-minded individuals at conferences and reading technical papers will make you even more knowledgeable about your field, allow you to explore new territories, and expand your network. The entertainment industry is always growing and innovating in technology and art and it is an exciting time to grow alongside it.